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Largest Catholic school finally gets its chapel

After 81 years, what is now the largest Catholic secondary college in the country has a chapel that is fit for purpose.

The Chapel of St Peter the Apostle at St Peter’s College in Auckland was blessed and dedicated on March 13.

Many people — staff, students, benefactors, supporters, old boys, Christian Brothers, clergy, principals of other colleges, and many others processed to the doors of the new chapel as a resounding haka was performed by the college’s kapa haka group.

College chaplain, Msgr Paul Farmer, began his welcome by quoting from Psalm 118: “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us be glad and rejoice”.

Msgr Farmer handed the keys of the chapel to headmaster James Bentley and board of trustees chair Mark McLauchlan, who unlocked the doors. The outside walls of the chapel were blessed.

During the service inside the building, the baptismal font, the table of the Word, the reconciliation chapel, a statue of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the chapel of reservation and the cross were blessed. The altar was consecrated and relics of St Peter Chanel and Blessed Edmund Rice were placed in it. The walls of the chapel were also anointed.

The service was relayed by live-feed to some 1000 students gathered in the school’s gymnasium. Among the clergy present were three former students of the college, Msgr Farmer, Msgr David Tonks and Fr Leonard Danvers, who had been at the college at the same time in the 1960s.

Clergy are among those welcomed with a haka.

In a homily, Msgr Farmer said that for many years, it has been said that “it is a great scandal that the biggest Catholic college in New Zealand does not have a chapel that is fit for purpose. Today, we do”.

The chapel had been a long time in “incubation”, Msgr Farmer said, but the vision of former headmaster Kieran Fouhy had become the vision of many.

Msgr Farmer encouraged every one of the 1250 boys at the college to visit the chapel. “This place belongs to each and every one of you.”

He said this chapel is a place of difference, a place of stillness, a place of quiet, a place of prayer, a place to listen and a place to reflect, for current and future students.

Later in the service, Mr Fouhy, now the headmaster of St Paul’s College in Ponsonby, referred to five previous, much smaller chapels, that had been elsewhere on the site.

“I congratulate everyone who has made this place possible,” Mr Fouhy said.

He hoped that students would use this chapel as students had previous ones, in that they would keep up a tradition of dropping in to the chapel to pray before classes started each day.

The baptismal font is filled.

Mr Fouhy said he liked the symbolism of the chapel being in the middle of three large crosses visible from major Auckland roads. But he also noted the flag outside being at half-mast, in remembrance of the mosque massacres a year ago.

The cross was an apt symbol, he said.

“I suppose every boy will experience failure, somewhere in his life. Every person does. In fact, in educational things, I think maybe it is a good thing. It proves that character can be built. It proves that we have to strive. The good times we know now won’t always be the good times.”

Mr McLauchlan said the chapel “is a defining symbol of who we are as a Catholic college”.

“We are immensely proud of this chapel, and we believe it has been worth the wait.”

He said people might ask, why did it take so long?

“I think it does pay to remember, for a good part of its history, the college has faced many challenges and financial struggles. There are, I know, staff still working for the college today who remember the days when bills to be paid went into the bottom drawer, waiting for funds to come in.”

But the opening is a “transformation”, he said.

Headmaster James Bentley welcomed and thanked many people associated with the project. He also welcomed the headmaster and associate headmaster of Auckland Grammar School and the headmaster of Mt Albert Grammar School, as well as principals of Catholic colleges.

Mr Bentley described the chapel, which cost an estimated $3million, as “a magnificent building which makes a statement for all to see about what we believe in and what we stand for. This chapel will be a place of worship, not just for our students and staff, but for our wider community”.

Gary Lawson, of Stevens Lawson Architects, said it was an emotional day for him.

“To design a place of worship, as a Catholic, has involved a deep personal journey and a spiritual growth that I don’t think I quite expected. It is a rare privilege when one’s vocation can grow your faith and . . . truly merge with your life,” he said.

“Our aspiration for the Chapel of St Peter has been to create a building which inspires, encourages worship and helps establish in each boy a life-lasting relationship with Our Lord.

“We are all very proud of the project.”

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Six centuries of professed religious life celebrated

More than six centuries of religious life by seven Sisters of Mercy and three Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart were celebrated on February 29.

