Home 9 Article 9 Looking back over the past 40 years

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Dio Comms Team

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December 7, 2020

We asked several people who had been close to Bishop Peter and/or significantly involved with Diocesan projects over the past 40 years to share some memories of their experiences.

These are their stories. 

I was asked to be the Deacon who proclaimed the gospel at the ordination of Bishop Peter Cullinane on 23 April 1980 at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, Palmerston North.

At the time I knew Peter Cullinane well, because in my late teens I was his doubles partner at the Sacred Heart Tennis Club in Hill St, Wellington and at many Catholic tennis tournaments around New Zealand. Peter also later ran block courses each year at Holy Cross College in Mosgiel, lecturing us in Church History.

I felt very proud but humbled to be asked to proclaim the gospel at this historic occasion. I remember that we spent a few hours rehearsing the ceremonies.

I remember the occasion well. I was sitting in the middle of a row of every bishop in New Zealand, in front of the main altar. There is a photograph of it somewhere. It was a very moving liturgy. The music was beautifully sung that befit the historic occasion. It was screened live on Television New Zealand.

We were all well aware and felt very blessed that we were witnesses to the birth of a brand-new Diocese of Palmerston North.

Dion Martin is a parishioner at the Cathedral Parish. He was ordained a Deacon in 1979, and spent 13 years on the Bishops Committee for Justice Peace and Development for the Diocese.

Bishop Peter Cullinane’s ordination, 1980

At the time Bishop Peter was ordained, I was Principal of St James Catholic Primary School in Palmerston North. One day we went down to the Pastoral Centre after he was made Bishop. We did a great big painting of a Bishop from a photograph, stuck his face on it and I said to the children, “When he appears you must address him as, ‘My Lord.’” Well we tried it once and that was the end of that, he didn’t like that at all!

The first thing he did in St Patrick’s church was to order the marble altar rails to be removed, because he said, “I will not be separated from my people.”

We had many meetings to discuss any changes to St Patrick’s when it was in the process of becoming the Cathedral. Bishop Peter asked us for names of the new diocese and a new name for the Cathedral. You could offer whatever you liked, and we came out with the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit.

The Cathedral was done up in 1988 to make it look like it is now. The person who laid the carpet told us, “You’ll never get this quality carpet again.” And if you look at the carpet in the Cathedral there’s no wear on it at all, and it was put down in 1988. So it really has lasted very well.

Barry Slade is a parishioner of the Cathedral Parish. He was the Cathedral Parish sacristan, former Principal of St James’ Catholic School and has written a history of the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit. 

Refurbishment of the Palmerston North Cathedral, 1988

I was put in charge of a subcommittee to raise finances for the renovation of the Cathedral. It was decided by the Priests Council that St Patrick’s Parish would pay for half of the cost, and the rest of the cost will be divided amongst all the other parishes in the diocese, depending on their mass count. So I was in charge of going around to the different parish centres and area councils, selling the idea that everybody stumps up for the alterations. We raised all the money, and the Cathedral was opened in 1990. And then I said to the parish priest, “I’ve had a fair bit to do with this, and I’ve got my oldest daughter getting married. So I’d like hers to be the first wedding once the Cathedral is re-opened.” And so in April 1990, he married my oldest daughter, and that was the first wedding in the new Cathedral.

I was also involved in managing the Diocesan finances with Paul Finnegan. One day I said to Paul, “I think we should be checking with some other insurance agencies to see whether we can get something a bit cheaper.” There was one other company that looked pretty attractive. They wanted to know the square footage for each of the churches and church halls in the Diocese to calculate how much insurance we’d be paying. So we went to our old company and said, “We’d like that information from you please, you’ve got all the plans.” But they were going to charge us $12,000 to release that information to us. So instead I took my tape measure and went around every church building in the Diocese and measured each one. It took me about a month, and including travel and accommodation expenses the whole thing was under $6,000. So we saved ourselves a quite a bit of money. Bishop Peter said the chances are I was the only person in the diocese that had been to every church, church hall and marae in the diocese!

During the pilgrimage of St Therese in 2005, I remember getting a call from someone in Wairoa. “You’re coming here tomorrow?” he said. And I said, “Yes, that’s right. We’re scheduled there tomorrow night.” And he said, “Oh, we’ve just read the instructions you sent through” (I had sent out directions on how to handle the reliquary: the size of it, make sure there’s something good and steady for it to go on, etc.) And he said, “Our doorway into the church isn’t big enough! What are we gonna do?” I said, “You’ll have to build a little tent or something outside, and we’ll all congregate around that.” So the next day we arrived, and I was wondering what they’d done. And what they’d done was taken a chainsaw to the wooden door of the church, and just carved the door out so the reliquary could fit. And they put palm fronds around it so you couldn’t tell that it had been massacred!

Harry Lampen-Smith was the National Co-ordinator for the New Zealand pilgrimage of the relics of St Therese of Liseux and the Diocesan financial investor. He is also a parishioner of the Cathedral Parish. 

Bishop Peter opening the Cathedral in 1988
Image: Manawatu Standard and Stuff Limited


It was a great experience being on Bishop Peter’s first Diocesan Council nearly forty years ago. His enthusiasm was amazing, a blessing and an encouragement for the future. Most meetings were held at the Pastoral Centre, Ihaka St. But one memorable one was at a Marae in Waverly, I think: a new experience for all of us and I remember lively discussions led by Bishop Peter.

A personal experience for me was having to ask our brand new Bishop to reply to a letter from a Bishop in Milan, requesting confirmation that our eldest son was baptised and confirmed as he wished to marry one of his parishioners! We had a laugh about that, and I am pleased to say they will be celebrating their 40th anniversary this year too.

Margaret Kinder was the Manawatu Deanery Representative on the first Diocesan Council and is a Cathedral Parish parishioner.

 Bishop Peter has served the Church of Palmerston North Diocese with all he had to offer, and I feel he always gave his best and still does today.

I have been on the Diocesan Management Advisory Council for several years, and Bishop Peter always took the time to hear the needs of the Diocese and the people.

He involved the Laity wherever possible and has set the Diocese to be an inclusive Diocese, encompassing Priests, Laity, Men and Women from across the Diocese and all walks of life.  He is a very welcoming Bishop who spends time with all parishioners when he visits Parishes, for Sacraments or as a relieving Priest when Parish Priests are away.

He is an amazing speaker, always gives thought-provoking homilies, and has written Sacramental and theological books that have been used in the Parishes.

Bishop Peter is great company, enjoys a good chat and has a great sense of humour and a mighty laugh.

I am very grateful for the leadership Bishop Peter has given the Palmerston North Diocese and wish him good health and all God’s blessings.

Marie Dwyer is the Chair of the Diocesan Management Advisory Council and parishioner of the Patea-Waverley Parish.

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