Thursday, September 13,
ARCHDIOCES OF WELLINGTON
(From our own correspondent.)
On Sunday afternoon (September 7) the new
church at Island Bay was blessed by his Grace, Archbishop Redwood, assisted
by the Ven. Archdeacon Devoy, S.M. (Provincial), Very Rev. Father Lewis,
V.G., and Rev. Fathers Ainsworth, O'Shea, Moloney and Herring. The
weather was most inclement and prevented the attendance of large numbers
from other parishes. At the conclusion of a short service, his
Grace said that he rejoiced to see signs so evident of the progress of
the Catholic Church in the Island Bay district and instanced such
buildings as the Convent of the Sacred Heart and the Home for the
Incurables that is now in course of erection. The church, which he
had just blessed, would soon be found too small for their
requirements, but it was so erected that additions could easily be made.
He congratulated the clergy and all who had been associated in the
completion of a work which supplied a want long felt by the Catholics at
the Bay. The Rev. Father Ainsworth, S.M., pastor of the parish,
referred to the rapid growth of the district and to the fact that at
Newtown the congregation had increased in a remarkable degree.
The new church, which occupies a very fine
site, is capable of seating 200 people. The length of the building
is 60 feet, the height is 20 feet and the width 26 feet. There is
a choir gallery at the western end and an organ has been installed.
In about a month's time there will be a solemn dedication service and
opening ceremony. The new church is to be dedicated to God under
the patronage of St. Francis de Sales.
Our History Publication (1998)
of Saint Francis de Sales is made up of a diverse group of people from
every walk of life. Yet it also has its uniqueness. It has been blessed
with four orders of Religious Sisters. It has a high academic tradition.
It has had both a Marist and a Diocesan presence. Almost all of the
strong Italian presence is from the town of Massalubrense and the isle
Our parish is now 81 years old. I wonder what those early parishioners
would have thought of this parish and it's future. What if we could step
back to the beginnings of our Parish? We think of those early people in
the Bay; O'Regan, O'Brien, Kennedy, Hoskins, Cass, Beveridge, Nichol,
and those of Massalubrense and Stromboli; Greco, Basile, Costa, Paino,
Barnao and Russo; alla fine del mondo; the ends of the earth; how must
they have felt as they dreamed dreams 81 years ago! How important their
faith must have been. They were determined to keep it and pass it on to
their children and their children's children.
How they have succeeded is seen as we look around at the fruits of their
toil. We have a beautiful church, presbytery and school. We have many
groups and ministries operating.
Our task is to keep up what they have started. Not just to hold on to
the faith ourselves, but to share it with others so that it will grow
like the proverbial mustard seed, until a great tree is formed. The
Parish has indeed a lot to offer.
Often it can seem that the few do most of the work. An ideal situation
would be quite the reverse, a lot of people doing a little each. That is
our aim. Thanks to those who use their gifts so well in our Parish. I
think of those who do things in quiet ways, e.g. cleaning the brass, as
well as those who are more seen to be using their gifts, e.g. musicians,
readers. Thanks to all.
Italians in Island Bay
For more than a century the suburb of Island Bay has been linked to
immigrants from southern Italy. And for most of those years Italians
have been an integral part of St Francis de Sales parish.
Italian fishermen began working at Island Bay in the late 1880s
alongside the rugged men of the Shetland Islands. Little is known about
these men or where they came from but they were not members of the early
families who settled in Eastbourne. These were the Russo, Della Barca
and Meo brothers who happened on New Zealand from sailing ships more by
accident than design, saw the bounty being dragged from the sea and
decided to stay. This was the start of chain migration – effectively
those who went to a place settling down before summonsing families and
friends to the new land. The fishing community at Rona Bay in Eastbourne
grew steadily but from the 1930s an increasing number of the small boats
moved to the safer protected anchorages of Island Bay which was also
close to the rich western fishing grounds.
The first of them, Bartolo Russo, and the younger brothers who came
later were from the tiny volcanic island of Stromboli which is part of
the Aeolian group of islands not far from Sicily. The island’s
frequent volcanic eruptions forced its residents to flee, initially to
other nearby islands but later to escape poverty to the United States,
South America, Australia and New Zealand in search of a better life for
their families. Stromboli is made up of tiny villages Fico Grande,
Scari, Supaleta, Ginostra and Piscita and the island’s occupants
worked hard toiling the soil and fishing. The island was made famous by
a 1950 movie of the same name starring Ingrid Bergman and Roberto
Rosselini, and now draws tourists keen to climb the smouldering
The Della Barca and Meo brothers were from the village town of
Massalubrense, located in the Bay of Naples, a 10-minute drive to the
tourist town of Sorrento, a 30-minute drive to the ruins of Pompeii and
a short boat ride to the island of Capri, famed for its Blue Grotto.
Like the villages on Stromboli, Massalubrense has a tiny marina and from
there to the top of the hill, among the lemon trees, olive trees and
grape vines, are scattered houses and any number of churches, some of
them still run by monks.
The church was the one constant for Italian immigrants coming to
Wellington who faced difficulties in language, culture, food and
traditions. At the time Mass was said in Latin in both countries and
while the accents were different there was no problem following the
faith through attendance at Mass in the churches in Humber Street and
The Parade. Many of the first generation immigrants kept to themselves,
single men living in a shared hostel-type home, Roma House, in Trent
Street (joined frequently by married men to play cards) and families
visiting and sharing special occasions such as christenings, first holy
communions and marriages.
The immigrant community was such that while they shared the same
language (if not the same dialects) there was not a lot of social
contact and little intermarriage between the Neopolitans and the
Strombolani. Those who cared to, joined the Garibaldi Club which was
founded in 1882 (and is still active in Wellington today) where they
could enjoy each other’s company, a glass of wine and a game of indoor
The Italian immigrants in Island Bay belonged to large families where
the men would emigrate first, work for anything from one to 25 years,
sending money home and save before calling for their wives and children
to join them or going back to Italy to find a wife. These included the
names of Barnao, Paino, Di Mattina, Famularo and Tesoriero from
Stromboli and Basile, Volpicelli, Muollo and Greco from the area around
Ministering to the Italian flock was left to the parish priest and his
assistants but on a number of occasions Italian priests, mostly based in
Australia, conducted one to four-week missions in the Bay which were
The women had a strong commitment to the church and have always taken a
role in the feast of the Assumption, an important day back in Italy. The
men enjoyed singing and one or two could be persuaded to sing at Mass. A
group would often go from house to house singing Christmas carols and
traditional Italian favourites, a practice that died in the 1960s. When
the rosary statue was introduced in the 1960s many Italian families
would make a home for Our Lady and say the rosary twice daily.
A monthly Mass said in the Italian language was introduced in the 1980s
with the celebrant usually the secretary to the Papal representative
based in Wellington.