In welcoming the jubilarians and guests to a Mass of celebration at Mercy Parklands in Auckland, Sr Sheryl James, RSM, said “we give thanks for a total of 675 years of religious life”.

The jubilarians were Josephite Sisters Louise O’Kane (80 years professed), Sr Colleen Story (65 years) and Marie McGreevy (65 years). The Mercy Sisters having jubilees were Srs Gwenda Williams (70 years), Paulinus Karl (70 years), Mary Molloy (70 years), Maureen O’Brien (65 years), Frances Stewart (65 years), Kate Franich (65 years) and Valerie Gunnion (60 years). All were at the Mass except Sr Mary Molloy, who was not well enough to attend.

Sr Sheryl said it was a real privilege to celebrate and honour “these amazing women who have given service to God”.

“Each jubilarian sister [of those who live at Mercy Parklands] holds a special place in the heart of our staff and the other residents,” she said.

Sr Sheryl noted that, when the question of the celebration of the jubilees came up, the jubilarians decided that they live together and therefore they wanted to celebrate as community — not separately as Mercies and Josephites.

Sr Sheryl thanked the Josephite Sisters present for choosing Mercy Parklands for their sisters, “so that they can continue their ministry, which I think is very important, of praying for the sick and enriching the lives of those they come in contact with each day”.

Responding later, Sr Jill McLoughlin, RSJ, recalled her congregation’s “painful decision” to close their rest home and hospital in Mission Bay last year. She expressed her gratitude that “our sisters have been able to come here” and that one was able to go to St Catherine’s in Ponsonby.

Sr Sheryl said that “over the last few days, I have had this image of two women enjoying each other’s company and having a good cup of tea and sharing stories of you all. Perhaps this image is of Catherine McAuley and [St] Mary MacKillop? I am sure they are smiling on us as we celebrate these wahine tapu, the holy women, who today join together and allow us to celebrate how they have touched [the] lives of many people in New Zealand”.

Msgr Bernard Kiely, the main celebrant at the Mass, also mentioned Catherine McAuley and Mary MacKillop, noting that the latter was born just two months after the former had died.

“I wonder if, in heaven, the Lord was sort of rearranging things and wondering who will be the next one to take on the baton?” Msgr Kiely noted that these two women had a lot in common — being “brave, courageous, going against the tide, having huge battles, including, dare I say, with the hierarchy, and surviving”.

These women have seen great need and have responded wholeheartedly, he said.

“Imagine the meeting of those two women in heaven,” Msgr Kiely said, “the discussing of the dream, the difficulties and challenges that they faced and hopefully the great satisfaction that they were able to reflect on to see the vision continuing. Long may it last.”

He said he was “sort of in awe of the years we come to honour, the women and the dreams that they have shared of their founders by responding to the call”.

“I can only imagine the number of people in the Church who have been touched by the combined ministry of the Sisters of St Joseph and the Sisters of Mercy. I pray you know our thanksgiving and our encouragement.”

At one point in the Mass, the names of deceased Mercy and Josephite sisters who would have celebrated 80, 70, 65 and 60 years professed this year were read out and candles were lit. In the foyer of the facility, a display board had photos and brief write-ups of the jubilarians’ lives as religious.

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Self-isolation in our deserts of Lent

With the first cases of the novel coronavirus confirmed in New Zealand, authorities are responding in various ways. Among the tools being used are prevention of entry from some nations, being required to self-register if having returned from certain other nations as well as going into self-isolation for 14 days to help prevent the spread of the virus.

The “self-isolation guidance” issued by the Ministry of Health makes many recommendations about how to protect people from the spread of this disease and others. There is one section labelled “taking care of your well-being”.

It states that it is normal to feel stressed and lonely when self-isolating. But there are steps that can be done to help — such as reaching out to friends and family, talking about how one feels and sticking to a regular routine in terms of meals, sleep and exercise. Trained counsellors are available by phone to offer support with grief, anxiety, distress or mental well-being.

This is all happening in the season of Lent. The 40 days of Lent recall the 40 days and nights that Jesus spent in the desert in a type of self-isolation, except that he had been led there by the Holy Spirit after his baptism in the River Jordan.

