St Benedict's Church and Presbytery Complex (Catholic)

5, 7A And 7B Alex Evans Street, And 1 And 1A St Benedicts Street, Newton, Auckland

  • St Benedict's Church and Presbytery Complex (Catholic).
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Martin Jones. Date: 29/08/2012.
  • St Benedict's Church and Prebytery Complex (Catholic). Stained glass window in north wall of church .
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Martin Jones. Date: 29/08/2012.
  • St Benedict's Church and Presbytery Complex (Catholic). Presbytery.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Martin Jones. Date: 29/08/2012.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 640 Date Entered 27th June 2013

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Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Pt Lots 30-34 Deed 1332 (CT NA506/190), Pt Lots 30-35 Deed 1332 (CT NA502/217), and Lots 36-37 and Pt Lot 35 Deed 1332 (CT NA46/114), North Auckland Land District, and the buildings and structures known as St Benedict's Church and Presbytery Complex (Catholic) thereon, and including the Club Rooms. It also includes the buildings' fittings and fixtures, including the repositioned 1893 altar in the main church (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).

City/District Council

Auckland Council (Auckland City Council)

Region

Auckland Council

Legal description

Pt Lots 30-34 Deed 1332 (CT NA506/190), Pt Lots 30-35 Deed 1332 (CT NA502/217), and Lots 36-37 and Pt Lot 35 Deed 1332 (CT NA46/114), North Auckland Land District

Location description

NZTM Easting: 1756939.5 E. NZTM Northing: 5919088.5 N. Taken from approximate centre of site

Summaryopen/close

St Benedict’s Church and Presbytery was erected in 1887-8 as the headquarters of the first Benedictine mission in New Zealand. Named after the sixth-century religious leader and saint, Benedict of Nursia, who founded the Benedictine movement, the inner-Auckland complex demonstrates the international expansion of Benedictine activity associated with the revival of monasticism and religious feeling in nineteenth-century Europe. During the 1880s, Benedictine fathers comprised approximately half of the Catholic priests in Auckland Diocese. St Benedict’s Church and Presbytery was founded from the Subiaco monastery in Italy, a major centre for the Benedictine revival, and its daughter establishment of St Augustine’s in Ramsgate - the church of which had been created by the noted British advocate of Gothic Revival architecture, A. W. N. Pugin. Designed by the significant Auckland architect, Thomas Mahoney, the imposing Gothic appearance of St Benedict’s Church, in particular, can be seen to reflect both Pugin’s architectural principles and the austerity of the Subiaco reform movement. The use of brick for the church also helped set the style for subsequent free-standing Catholic churches in the region.

The complex is located in a broader landscape that was successively occupied by several Maori groups before the establishment of Auckland as a colonial settlement in 1840. Located next to Auckland’s main colonial burial ground, the site was purchased by the Catholic Church in 1879-80 for the headquarters of a large new parish to be run by the Benedictine mission. An arrangement with the abbot of Subiaco allowed for the possibility that the fathers might eventually take responsibility for the entire Auckland Diocese. Early fathers to arrive included Abbot Wilfrid Alcock (1831-82), the first mitred Abbot in England since 1535 who had founded the Ramsgate monastery; and Father Adalbert Sullivan (or O’Sullivan), Pro-Visitator of the English Province.

A timber church of Gothic design was built on the site in 1881-2, but destroyed by fire in 1886 along with a presbytery. It was replaced by a similarly large, gabled church of cruciform plan, constructed using exposed brickwork, asymmetry in some elevations, and other elements influenced by Pugin’s ideas. Internally, colonnaded aisles and a medieval-style, king-post truss roof further emphasised its Gothic nature. The building was said at the time to be the largest church by area in New Zealand. An associated presbytery, erected in 1888 as part of the same architectural plan, was of gabled, two-storey design, with an additional basement and attic. The complex was used by the Benedictines until their withdrawal from New Zealand, coming under Diocesan control by 1900.

In circa 1919, a plastered brick building was added for the St Benedict’s Club, which had been founded by the Benedictines in 1894 for the improvement and recreation of Catholic young men. The parish priest for most of the 1920s was the subsequent Bishop of Auckland, J.M. Liston (1881-1976), who while living at the presbytery was tried and acquitted of sedition in an important New Zealand legal case. A new porch and sanctuary were added to the church in 1953-5. The church and presbytery remain in use for religious purposes; and the club rooms are private offices (2012).

