It is a feat of engineering and requires a lot of money, but Wellington’s St Mary of the Angels Catholic Church is a building of national significance which must be preserved, says parish priest Father Barry Scannell.
Father Barry is overseeing the project which is at stage one, costing in the region of $3.1 million. This stage is due to be completed in about eight months. The project needs another $6.2 million to finish the earthquake strengthening needed to make it safe. While that seems a lot, Father Barry (left) is not deterred. He says people have been overwhelming in their generosity to preserve the building which has a category one status from the Historic Places Trust. “After the destruction of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in the Christchurch earthquake, St Mary of the Angels is probably the most significant and outstanding Catholic Church building in New Zealand”, he says.
They have received most of their money locally – including from the Nikau Foundation – a charity which donates to projects in the Wellington region. The church received money from a Nikau endowment fund. Parishioners have also donated money and also the wider Wellington community and people throughout New Zealand who appreciate the significance of the building, Father Barry says.
There had been earthquake strengthening work planned for building for some time, but the need was accelerated after the earthquake on 21 July 2013 which hit during the 5pm mass. “It moved a bit, and after that we decided that it was not safe to continue in here.” Since that time, mass has been conducted in a small chapel in the parish office building and also at other churches who offered their venues – including St Johns Presbyterian Church in Willis St.
After the quakes, testing with the scanners, lasers and x-rays revealed that the building only met 15-20 percent of the current earthquake code, so the work was urgent. Stage one is the foundation work which includes ground anchors and steel beams, and then new concrete shear walls. Piles will tie them to the bedrock. The engineers and contractors on site say that the project is unique in that the sequencing (the order in which work is done) is vital.
The church was designed by architect Frederick de Jersey Clere – a specialist in gothic revival style and opened in 1922 for services. “The church was built by mainly unskilled labour when the contractor walked off the job,” says Father Barry. “They had to wait until after the collection from Sunday mass to pay the workers.” The church is not only of historical significance but is the focus for the Wellington parish and has superb acoustics enjoyed by church choirs and others who use it for civic and cultural events.