Benedict XVI, in a 2013 general audience, said that the desert is many things. On the negative side, it can be a place of death, because there is little water. It is a place of silence and poverty, a place of solitude where “man feels temptation more acutely”. But it is also a place where the human person is driven to the “essential” and “for this very reason can more easily encounter God”.

In his Ash Wednesday homily in 2010, Benedict said that, for Jesus, “that long period of silence and fasting” in the desert “was a complete abandonment of himself to the Father and to his plan of love. The time was a ‘baptism’ in itself, that is, an ‘immersion’ in God’s will and, in this sense, a foretaste of the Passion and of the Cross”.

Jesus’ 40 days in the desert demonstrated “the dramatic reality of the kenosis, the self-emptying of Christ, who had stripped himself of the form of God (see Phil 2: 6-7) . . . “, Benedict said in an Angelus address in 2006.

“He who never sinned and cannot sin submits to being tested and can therefore sympathise with our weaknesses (see Hebrews 4:15). He lets himself be tempted by Satan, the enemy, who has been opposed to God’s saving plan for humankind from the outset,” Benedict said.

“What is the essence of the three temptations to which Jesus is subjected?” Benedict asked in a 2012 Ash Wednesday audience.

“It is the proposal to exploit God, to use him for one’s own interests, for one’s own glory and for one’s own success. And therefore, essentially, to put oneself in God’s place, removing him from one’s own existence and making him seem superfluous. Each one of us must therefore ask him- or herself: what place does God have in my life? Is he the Lord or am I?”

And it is only by looking at the figure of Jesus dead on the cross, Benedict wrote in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est (2012), that a fundamental truth can be known and contemplated: “God is love” (I John 4: 8,16).

“In this contemplation, the Christian discovers the path along which his life and love must move” (no. 12).

But at the same time as we look at the crucified Christ, we feel looked at by the Risen Christ, Benedict noted elsewhere. “He whom we have pierced with our faults never tires of pouring out upon the world an inexhaustible torrent of merciful love.”

Returning to the 2010 homily, Benedict wrote that salvation is . . . a gift; “it is the grace of God, but in order for it to make an impact on my life, it requires my assent, an acceptance that is demonstrated in my actions — in other words, the will to live like Jesus, to follow him”.

It is to be hoped that those who follow Jesus in 2020 in New Zealand act sensibly with regard to COVID-19, love their sick neighbour if it comes to that, offer prayers for those who are ill and for those working to find a cure and generally be good citizens at this time and always.

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NZ priest in Italy: Pray for those suffering

Italy has been one of the countries hardest hit by the novel coronavirus pandemic, with 15,113 confirmed cases and more than 1000 deaths as of March 12. 

The Italian government has taken measures in response. On March 9 it extended “red zone” restrictions already in place in the north to all of Italy, discouraging people nationwide from all unessential travel and from leaving their homes unless it was for work, getting food, medicines or seeing a doctor. Churches and places of worship in Italy were allowed to stay open, but they had to guarantee people stayed three feet apart and avoided congregating. All civil and religious ceremonies like weddings and funerals are not allowed until after April 3. 

After the Italian government issued a decree barring the celebration of all “civil and religious ceremonies, including funerals”, the Italian bishops announced the suspension of public Masses until April 3. 

Further restrictions followed by Government order, including the closure of all businesses except grocery stores, pharmacies, newsstands and other essential services. 

NZ Catholic spoke to New Zealand priest Fr Peter Janssen, SM, who is assistant priest in Pratola Peligna, a town with 9000 inhabitants in the Diocese of Sulmona in the Abruzzo region of Italy, about how he and people in the parish (which includes a shrine to Our Lady of Deliverance — initially from a plague in 1500AD), are faring at this time. 

NZC: Fr Janssen, how have the current restrictions affected your life and ministry? 

Fr Janssen: Even though there are no cases in our town and only 30 in the whole region, we are all behaving as if there were infected people or unwitting asymptomatic carriers living here. Our ministry has been severely curtailed by the order forbidding aggregations of people. For instance, we had our first funeral here since the expansion of the red zone. It was very brief and held at the cemetery rather than the church. Only the closest family members, who might be expected to share a house anyway, were present, and notably no one from out of town. Our ministry of direct pastoral contact is reduced to almost nil. A certain amount is still maintained through social media. It is all terribly frustrating. 

