St Mary's Church, Motuti

The tiny St Mary's Church at Motuti, in the remote Hokianga area of northern New Zealand, attracts local and international pilgrims to the shrine of the country's first Catholic bishop.


History of St Mary's Church, Motuti

Bishop Pompallier was born in Lyons, France, in 1802 and ordained a priest in 1829. In 1836 he was consecrated a bishop in Rome and appointed Vicar Apostolic of Western Oceania - a vast expanse of the Pacific ocean, amounting to about one-sixth of the globe.

On January 10, 1838, the bishop and two assistants, a Marist priest and a Marist brother, sailed up the Hokianga harbour on New Zealand's west coast. They were welcomed by an Irish-born (but French-educated) timber merchant, Thomas Poynton, and his Australian-born wife.

In the Poynton's home at Totara Point the bishop celebrated the first Catholic Mass in New Zealand on January 13, 1838.

A memorial plinth stands on the Totara Point site, which is north-east of Motuti and about 32 kilometres away by road. A sign on the Kohukohu-Mangamuka Road points to a gate leading to a one-kilometre farm road that gives access to the site.

Bishop Jean Baptiste Francois Pompallier ministered to indigenous Maori and European settlers from 1838 until 1868. He then returned in ill health to his native France where he died in 1871.

In 2001, at the request of Maori Catholics, the bishop's remains were exhumed from his grave at Puteaux, on the outskirts of Paris, and, following a requiem Mass in Notre Dame Cathedral, returned to New Zealand.

During a 16-week sacred journey throughout New Zealand in 2002, crowds gathered to pay their respects to the bishop in each of the six Catholic dioceses. Then, before a large gathering - including Catholic bishops from New Zealand, France and the Pacific Islands, and the French ambassador to New Zealand - the remains were reinterred beneath the altar of St Mary's Church.

What to See at St Mary's Church, Motuti

St. Mary's Church, up an earthen driveway at 224 Motuti Road, is 92 kilometres from the central Northland town of Kaikohe, along a winding road through mainly native bush and small farms. A signpost on the Kokukohu-Mitimiti Road indicates the location.

The church, which dates from 1899, is a simple white weatherboard church with corrugated iron roof and a modest steeple. The interior is of tongue-and-groove macrocarpa timber. 

The wooden altar is usually covered by a cloth with Maori motifs. A specially-made red carpet running down the aisle has a French fleur-de-lis pattern.

Bishop Pompallier's ornately carved casket is raised for public viewing on four days each year: April 20, the date of the reinterment; August 15, the feast of the Assumption; December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception; and December 21, the date of the bishop's death.

It is also raised by special arrangement for pilgrimage groups (but not for tourists).

A cemetery beside the church serves the mainly-Maori local Catholic community.

Quick Facts on St Mary's Church, Motuti

Site Information
Names:St Mary's Church, Motuti
Visitor and Contact Information
Address:224 Motuti Road
Hours:Daily during daylight hours
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours and prices can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.

More Information

© See the Holy Land
© See the Holy Land
© See the Holy Land
© See the Holy Land