The land on which St Mary of the Angels is sited has been continuosly occupied by a Church since 1843.

The first Mass in Wellington

In 1840 the first ships of the New Zealand Company brought settlers from Britain to the Colony of New Zealand. On Christmas Eve of that year Bishop Pompallier, who had earlier in January 1938, arrived at Hokianga in the north of the North Island made his first visit to Wellington and celebrated Mass the following day in a house lent by a local magistrate. The Missionary Bishop appointed Fr Michel Borjon SM as Parish Priest to the group of Catholics organised by Surgeon-Doctor Fitzgerald in the Wellington area, but the young Frenchman was lost at sea on a trip from Auckland in 1842. Intermittent visits by Marist missionaries followed for the next two years but in January 1843 Fr Jeremiah O’Reily OFM arrived in Wellington with and as Chaplain to a Mr Petre and his wife.

First Church Built

On 5 February 1843, Fr O’Reily celebrated Mass in a private house situated along the waterfront about where Woodward Street now meets Lambton Quay. About 100 worshippers attended. A meeting was called for the following Sunday to arrange for the construction of a small church. After some months the church was ready, sited practically on the site where St Mary of the Angels now stands. In 1846 a presbytery was build at a spot near the Mount Street cemetery that was further up the hill from the Church. The Church was called “The Chapel of the Nativity of Our Lord” probably to commemorate Bishop Pompallier’s first visit to the new mission, but it became generally known as “Fr O’Reily’s Chapel”.

Second Church

In 1873, plans were drawn up for a much larger and more imposing edifice.

Over the 30 years of the existence of the first Church it was enlarged several times. And finally, in 1873, plans were drawn up for a much larger and more imposing edifice to meet the needs of the growing Parish. Over several days in late February 1874 the “Wellington Independent” newspaper gave a detailed description of the new “Te Aro Catholic Chapel” and the blessing of this new Church, called then for the first time after the famous shrine of the Franciscan world in Assisi “St Mary of the Angels”.

The Church, built to seat 450 cost £1500. The original plan allowed for additions, and these were carried out by Fr Devoy SM in 1892 increasing the accommodation to about 550 as well as improving the architectural beauty of the building. About this time a presbytery was built on adjacent land to the Church in Boulcott Street.

The Coming of the Marist Fathers (The Society of Mary)

In 1850 Bishop Viard SM arrived at Port Nicholson (Wellington) accompanied by five Marist priests and 10 lay brothers. They established their headquarters in Thorndon and a further mission station was opened in the Hutt Valley. In later years Fr Kearney SM was appointed to assist Fr O’Reily at St Mary of the Angels and on the return of Fr Kearney to Ireland, Fr Kerrigan was appointed the first Marist Parish Priest. In December 1883 the then Bishop Redwood granted the Parish of Te Aro (St Mary of the Angels) in perpetuity to the Society of Mary and his decision was ratified by a decree from the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda, dated 19 January 1885. Father Kerrigan SM later arranged for the construction of the church of St Joseph in Buckle Street and was also treasurer of the Committee responsible for the building of St Patrick’s College on its original site on the corner of Tory and Buckle Streets.

The successor to Fr Kerrigan SM was Fr Devoy SM. As well as enlarging St Mary of the Angels Church in 1892 he also built a convent school in Newtown which opened in 1893. In the period 1889-1892 Fr Devoy also spearheaded a drive for funds for an organ that was obtained from Leeds, England. It was blessed immediately after installation in St Mary of the Angels in August 1892 and did duty for over 60 years. In 1900 Archdeacon Devoy was succeeded by Dean O’Shea SM who transferred administration to Buckle Street, leaving Fathers Kimball and Goggan SM taking care of parochial life at St Mary of the Angels. In 1913 St Joseph’s became a separate Parish and Fr Regnault SM became Parish Priest at Boulcott Street. When the Te Aro area was divided between St Mary of the Angels and St Joseph’s the Deed of Perpetuity was altered for the Parish of Wellington North with headquarters in Hill Street. Later a further exchange centred the Society of Mary’s interest in Boucott Street.

The 1874 Church Destroyed by Fire

Fire destroyed the 1874 Church on 28 May 1918. Total insurance was £2525. On the Sunday following the fire, that occurred during the second year of Fr Mahony as Parish Priest a meeting was called to discuss rebuilding and immediately over £4000 was given or promised. By October a further £4000 had been raised and in April 1919 the contract was let for £27,500 for the new Church – which is the Church that still stands on the site today. The new Church was designed by Frederick de Jersey Clere who has won much respect in recent years for the in excess of 100 churches he designed and had build in the latter part of the 19th and early 20th century, mainly throughout the southern half of the North Island.

After World War 1 shortages made it difficult to obtain many of the supplies necessary to build the new St Mary of the Angels Church and the contractor relinquished his task in early 1920. From then on Fr Mahony and his friend Martin Moloney carried on themselves as overseers of the construction using day labourers. It is recorded that on more than one occasion Fr Mahony had to appear on Friday afternoon and ask the workmen to wait until after the weekend for their wages as finances relied heavily on the Sunday collection. Work was completed on the structure in early 1922 and blessed and opened on 26 March 1922. Archbishop Redwood SM blessed and opened the church at 9:30am and solemn Pontifical Mass was celebrated at 11:00am by Bishop Liston of Auckland.

Upon the opening of the Church the completed cost came to £31,165 with furniture adding a further £700. To meet these costs £25,884 had been raised and a further £7,500 had been borrowed to cover the total cost.