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First Catholic missionaries
The first Catholic missionaries arrived in New Zealand in 1838. They began their work in Northland, and were led by Bishop Jean-Baptiste Francois Pompallier, a handsome and charismatic 36-year-old.
Māori and Catholicism
Many Māori converted to Catholicism, some because rival tribes had become Anglicans or Methodists. Pompallier urged his priests to build Catholic belief around Māori customs. The missionaries set up a printing press, and printed books in the Māori language.
Irish settler church
As more European settlers arrived in New Zealand, many of them Irish Catholics, the Catholic Church become more of a settler church rather than a mission to Māori. Irish Catholics supported home rule for Ireland, which was part of the United Kingdom at that time. Some saw this as a lack of loyalty to Britain, and there were some conflicts between Catholics and Protestants.
Catholics believed it was important to educate their children in the Catholic faith, and set up many church schools from 1877. They failed to get government funding for the schools until 1975, when religious schools were able to join the state system. Until then, they were supported by their communities.
Catholicism in the 20th century
New Zealand Catholics fought in the First World War. However, because the Pope remained neutral, and due to continuing tensions between Irish nationalists and Britain, there was a backlash against Catholics.
Many Catholics were involved in setting up the Labour Party, and the first Labour prime minister, Michael Joseph Savage, was Catholic.
Catholics tended to go to separate schools, play for separate sports clubs, socialise together, and marry within the faith. However, in the 1960s there were many reforms in the Catholic Church, and Catholics became more involved in the wider society.
Catholicism in the 21st century
In 2013 there were about 492,000 Catholics in New Zealand. Many were Pākehā, of Irish descent, but there were increasing numbers of people from the Pacific, Asia, the Middle East and Africa.