The Heritage We Are Saving
St Mary of the Angels is the third Catholic Church built on the imposing Boulcott Street site in the heart of Wellington.
Fr Jeremiah O’Reily OFM built the first church – a simple wooden chapel which was blessed by Bishop Pompallier in 1843.
A larger timber Church was built on the site in 1874 but was badly damaged by fire in 1918. On 26 March 1922, following a supreme fundraising effort by parish priest Fr Stanislaus Mahony sm and St Mary of the Angels parishioners, the architecturally stunning Church we have today was blessed and opened by Archbishop Redwood sm.
For nearly 100 years, St Mary’s has served a community of parishioners from all walks of life and welcomed a regular stream of visitors. It has been a bold statement of faith and community for generations of Catholics in Wellington.
St Mary of the Angels was designed by wellknown architect Frederick de Jersey Clere, a specialist in the Gothic revival style.
The Church is of particular interest architecturally. It was the first time ferro-concrete was used for a church of Gothic design. Parish priest Fr Stanislaus Mahony sm was a familiar figure on the scaffolding, organising workers and personally overseeing the project.
The Church was opened in 26 March 1922. St Mary of the Angels is modeled on the 13th century Cathedral of St Michael and St Gudula in Brussels. Three of the stained glass windows were salvaged from the timber church which was formerly on the site; the rest came from Munich. Following the tradition of Europe’s medieval cathedrals, they are an example of a ‘Poor Man’s Bible’, telling the stories of the Bible without words. The beautifully carved altar is made of white Italian marble, funded by the donation from a single parishioner, Miss May Kennedy. Brightly coloured statues of Mary and the saints, and Stations of the Cross add to the baroque richness that makes St Mary of the Angels a favourite sanctuary for so many people.
The Church is named after the famous shrine of the Franciscan world in Assisi, Santa Maria degli Angeli.
There has been a choir at St. Mary of the Angels since 1843, beginning one of the longest musical traditions in Wellington.
The choir earned an international reputation under the leadership of Maxwell Fernie, Director of Music for 40 years from the late 1950s. Today this outstanding musical tradition continues, led by Director of Music Robert Oliver.
The choir is well-known for its singing of Medieval Gregorian chant, Renaissance polyphony, and other beautiful liturgical music. With its first-class acoustics, St
Mary of the Angels is also a favourite venue for many civic musical and cultural events.
The Society of Mary has made St Mary of the Angels a top priority for ministry, committing itself to staffing the parish for at least the next 20 years.
In these times of vocational shortages, this represents a remarkable commitment to the future wellbeing of the parish.