European Catholics immigrate
From the 1840s to the 1870s European settlers steadily streamed into New Zealand. New Zealand’s Catholic Church, originally a mission to Māori, became mainly a settler church. The discovery of gold in the 1860s brought thousands of eager migrants to the new frontier. Intensive programmes of immigration sponsored by provincial and central governments in the 1860s and 1870s also swelled religious congregations and placed enormous demands on the churches.
Māori lose faith
Māori uprisings over land and sovereignty also helped transform the Catholic mission. After a Ngāpuhi chiefs Hōne Heke and Te Ruki Kawiti attacked Kororāreka, the Sunday congregation at its Catholic church was no longer mostly Māori. Larger churches opened in New Plymouth in 1862 and Whanganui in 1864, built by and for the Irish soldiers who made up many of the rank and file of the British army units stationed there. Despite Pompallier’s valiant efforts to mediate between the warring forces in this period, many Māori left the Catholic Church and its Protestant rivals, which they now viewed as Pākehā institutions. Pompallier left New Zealand in 1868, a disappointed man, and died in Paris three years later.
First Irish Bishops
The Vatican authorities soon recognised the changed nature of New Zealand Catholicism by choosing Irishmen to lead the mission. In 1870–71 bishops Patrick Moran and Thomas Croke arrived to lead the dioceses of Dunedin and Auckland respectively. The new men judged their French predecessors harshly. Croke told Rome, ‘I found this place in a shocking condition. The churches not frequented, sacraments neglected, faith grown cold, the Catholics ashamed of their religion.’1 They planned to divide New Zealand between them, but Croke soon returned to Ireland.
By contrast, Patrick Moran’s 24-year term as bishop helped to shape the future of New Zealand Catholicism. On his arrival he launched crusades against secular (non-religious) education and Freemasonry. His aggressive writings in the newspaper he founded in 1873, the New Zealand Tablet, increased tensions between Catholics and Protestants throughout the colony. Catholic-backed measures to allow state financial assistance to church schools were presented to Parliament repeatedly from 1878. They were accompanied by noisy agitation, petitions and threats of a Catholic block vote against hostile candidates.
Irish and Māori nationalism
During the New Zealand wars some Irish Catholics sympathised with ‘rebel’ Māori fighting against the British Crown. This song was written in support of Tāwhiao, the Māori king, and his opposition to selling tribal land. The Shan van Vocht, or the ‘old woman’, is a symbol of Ireland.
Hurrah for Tawhiao
Says the Shan van Vocht
The problem now is solved
The Māori is resolved
The land shall ne’er be sold
Says the Shan van Vocht.2
The Tablet was equally forthright over its other favourite issue – Irish nationalism. Irish immigrants – lay and clerical – brought to New Zealand firm views on politics and education, and a tradition of agitating over their grievances. In 1868 a minor riot involving Fenians (supporters of Irish nationalism) and their opponents on the West Coast showed how little tolerance most settlers felt towards colonists who placed Irish patriotism before loyalty to Britain. There were other skirmishes between Protestants and Catholics, as in 1879 when Irish Catholics attacked Protestant gatherings in Timaru and Christchurch. The violence of the land war in Ireland aroused fear and suspicion in New Zealand, as did the potential for Irish home rule to endanger the unity of the British Empire. Long after colonial-born Catholics made up the bulk of the typical congregation, the Catholic Church in New Zealand was unable to escape its divisive Irish heritage.