Some believe Pā Wiremu Te Awhitu is a future saint

Te Awhitu

It is 26 years since Pā Wiremu Te Awhitu died on the 29th July 1994.

Some would argue he is an Aotearoa saint waiting to be recognised.

Every year people from the Hamilton Diocese and beyond gather at his birthplace Okahukura, north of Taumarunui to celebrate his life.

His family have a marae there dedicated to Mary. It is called Whānau Maria.

Currently, they are rebuilding it to make it more suitable to welcome visitors.

A welcome pōwhiri at ten was followed by a visit to the urupā where the rosary was recited.

Then people returned to the marae where the Eucharist was celebrated by the bishop of Hamilton Steve Lowe.

The parish priest, Fr Lawrie Bishop and Fr David Gledhill concelebrated.

The local parish fully supports the occasion. They sang the parts of the Mass with a chant composed by Richard Puanaki of Wairoa.

Richard’s faith is the direct result of Pā Wiremu’s early ministry in Wairoa.

Lowe speaks of the legacy of “our own Pā Wiremu Te Awhitu… courageous priest and man of faith… a legacy deeply rooted in the soil of generations past, present and most surely to live on in generations to come.”

Pā Wiremu grew up in Okahukura the third of 10 children. He lived till he was 80 (1914-1994).

He was a true son of the King Country and was an accomplished footballer and athlete who practised Māori crafts and was a skilled carver.

He was formed by the Mill Hill Fathers and attended Hato Petera and St Patrick’s College Silverstream.

He was ordained in 1944.

His priestly ministry was brought to an abrupt stop by a severe stroke in 1958, while he was serving in Wairoa.

He moved to Hato Paora College, Feilding. There he slowly re-learned enough speech to celebrate the Eucharist again.

Pā Wiremu spent the last 36 years of life struggling to speak and minister.

Much of that time was spent at Jerusalem on the Whanganui River.

He is possibly a candidate for sainthood not only as he was the first Māori priest, but because of his down to earth holiness.

And he could be hailed as the intercessor for those who suffer a disability.

The late Bishop Mariu SM describes Pā Wiremu as a “prayerful, hard-working person, devoted to Mary, committed to his people, gentle, big-hearted and welcoming with a spirituality springing from someone at peace with God and the world.”

Poet James K Baxter used to attend his Eucharist and said of his reflections “Te Atua sends me a good instructor in Father Te Awhitu. His few words have the weight of wedges splitting timber. His soul speaks of God because it is at rest in God.”

Gledhill was Fr Te Awhitu’s Superior at Whanganui. He notes: “When I attended Eucharist with Pā, Pā showed an awareness of the very special presence in the Eucharist. Fr Te Awhitu had an extraordinary insight into the Eucharist.”

Click here to read the biography of Pā Wiremu Hakopa Toa Te Awhitu in  Dictionary of New Zealand Biography.


Supplied: Pā Piripi Cody

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