Becoming St Francis of Assisi, Ohariu

In 2013 Archbishop John Dew requested consultation regarding a proposed merger of the three parishes of St Benedict’s Onslow, SS Peter and Paul Johnsonville and St Andrew’s Newlands. It was stated that there was a desire for greater lay leadership and involvement in planning parish life and in providing a wide range of ministries, outreach and services. In 2018 in Parish Priest, Fr Peter Fitzgibbon retired after 54 years of priestly service leaving Cardinal John Dew with the question of how to provide ongoing sacramental, pastoral and spiritual care for the Ohariu parish and how to provide leadership. The Archdiocese was not able to appoint a full time Diocesan Priest to the parish any longer and he saw a “wonderful opportunity for new and different ways of collaborative leadership”.

From 2019 this collaborative leadership involved the Society of Mary, the Archdiocese of Wellington and people of this parish. Fr Peter Roe SM was appointed as the Administrator and some priests of the Society of Mary were available for Masses and sacramental care.

None of these priests were to be full-time working in the parish. As Cardinal John wrote “This will be a different and new model.”

Cardinal John invited a group of people, John Kleinsman, Paul Alsford, John Lawson, Paul Betham, Sister Judith McGinley OP, Kitty McKinley, Shane Dinnan, Thomas Davis and Paul Whitehouse to work with Fr Peter Roe to develop this new model.

Members of this group prepared the implementation plan for the amalgamation of the three parishes into St Francis of Assisi, Ohariu. This was to be by no means an exclusive group.

It is essential that the model is inclusive, and that representatives from other ethnic communities play a vital part in this parish. They were urged to consider new and exciting ways in which we might re-imagine the role and the mission of our Church in the world.

 This is a new venture; Pope Francis is always challenging us to do new things and to bring new life to our parishes. The Cardinal saw this group, priest(s) and people working together as a group of Stewards who are willing to work together with ALL parishioners to continue to build a vital, outward focused faith community.


Underpinning this renewal was the concept of “A Future Full of Hope”.



The Merger of the three existing Parishes was seen as an opportunity:

  • to renew our communities and share human, spiritual, financial and physical resources and to explore different ways of spreading the Gospel.
  • to reclaim and harness the spirit of Vatican II – to be living witnesses to the Gospel in the world, delighting in belonging, participating and giving.
  • to develop a new vision and plan using combined resources, strengths and facilities new, fresh ways of living the Gospel might be developed. Ways of praying together, faith formation, social activities and adult-educational opportunities would be enriched with a wider and more culturally-diverse pool of people.



We embrace a Church that is grounded in the Vatican II vision of baptism as the fundamental call to discipleship.

We envisage a parish that is strong in its faith, strong in its sense of community, welcoming, culturally diverse and culturally safe, inclusive and hospitable to all people, and willing to be actively and effectively engaged in bringing about a more just and equitable society – a parish where the intrinsic dignity of all people is reflected in its ecclesiastical, social and political structures and practices.

To that end we propose:

  • To revitalise the parish as a vital Eucharistic community through a new fresh approach to the various pastoral and liturgical and evangelical ministries that centres on the animation of key service groups
  • Appointing a Lay Pastoral Leader to provide a pivotal leadership and administrative role
  • Appointing an Executive Officer to support the leadership and administrative role.
  • Scriptural, theological, sacramental and pastoral training opportunities that will upskill lay people to exercise key functions that flow out of our baptismal call

The History of our Parish

Background to the Catholic Church in Ohariu, based on Robert McClean’s history, 2015

Our tipuna – our whakapapa – starts with Jesus who passed on the message to St Peter and St Paul and the other disciplines and who began the early Church. We are all descendants of this core beginning: we can trace the line of St Peter through the Popes over the centuries to the existing Pope Francis - despite having a few 'dodgy popes' along the way.

From Palestine, the Church spread and eventually (after a long time) arrived to Aotearoa-NZ: Most of us are likely to be familiar that from the Church in Europe came missionaries, such as Bishop Pompallier who celebrated the first Mass at Hokianga in 1838.

But the Church did not arrive to an 'empty land' - Johnsonville stream was known as Waitohi or scared water. Waitohi was also the name of the elder sister of Te Rauparaha and the Mother of Te Rangihaeata of Ngati Toa Rangatira. And before Ngati Toa arrival in the 1820s, Ngai Tara and Ngati Ira lived in this area. Ngati Toa and the associated iwi and hapu had their own beliefs and traditions.

The Ohariu Valley was surveyed by the NZ Company in the 1840s and was set aside as a small farms settlement. Many of the Ohariu Valley settlers arrived on the Oliver Lang in 1856, including Thomas and Harriet Bassett (who had 10 children). It was the Bassett family who donated the land to build the 1st Catholic Church in the area - St Joseph's Chapel of 1874/75. St Joseph's in the Ohariu Valley and the surrounding area (including St Josephs of Pauatahanui) was at the time serviced by the Hutt Valley parish of Ss Peter and Pauls.  While the Chapel is 'long gone', the historic Catholic cemetery in the Ohariu Valley remains an important historic site of our parish and faith history story

With the construction of the Wellington-Manawatu railway in the 1880s, the centre of settlement shifted from Ohariu Valley to Johnsonville. To cater for the growing population, the Church of St Peter and St Paul Church was built in Johnsonville in 1895. As for the Ohariu Valley community, Johnsonville was serviced from the Hutt Valley, in particular by Fr Donnelly and Fr Lane. Like the Ohariu Valley story, it was a partnership enterprise between clergy and laity. In particular, Felix and Gertrude O'Neill provided lodgings for the visiting priests and took leadership in the faith community. It was Felix O'Neill who gave the address of welcome to Archbishop Redwood at the opening of the church in 1895.

In 1922, Johsonville, Ngaio, Khandallah, Porirua, Pauatahanui and Plimmerton was divided from the rest of the Hutt Valley Parish and was called Johnsonville parish - as the parish of St Peter and St Paul with the 1st parish priest, being Fr Michael Griffin. While Fr Michael Griffin 'got things going', it was a joint effort of priest and laity to construct some basic foundation stones of the parish. Johnsonville, as the growing centre of the church for the area, was strengthened with the opening of St Brigid's School in 1929 serviced by the Brigidine Sisters with the Brigindine Convent built in 1937. Additional growth required expansion to the original church with the church extension (now the hall) built in 1931.

Meanwhile the parish of Johnsonville became smaller in geographic size - Plimmerton parish was established in 1940 (which included Tawa and Porirua at the time), the parish of Onslow was established in 1948 and the parish of St Andrew in Newlands was established in 1968. Along with the new church at Newlands, the old 1895 part of the Johnsonville church was deteriorating and on Christmas morning in 1969, the north wall of the Sanctuary started to cave in as a result of high winds. The architectural solution of the time was to demolish the 1895 Church and build a new church building attached to the 1931 addition. The new church opened in August 1975.

For our future, the past can be our model – as when the Bassetts took the initiative to establish a church in Ohariu Valley in 1874 – today it will be laity working with clergy to also establish new communities within the new parish in the growing urban area – it will be a large and diverse community, but united together

Last updated: 18ᵗʰ June, 2020