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Archdiocese of Wellington

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Located in New Zealand, originally formed part of the Vicariate of Western Oceania erected by the Holy See in 1835. In 1836 New Zealand and the islands of the Western Pacific were entrusted by Gregory XVI to the then newly-founded Society of Mary, as a field for their missionary labours. Owing to the difficulty of communication at that time between the numerous islands forming the vicariate, it was thought that success could be better achieved by making New Zealand a separate vicariate. This was done in 1842, and Mgr. Pompallier was chosen to administer it as Titular Bishop of Amasia, and vicar Apostolic. Very soon the need was felt for a further division, as British colonists began to arrive in great numbers, once New Zealand was made a British colony. On 22 Jan., 1840, the first body of immigrants arrived and founded the town of Wellington. About the same time (29 Jan., 1840) the sovereignty of Queen Victoria over the Islands of New Zealand was proclaimed. A compact called the Treaty of Waitangi was entered into between the queen's representative and the prominent native chiefs, whereby all rights and powers of sovereignty were ceded to the queen, all territorial rights being secured to the chiefs and their tribes. New Zealand was then constituted a dependency of New South Wales, but on 3 May, 1841, was proclaimed a separate colony. The colony (as it then was) was divided into two vicariates in 1843, the Province of Auckland forming one vicariate, and Wellington, with the rest of the colony, the other. When the division of territory was made, Mgr. Philip Joseph Viard, who had for some time been acting as coadjutor to Mgr. Pompallier, became administrator of the Wellington vicariate, at the same time remaining coadjutor of Auckland. By Brief of 3 July, 1860, he ceased to be coadjutor of Auckland, and was appointed the first Bishop of Wellington. An Irish Capuchin, Rev. J.P. O'Reilly, was the first resident priest in Wellington, where he laboured from 1843 until his death in 1880.

The Archdiocese of Wellington occupies territory in both the main islands, comprising the following provinces: Taranaki, Wellington, and Hawkes Bay in the north island, and the greater portion of Nelson in the south island. Its area is about 34,000 sq. miles, being somewhat larger in size than Ireland. Wellington, the capital, owes its selection to the commanding position it occupies in Port Nicholson, the safest harbour in the dominion. Port Nicholson is an inlet of Cook Strait, the waterway dividing the north from the south island. The original capital was Auckland, but it had the disadvantage of not being centrally situated for the colony. The Governors of New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania were asked each to appoint one commissioner for the purpose of determining the best site in Cook Strait. These gentlemen, having made a personal inspection of all suitable places, arrived at the unanimous decision that "Wellington in Port Nicholson was the site upon the shores of Cook Strait which presented the greatest advantages for the administration of the Government of the Colony". The seat of government was therefore, in accordance with the recommendation of the commissioners, removed to Wellington in 1865. Wellington was made an archiepiscopal and metropolitan see on 13 May, 1887. The population of the city is now 72,000. As the European population of New Zealand continued to increase rapidly, the Provinces of Otago and Southland, with the adjacent islands, were separated from Wellington in 1869, and erected into a new see, with Dunedin as the seat. Dr. Patrick Moran was transferred from South Africa to the newly-erected see, and became its first bishop. In 1887 a further division of the territory of the Diocese of Wellington was considered advisable. The Provinces of Canterbury, Westland, and the southern portion of Nelson were detached to form the new See of Christchurch, and Dr. John J. Grimes, of the Society of Mary, became its first bishop.

Mgr. Philip Joseph Viard, the first Bishop of Wellington, was born at Lyons, France, in 1809. He made his religious profession in the Society of Mary in 1839, and left France the same year for New Zealand. He spent some time in the islands of the Pacific, notably Wallis, Futuna, and New Caledonia. In 1846 he was consecrated bishop and coadjutor to Mgr. Pompalier by Dr. Polding of Sydney. In 1850 he left Auckland to take up his residence in Wellington. In 1868 he paid a visit to Rome, and was present at the Vatican Council. He returned to Wellington in 1871, and died in 1872. Dr. Francis Redwood, the first Archbishop of Wellington, and Metropolitan of New Zealand, was born in the Diocese of Birmingham, England, in 1839. When he was only three years old the Redwood family came to New Zealand and settled in the Nelson district. At an early age he was sent to France to receive his education, and after a distinguished collegiate course he resolved to enter the ecclesiastical state. He accordingly made his religious profession in the Society of Mary, and was ordained priest in 1865. For some years after his ordination he lectured on philosophy and theology at Dundalk and Dublin, Ireland. On the death of Mgr. Viard he was chosen Bishop of Wellington, and consecrated on 17 March, 1874, by Cardinal Manning. On 13 May, 1887, Dr. Redwood was created archbishop by papal Brief, and became Metropolitan of New Zealand. During his long life he has seen the Church in New Zealand develop from a few scattered families-the mustard seed of the Gospel-to the rich and vigorous growth of the present day.


Out of a total population of 320,000 in the archdiocese, 47,000 are Catholics, according to the census of 1906. The vast majority of these came from Ireland, or are of Irish descent. In addition there are about 1500 Catholics amongst the native or aboriginal population. The number of districts in the archdiocese is 34; churches, 112; clergy, secular, 29, regular, 60, total, 89; religious brothers, 30; nuns, 367. The institutions number: one college for boys (St. Patrick's Wellington, under the charge of the Society of Mary); boarding and high schools, 14; primary schools, 34; orphanages, 4; industrial school for boys, 1; homes for incurables, 2; inmates, 91. Total number of children receiving Catholic education in Catholic schools, 4000.


MORAN, History of the Catholic Church in Australasia (Sydney, s.d.); WILSON, The Church in New Zealand (Dunedin, 1910); New Zealand Official Year Book (1908); Annals of the Society of Mary (Lyons).

About this page

APA citation. Bowden, J. (1912). Archdiocese of Wellington. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Bowden, John. "Archdiocese of Wellington." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Michael T. Barrett. Dedicated to the Catholics of New Zealand.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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