Education pioneer Fr Antoine Garin’s Chapel to be restored

A tiny earthquake-prone church, Father Garin’s chapel in Nelson’s Wakapuaka Cemetery will be restored – but it’s a long-term project, the Catholic Church says.

The building is listed as a category one historic place, with “special or outstanding historical or cultural significance or value.”

Garin arrived in Nelson in 1850 and worked for nearly 40 years as a priest and renowned educationalist across the region from Takaka to Marlborough.

It is as an educationalist that Garin is best remembered, founding Catholic schools in the area, and teaching a classical education of French, Latin and algebra to students, most of whom were not Catholic.

Garin believed religious instruction to be an integral part of Catholic education, and as a result, his schools received no aid from the Nelson Education Board. Yet they flourished.

In 1867 he won the support of Oswald Curtis, the Nelson provincial superintendent; and the Education Act was amended to make it lawful for the Bible to be read in class ‘as the last part of the ordinary school course of instruction’, and for schoolrooms to be used for religious instruction outside school hours.

Garin accepted these conditions and provincial government aid was provided for his schools.

When he died in 1889 he was initially laid to rest in the ground in Wakapuaka Cemetery.

However, following his wishes, the chapel was subsequently built to house his remains.

He was exhumed and is buried in a crypt underneath it.

The 10 people present at his exhumation, including two priests, were taken aback to discover that although his coffin was waterlogged, Garin’s remains had not decomposed.

Those present signed an affidavit confirming what they’d seen, swearing to keep the facts a secret, to prevent a cult developing around Garin.

In 2018, the Nelson City Council told the building’s owners must carry out seismic strengthening work by 2038 to ensure the chapel is no longer earthquake-prone.

Parish of the Holy Family Nelson and Stoke spokesman Gerry Quin​ says the notice covers two aspects of the chapel: the canopy at its entrance and the bell tower.

The canopy has been strengthened with a support beam until more permanent repairs can be made, Quin says.

Strengthening the bell tower is on the to-do list, however.

With resources being channelled into getting the parish’s other heritage building, St Mary’s Church, up to scratch, earthquake strengthening work on Father Garin’s Chapel was a long-term project, Quin says.

At the same time, the parish is keen to protect the little church from further deterioration. A caretaker visits regularly to check the building is in order.

While the chapel is closed, there is no risk to the public, Quin says.


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