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The place has considerable historical significance as the headquarters of the first Benedictine Mission in New Zealand. It remained the headquarters of the mission for the duration of its formal involvement in this country – a period of some twenty years. The place reflects the resurgence of the international Benedictine movement in the nineteenth century, and is associated with several Benedictines involved in the spread of Benedictine activity in England and elsewhere. The place was the centre for Benedictine activity in the Diocese of Auckland, at a time when the fathers contributed over half of the Diocesan priests.

The place is also significant for its other connections with the development of the Catholic faith in Auckland, including the creation of a large new parish to the south and west of central Auckland. It has strong historical value for its connections with notable figures in the Auckland Catholic Diocese, including Bishop J.M. Liston, and events such as Liston’s trial for sedition in the 1920s - a charge of which he was acquitted.

Aesthetic Significance or Value:

St Benedict’s Church and Presbytery Complex (Catholic) has aesthetic significance as a visually distinctive collection of buildings in the local landscape. The church, in particular, has a commanding presence. The place has aesthetic significance for the quality of some of its interiors, including the church with its impressive king-post roof. The presbytery also contains some detailing of note, such as its stained glass windows and architectural mouldings. Ornamental railings and piers along the St Benedicts Street frontage provide aesthetic value to the broader site.

Archaeological Significance or Value:

The site has archaeological significance as a well-preserved, nineteenth-century ecclesiastical complex, containing physical evidence that can provide insights into past religious and residential activity, construction and trade. It is significant for retaining evidence of the first St Benedict’s Church, erected in 1881-2, which was the largest church in Auckland. In-ground remnants elsewhere on the site are likely to include a well, and could also encompass outbuildings such as a stable.

Architectural Significance or Value:

The place has architectural significance as a well-preserved ecclesiastical complex designed in Gothic Revival style. The church has been referred to as a fine essay in Gothic Revival architecture rendered in brick masonry. The church and presbytery are the products of a design by the notable Auckland architect, Thomas Mahoney of E. Mahoney and Son, a significant Auckland architectural firm during the nineteenth and early twentieth century, and the designers of most major Catholic churches in Auckland Province. The significance of the Gothic design is enhanced by the close connections between the Benedictine community that erected the church and presbytery, and the noted British advocate of Gothic Revival architecture, Augustus Pugin. Many of the Benedictine fathers came from St Augustine’s monastery at Ramsgate, which incorporated a church designed and paid for by Pugin that is considered to be his final masterpiece and the fullest expression of his architectural ideas.

The place is also of architectural value as a major, free-standing brick structure, described as the largest (area) church in New Zealand. Along with the similarly-constructed nave of St Patrick’s Cathedral (1886) and the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Onehunga (1887-9), it appears to have marked a significant shift in Catholic ecclesiastical construction in Auckland. Other than small country churches, all subsequent Catholic places of worship built by Edward Mahoney and Son in Auckland Province were erected in brick. The place also has some significance for its subsequent associations with the architect Reginald Ford, of the noted practice of Gummer and Ford.

Social Significance or Value:

The place has social significance as a major place of congregation and gathering for the local community for well over a century. It has formed a focus for celebrations that include thanksgiving for peace at the end of the First World War. The range of gatherings associated with the place includes those connected with important life cycle events such as baptisms, marriages and funerals. Activities also encompass men’s recreation and club meetings linked with the St Benedict’s Club Rooms. The presbytery has social significance as a residence occupied by male priests and monks, reflecting the traditional emphasis of the Catholic Church on the importance of men as ecclesiastical leaders.

Spiritual Significance or Value:

The place has strong spiritual significance as a major place of worship for the Catholic community in Auckland since the 1880s. Its significance is enhanced through its incorporation of a presbytery with strong connections to the Benedictine and Dominican communities. Individuals with close connections to the site include spiritual leaders such as Abbot Alcock - founder of Ramsgate monastery - and the Bishop of Auckland, J.M. Liston.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:

The place is significant for reflecting an expansion of the Catholic church in late nineteenth-century Auckland. It was the headquarters of a large new parish extending to the south and west of the city centre. The place was a centre for missionary activity elsewhere in the Auckland Diocese. It is particularly significant for reflecting the importance of monastic orders in the development and growth of the Catholic church in Auckland.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:

The place has special importance as the headquarters of the first Benedictine mission to New Zealand. It served as the headquarters for the Benedictines during their twenty-year mission in this country. Between 1880 and 1890, the Benedictines provided approximately half of the Catholic priests serving in the Diocese of Auckland. The place is unique in New Zealand for the extent to which it demonstrates the international expansion of Benedictine activity associated with the revival of monasticism and religious feeling in the nineteenth century; and the important role of Benedictine fathers in the development of Catholicism in northern New Zealand. The place has particularly significant connections with the Italian monastery of Subiaco, a cradle of the Benedictine revival in the nineteenth century; and its daughter establishment of St Augustine’s at Ramsgate, Kent. St Augustine’s monastery also provided the Benedictine Bishop of Auckland, John Edmund Luck, who was responsible for the rebuilding of the complex in 1887-8 and officiated at the laying of the church foundation stone. Bishop Luck also participated in the opening ceremony.

