The History of St Patrick's Cathedral


Since the Government gifted land in central Auckland to the Catholic Church in the 1840s, several churches have been built on the Wyndham Street site.

The various buildings that have acted as the spiritual home of Auckland's Catholics are described below:

The Land - 1841
Made of Wood - 1842
Made of Stone - 1848

Made of Brick - 1884
Presbytery - 1888
As Today - 1907
The 2005-07 Restoration

The Land – 1841


The land that the Cathedral sits upon is a local and national heritage treasure. The land provided the site for the first Catholic church in Auckland and the first cathedral church in New Zealand.

The British Flag was first hoisted in Auckland on September 18, 1840. The signing of the 'Original Deed of Purchase of the Site for Auckland' followed on the October 20. Bishop Pompallier made his first trip to the new capital in the new year. During his stay, on May 10, 1841, Pompallier applied to Governor Hobson for “a sufficient space of land for a church, dwelling house, and for a college, recreation ground for youth, and burial ground, for the use of the Roman Catholic public”.

Within a month, on June 1, 1841, the Government granted a half-acre section on Wyndham Street for a church and priest's house, and two acres on Symonds Street for a burial ground “adjoining that of the Protestant Community”. A land grant for a college and recreation ground would follow.

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Made of Wood 1842

The land grant for church, residence and cemetery was wonderful news to the nearly 200 – mainly Irish – Catholics living in Auckland at the time.

Within two months of the grant, on July 29, 1841, a public meeting was held “for the purpose of taking into consideration the best mode of obtaining subscriptions for the erection of an edifice for the worship of Almighty God by persons of that persuasion”.

That evening, 13 men were elected to a building committee and £200 were subscribed. In addition, a subscription list was opened at the Shamrock, Rose and Thistle on Shortland Crescent, home of Mr. Patrick Donovan.

At a meeting the following week, Bishop Pompallier “was pleased to name the intended Roman Catholic church after St. Patrick and St. Joseph".

By January 1842, a small wooden presbytery had been built on the church site.

Attention then turned to building the new wooden church.

Early the following year, the church – which doubled as a school during the week – was ready for its first official appearance.

Fr. Jean Petit-Jean (right), Auckland's first official resident priest, blessed and opened the church on Sunday, January 29, 1843. The school opened the following day at 9.30 a.m.

The church and school was small – “a long low room, thirty-six feet long by twelve broad, lined and painted light blue” as it was described – but stood as early testament to the determination of Auckland's pioneer Catholics.

Unfortunately, there are no known sketches, drawings or photos of the wooden church.

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Made of Stone 1848

With a growing population in Auckland, the early wooden church was soon found to be too small.

Thus, in January 1846, while in Sydney for the consecration
of Father Viard, SM, as Coadjutor to Bishop Pompallier, Walter Robertson, architect and surveyor, was commissioned to “design a permanent church for Auckland as a future cathedral” to replace the “temporary wooden chapel”.

Two months later, on March 1, 1846, Bishop Viard laid the foundation stone for the new stone church.

Although tenders for drawing scoria, supplying lime and for mason work were called soon after laying the foundation stone, it was not until Robertson's arrival from Sydney in December that construction commenced. Robertson established his business in the Shamrock Cottage, Albert Street, around the corner from the St. Patrick's site.

Fifteen months later, on March 19, 1848, the stone church was solemnly blessed and opened by Bishop Viard. The cost of the building was £1387.

Later the same year, on June 20, the stone church was consecrated as the Cathedral church of the Diocese of Auckland – New Zealand's first cathedral church.

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Made of Brick 1884

As Auckland's population continued to grow, the stone Cathedral gradually became too small for the diocesan faithful. Plans, therefore, were commissioned from Messrs. Mahoney and Son to increase the capacity of the church.

Bishop Luck laid the foundation stone for the nave and tower addition to the stone church on May 4, 1884.

The new, expanded Cathedral was blessed and opened within a year on March 15, 1885

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Presbytery 1888

From 1842 until 1888, the resident priest(s) of the Cathedral had lived in a variety of unhealthy, wooden presbyteries on the Cathedral site.

On April 23, 1888, however, Bishop Luck laid the foundation stone for a new brick presbytery on the corner of Wyndham and Hobson Streets.

Five months later, on October 10, possession of the new building was given from the architect and contractor, Messrs. Mahoney and Son and Mr. E.J. Matthews respectively, to the Bishop at a total cost of £2086.

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As Today 1907

By the turn of the century, the Cathedral was once again found to be inadequate in size for the burgeoning population of Auckland. Thomas Mahoney, therefore, drafted plans for the demolition of the stone church and its replacement with expanded transepts.

The completed Cathedral was reopened on April 21, 1907 by Bishop Lenihan and formally dedicated on February 23, 1908 by Cardinal Moran, Archbishop of Sydney.

This is the same Cathedral building as we know it today.

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The 2005-07 Restoration

Starting in 2005, St Patrick's Cathedral was closed for two years for a range of improvements that form the first stage of a four-stage project to conserve and restore the Cathedral, the Presbytery, Liston Hall and the upgrading of St Patrick's Square.

The refurbished Cathedral re-opened in 2007 and the upgrading of the Square was completed in 2009.

Click here for more information on the conservation and restoration projects

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St.Patrick's Cathedral
The Cathedral of St. Patrick and St. Joseph is the Mother Church of Auckland diocese.
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