27th anniversary of Pā Wiremu Te Awhitu marked

Te Awhitu

On Saturday 31st July, the 27th anniversary of the death of Pā Wiremu Te Awhitu SM was celebrated.  Te Awhitu was New New Zealand’s first Māori Catholic priest.

The celebration took place at Te Awhitu’s home marae, Whānau Maria, Mary’s Family, at Okahukura, Taumarunui.

Bishop Steve Lowe DD, Bishop of the Hamilton Diocese, was main celebrant at a Memorial Mass. He has been a regular attender at these anniversaries and hopes Te Awhitu will be a source of faith and inspiration to all in his Diocese and indeed in Aotearoa/ New Zealand.

In his homily Lowe drew a parallel between Te Awhitu and Saint Ignatius Loyola whose feast-day it was.

“Both men suffered a life-changing injury,” he said.  “Ignatius through a canon-ball which broke his legs and Te Awhitu through a stroke.”

Both men worked through their suffering and became ministers to their people.

Lowe said, “I like the picture showing Fr Te Awhitu with his smile.  He was able to smile, despite the cross he carried.  That is an inspiration for us.”

Seven priests joined the local whānau and Taumarunui St Patrick’s primary school Principal, Brian Belczacki, for the occasion. They were Fathers Vince Jones (Taumarunui); Laurie Bishop (Matamata);  Gerard Aynsley (Dunedin South) and Arthur Toothill SM (Otaki); Phil Cody SM (Otaki) and Pā Jack Smith (Feilding).

Smith, when he shared at the festive meal, said, “I owe my vocation to Pā Te Awhitu who worked in my home area of Wairoa.”

Te Awhitu spent time after his ordination as First Māori Catholic priest (1944) on mission in Hawkes Bay, covering the area from Wairoa in the north to Dannevirke in the south.

In 1958 he suffered a severe stroke which took away his speech.

After years of determined effort, Pā Te Awhitu took up ministry again, largely in Taranaki and then 21 years based at Hiruharama (Jerusalem) on the upper Whanganui River.  He worked alongside the Sisters of Our Lady of Compassion who kept a weather eye on him.

At that time, he formed a good friendship with James K Baxter who regularly attended Te Awhitu’s services.

He later retired to Auckland and returned to Okahukura where he worked on building the marae.  Appropriately, on this anniversary a new plan was unveiled to rebuild the whole complex.

As one elder lady, the Kuia Toia, said, “We are glad there is asbestos in the original building as now we have to pull the whole lot down and start afresh.”

This will be a booster and focal point for various projects being set in place by local Māori of Awanui-a-Rua providing work and training for young Māori and for the benefit of all.  These projects range from catering and hunting to jet-boat drivers and horticulture.

After the welcome pōwhiri, the group travelled to the nearby urupā where the Rosary was led by the Lander family.  Then back to the marae for Eucharist and a hākari.

As a nephew of Te Awhitu, Winston Te Awhitu, said, “We give thanks for our forebear who so bravely linked being fully Māori with being fully Christian.”

Te Awhitu died on the 29th July 1994 with the first Māori Catholic Bishop, +Bishop Tākuira Mariu SM at his side.  It was a day after his 80th birthday and in his 50th year of Marist priesthood.

  • Philip Cody SM is a member of the Whanau Maria Marist Community at Otaki
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News category: New Zealand.

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