Last mass but not last hope for iconic St Gerard’s church

The last mass at St Gerard’s church was celebrated on Sunday – Pentecost Sunday.

Cardinal John Dew and several priests went through the rite of leave taking, saying final prayers in different parts of the church including the baptismal font and altar.

Everyone left and Dew shut the church doors for the last time. The last gathering of parishioners – old and new – has passed.

Many of those at the mass were sad, sorry to farewell the parish church where they were baptised and married.

St Gerard’s church and later, the attached monastery, have been part of Wellington’s landscape for decades. A hundred and thirteen years for the church. Eighty nine years for the monastery.

Both are owned by the International Catholic Programme of Evangelisation (ICPE), which tried without success to raise the $11-to-13 million in funds needed to strengthen the earthquake-prone church building.

The ICPE announced the church’s closure in April after only raising $42,000 by July last year.

“I have a feeling of sadness, because I know how iconic the church is,” says ICPE New Zealand director Silvana Abela.

“On the other hand, because it does require earthquake-strengthening, I still believe it’s the right decision, because it’s people’s safety [at stake].”

Abela says the building had been “a source of solace and comfort for many over the years,” and could be bought by another Catholic organisation.

“I believe that something good could come out of it … it depends on what God has in store.”

The church has an earthquake rating of between 20 and 34 per cent of the New Building Standard.

It needs to be strengthened by 2037, after it was granted a 10-year deadline extension in September last year.

Although the church building’s fate is unknown, Wellington property developer Maurice Clark is eyeing it up, with plans to convert it into a public facility.

Clark is considering taking on the job, even though ICPE says it has “no immediate plans” for the building beyond its final mass last Sunday.

“I have been, and still am, looking at it,” Clark said.

“The most obvious commercial use is apartments, but I think the most suitable use for that building would be a public place such as a university building or library.”

Clark owns and manages McKee Fehl Constructors, which took on one of Wellington’s largest heritage strengthening projects in 2014 – the Old Public Trust Building on Lambton Quay. McKee Fehl has been responsible for restoring many of Wellington’s heritage buildings.

Clark estimates upgrading the church and monastery would cost $20m. He says the church, an unreinforced masonry building, is a structural “nightmare.” The monastery is made from reinforced concrete.

The monastery and a small chapel are still open.


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News category: New Zealand.

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