Celebrating 250 years …

On Sunday 19 January the Dominican whanau gathered with those from Kaitaia at St Joseph’s Parish to remember the 250th anniversary of what we believe to be the first Mass to be celebrated in New Zealand waters by Fr Paul -Antoine Leonard de Villefeix OP on board the sloop Ste. Jean-Baptiste on Christmas Day 25 December 1769.

The tangata whenua welcomed us with a powhiri.  The Mass was celebrated by Fr Anthony Walsh OP, Prior Provincial of the Dominican Friars, Australia, New Zealand, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.

In the homily Fr Alex Vickers asked those gathered to consider what the phrase “Here am I Lord” means for us in today’s world.   The text below shares what I recall of Alex’s homily.

Fr Alex reminded us that each of us are called in our own unique way to witness to God’s power.  His homily reminded us that we were gathered to celebrate 250 years since a Mass was celebrated in the shores of Doubtless Bay.  We are told in NZ history that the first Christian service was conducted by Samuel Marsden 44 years later.  His statement “We’re Dominicans, we like to be first” provoked a few laughs.   For a fact we do not know that Fr Paul-Antoine said Mass on land but he is a Catholic chaplain on a Catholic ship.  The ship was anchored in Doubtless Bay for about 2 weeks.   One of those days they were anchored was Christmas Day.  Tell me that a Catholic Chaplain on a Catholic sloop is not going to say Mass on Christmas Day.  While it is not written in the log book we are morally sure that he said Mass.

We know that he did come ashore and walked on this land.  For that we have great respect for the people of this land who allowed this man – nothing happens in the North without you all know about it within 5 minutes – you allowed it to happen.   He conducted a burial here on this land.  One of the sailors lies here, buried on this land.  We are so grateful that your ancestors allowed this to happen.  Thank you.

Fr Paul-Antoine was a member of our Dominican Family that has had years of existence.   The Order was founded by a saint not far from the city of Toulouse.  Our brothers are divided into areas.   Antoine came from about 100 km north of Toulouse.  He joined the Family, a family that has stood the test of time for 800 years.  He responded to the call “Here I am Lord”.  He was living the life of the gospel.  The Dominican friars were sent out two by two.  Eventually Antoine was sent on a sloop named Jean-Baptiste to live out the gospel story we here this morning.   As we gather here to celebrate the liturgy we have young men from Toulouse who have journeyed to this part of the world and are in Solomon Islands working as volunteers, living a Christian life that shines a light for people to see.

Growing up in New Zealand I remember going to various gatherings.  We would have a powhiri and we would have people who would stand and recite their genealogy.  Today we stand on this land connected to the tangata whenua, connected to that long tradition of witnessing the gospel and living out the mission of Jesus Christ.

So I ask myself how do I respond to the will of God as I stand before you?  Here I am Lord.  I come to do your work.


Following the Mass we gathered for lunch where there was much buzz of conversation as people caught up with friends not seen for a long time.  We were pleased that those members of the Dominican Friars who con-celebrated Mass were introduced – Fr Chris Loughlan and Fr Joe Parkinson from Auckland and Fr Mike Deeb, Permanent Delegate of the Dominican Order to the United Nations.  It was a real gathering of family with many lay members of the Dominican Family and Srs Bernie Cheyne, Joan Hardiman and Carmel Walsh all joining the celebration. 

Thanks to all those who made this gathering happen, especially Fr Kevin Toomey OP, Fr Chris Loughlan and Connie Hassan and her amazing team of locals.   You can find more photos from this gathering on our Dominicans Aotearoa Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/dominicansaotearoa/.