Our Early History
Taupo’s Catholic history had its raw beginnings over a hundred years before Bishop Liston deeme dit ready for parish status in 1951. The first Mass was said at the south end of the lake in 1860. Two French Marist priests from Napier visited Taupo periodically.
Fr Jan de Bree, our first Parish Priest, had this to say about the early mission centres in the Taupo area:
The story goes back to 1841 when Father Borjan, a Marist, began his work at Maketu, the centre for a large mission which included both Rotorua and Taupo. Father Borjan did not succeed very well but his successor Father Euloge Reignier was one of the greatest of the missionaries to the Maori people. He moved the centre to Ohinemutu and from there he ranged throughout his vast district, travelling on foot with his few belongings, his Maori prayer books and his Mass kit in a pack on his back. In 1847 when Bishop Viard visited the district, 459 Maori Catholics were confirmed at villages stretching al the way from Maketu and Rotorua down to the southern shores of Lake Taupo.
John Greenfield in his book “From Dust and Ashes” (a history of Taupo) supplies some information on early missionaries.
Most European visitors to the Taupo District in early times were missionaries. One exception was George French Angas who in 1844 at the age of 22 explored the Taupo district. An English artist, he made many sketches of all that he saw. In his writings he made clear the importance of their faith to the Maori Christians. An Anglican missionary, the Rev T S Grace, first visited Maori settlements on the southern shores of Lake Taupo in 1853 and chose Pukawa to be a future mission station. He then had to arrange for his family, wife and six children with their governess to move from Gisborne to Pukawa. This involved sea voyages from Gisborne to Auckland, thence by another ship to Matata in the Bay of Plenty. After a four-month walk with the help of about fifty Maori porters they arrived in Pukawa in April 1855, one child dying on the way. But circumstances were against him. The unrest in Waikato and Taranaki spread to the Taupo Maoris with the result that they neglected their crops and food became scarce. The distance from the coast made it difficult to bring in other supplies and in 1863 Grace and his family returned to Auckland. He was later to serve in the Bay of Plenty mission but he visited Pukawa at intervals until his death in 1879 at Tauranga.
The quotation above conveys some idea of the hardship faced by early missionaries. Catholic missionaries, although unencumbered by family responsibilities, faced the same hardships. The first two Mill Hill missionaries, Fathers Becker and Madan, arrived in 1886 and were taken by Bishop Pompallier to Matata. They lived for a short time, ‘in a kind of cave in the hillside,’ then in a Maori raupo hut. Fr Becker visited the Waihi -Tokaanu area which formed part of his parish.