The Mill Hill Fathers

The Mill Hill Fathers

The arrival of the Mill Hill Fathers in 1886 brought new hope to the Maori missions. To their surprise the Mill Hill priests found that the Maori catechists had continued and even extended the work of the earlier priests. In June 1889 a mission at Waihi on the southern edge of Lake Taupo was established with Father J. W. Spiers in charge.

In 1904 Father Adrian Langerwerf took over and remained in charge at Waihi until his death on 7” April 1935. He is buried alongside the church at Waihi. His people knew Father Adrian as Pā Ateriona and he endeared himself to them by his outstanding gifts of leadership and personality. Few equalled him in eloquence in Maori and he sought not only to administer to their spiritual needs but also to improve their social conditions. The help them as farmers he built a dairy factory at Waihi and in later years when the timber industry grew, converted the factory to a sawmill. Later, this became an electric power plant meeting local needs for many years.

To say Masses in the Taupo area Father Adrian and the other Mill Hill Fathers travelled from Waihi to Taupo and to the larger settlements of Oruanui and Mokai on horseback, a 38-mile journey along pumice tracks. There were no bridges so all the rivers and streams had to be forded with the trip taking most of the day.

The Priests often stayed overnight in Taupo with Mr and Mrs Wehringo who, in 1904, had moved from Palmerston North to the tiny remote settlement that was Taupo when its population was about one hundred. They first lived in a hut on the site now occupied by the Suncourt Shopping Centre and moved to Tuwharetoa Street a year later. They cared for the priests in their home and welcomed visitors to the church each Mass day. George Wehringo was from Budapest and his wife Leopoldina was from Bavaria. Their daughters were Aurelia and Dorothea. The latter married Joseph Crowther and had two children, one of whom was Theresa Corry who, with her six children, are third and fourth generation Taupo residents.

In the early 1900s Mass was celebrated in the old Taupo Courthouse, with sermons in Maori and in English. Mass was said in Latin and the Mass prayers led by Rangiwawahia Hepi were chanted in Maori. Later his son Te Akato would lead the prayers. The Clerk of the Court appreciated the thorough pre-Mass cleaning the Courthouse received regularly from Mrs Leopoldina Wehringo.

About 1910, Father Edward Bruning, then Parish Priest at Waihi bought half an acre of land on the corner of Ruapehu and Tuwharetoa Streets for a future Taupo church. Mr Wehringo fenced the land and grazed a couple of horses on it. Ten years later another half acre, adjoining the first and adjacent to the Wehringo home, was purchased from Captain Darby Ryan, the master of the steamer “Tongariro” which used to ply the three ­hour journey from Taupo to Tokaanu. As well as being used for grazing, the land was used for stacking timber milled at Waihi. Mr Wehringo sold the timber giving the profits to the Waihi settlement.