NZC: The Pope has prayed that priests would find the courage to visit those who are sick and offer accompaniment to health care professionals and volunteers working during the coronavirus pandemic, while also keeping themselves and others safe. What are your plans in this regard? 

Fr Janssen: Some people whose confession I regularly hear and to whom I take communion let it be known that they do not want anyone visiting them, even/especially the priest, who might be a carrier of contagion caught from other sick people. Perhaps they are right, because we do not know enough about this virus. No one can say for sure how long the incubation period is and the symptoms seem to be on a spectrum from asymptomatic to regular flu-like to deadly pneumonia. Even the medical advice is changing subtly. At one stage those with flu-like symptoms were encouraged to stay home and ride it out, but now they are finding that, when such types eventually have to go to hospital, . . . they are amongst the worst cases. My instinct is to be a modern-day Charles Borromeo, and go out of my way to visit the sick and even nurse them. Fortunately, at the moment it is a hypothetical question. There are no cases near about — and please God there will not be — but reasonably, I would expect those who are really sick and fearful to be ministered to by the hospital chaplains. Of course, I would be available to help out there.   

NZC: How have your parishioners reacted to the suspension of public Masses until April 3? How do you feel about it? 

The most common response is a disappointed resignation. To me it seems to be too drastic a move to suspend all public Masses — we should have more faith. But on the other hand, Italy is far from being the country of faith that it once was. The government had to extend the red zone to the whole country because (mainly) university students and school teachers treated the original two-week closure of schools and universities as holiday time. Only, they were frustrated that in their zone all places of entertainment were closed, so tens of thousands of them “escaped” to the ski fields and the South of Italy to enjoy their unexpected “holiday”. The North has much better medical resources than the South. Even in the North they are struggling to cope, but the death toll in the South would be horrendous if the virus were allowed to spread there. Unfortunately, when people will not do the right thing out of Christian care for one’s neighbour or out of civic conscience, they have to be taught and constrained. Perhaps the Church has also to play an exemplary role in that. 

NZC: Is your parish doing live-streaming of Masses over the Internet? What is being done in your parish to help people spiritually? (And practically?) 

Fr Janssen: All Masses are now private (only our religious community) in our house chapel. They are not streamed, but at the hour when Mass is on, parishioners are encouraged to participate spiritually. The Bishop of Sulmona has made his Masses available on YouTube and there is no shortage of Masses transmitted over TV. It is a totally new situation for us as well, so we are doing what we can, and as permitted by the regulations now in force, but it is rather ad hoc. Maintaining contact through social media and the parish website is more important than ever. 

NZC: Are people in your town/village fearful about the virus and doing things like panic-shopping? Are people too fearful, in your opinion? 

Fr Janssen: As far as I can tell, no one is fearful enough to go in for panic-buying or stockpiling. In this region there are so few confirmed cases that it all seems a long way away. The hyper-coverage in the media, if anything, is having a desensitising effect. 

NZC: What are you saying to people to encourage them at this time? 

Fr Janssen: I tell them to pray to Madonna della Libera — she saved Pratola from the plague and many other disasters before and she can do it again.  

NZC: Are people coming into your church to pray? 

Fr Janssen: Yes, but not as many as usual. Because all the shops and cafés are closed, no one is venturing out much. 

NZC: How is your own health? Do you worry that you might catch the virus? 

Fr Janssen: Right now, I am in good, if not perfect, health. However, if I get a cold, I have a tendency to develop bronchitis. Apparently, that is an indicator of those who might be expected to suffer more severe symptoms should they contract the virus. So, short of wearing a face mask, I’m taking all reasonable precautions.  

NZC: What can we in New Zealand do to help? 

Fr Janssen: Prayer! Please pray for the sufferers and those who fear for their health and/or livelihood. Especially, please pray for the medical staffs of the hospital intensive care units. They are becoming exhausted, physically, emotionally and mentally. I would love to be able to tell the parishioners that the New Zealand Church is praying in solidarity with them. 

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