The place has connections with other notable Benedictine monks including Father Adalbert Sullivan (or O’Sullivan), Pro-Visitator of the English Province, and Abbot Wilfrid Alcock (1831-82), the first mitred Abbot in England since 1535 who had founded the Ramsgate monastery. Bishop Luck’s brother, Father Augustine Luck - who had also served at Ramsgate - created a large altar and reredos for the church, part of which survives.

The place has close associations with other significant individuals, including the long-serving Bishop of Auckland, J.M. Liston, who established numerous institutions and organisations, including Catholic Social Services, the Catholic Youth Movement and the Christian Family Movement. Liston was parish priest at St Benedict’s Church for many years, and was living at the Presbytery when he was prosecuted and acquitted of sedition during a notorious legal case. The place is also associated with Francis William Redwood, first Archbishop of New Zealand, who opened the church in 1888. It was also linked with the Dominican Order for a quarter of a century in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, when the presbytery housed the office of Father R.J. Batten, Vicar of the Provincial for New Zealand. The place has connections with the weaver Josephine Mulvany, who was married in the church in 1936.

(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history:

The land and buildings have potential to provide information about New Zealand’s history through archaeological investigation of its in-ground deposits and standing structures. The place has particular potential to provide knowledge of large-scale ecclesiastical construction, religious use and residential activity within a well-preserved, nineteenth-century ecclesiastical complex. It retains evidence about aspects of the first Benedictine complex on the site - including the largest church in Auckland - which was mostly destroyed by fire in 1886. The place may retain in-ground evidence of colonial residential activity on the site preceding the creation of the Benedictine complex.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place:

The place can be considered to have strong community association as an important centre for the local Catholic community since the 1880s. Its community association is strengthened through the use of the place in the past for recreational as well as religious purposes.

(f) The potential of the place for public education:

Located in a busy inner suburb and a well-preserved historic area, the place has potential to provide public education about numerous historical issues, including the importance of religion in late nineteenth-century society; the development of the Catholic Church in Auckland; and the role of monastic movements such as the Benedictine Order and Dominican Order in Catholic religious development.

(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place:

The place is of special significance for incorporating a major church of Gothic Revival design with direct links to the ideas, works and final resting place of the notable British architect Augustus Pugin. Stylistically, the simplicity of St Benedict’s Church can be seen to reflect design aspects of St Augustine’s Church, Ramsgate, which has been considered Pugin’s final masterpiece and the fullest expression of his architectural philosophy. St Augustine’s Church is also where he is buried. The design of St Benedict’s Church is also linked with Pugin through one of its instigators, Bishop Luck, who had close family connections with Pugin; and through the involvement of other Benedictine fathers of the Subiacan community, who had also been members of St Augustine’s Church and monastery. The design of St Benedict’s Church can be considered significant for reflecting Pugin’s principle of honest expression in relation to the austerity of the Subiacan reform movement. Pugin was a major early proponent of Gothic Revival design, a style that was extensively adopted in New Zealand during the late nineteenth century.

The place also has special significance for the scale of brick construction used in the erection of St Benedict’s Church, which in 1888 was said to have been the largest church, by area, in New Zealand. Along with the similarly-constructed nave of St Patrick’s Cathedral (1886) and the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Onehunga (1887-9), its use of brick appears to have marked a significant shift in Catholic ecclesiastical construction in Auckland. The place is important as a major design by Thomas Mahoney of the noted architectural firm, Edward Mahoney & Son. The design encompassed both the church and its associated presbytery. Thomas Mahoney was responsible for numerous important ecclesiastical, commercial and other designs in the Auckland and elsewhere.

The place is also believed to incorporate the basement remains of the 1881-2 church, which is said to have been the largest church in Auckland and probably the largest in New Zealand. This was designed by the important Auckland architect, Edward Mahoney.

(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place:

The place incorporates memorial tablets commemorating the priests of Newton parish since its inception. These include one of the first Benedictine monks to serve permanently in New Zealand, Father Cuthbert Downey, and the Bishop of Auckland, J.M. Liston. The place is named after the sixth-century religious leader and saint, Benedict of Nursia, who founded the Benedictine movement.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape:

The place is a notable and visually distinctive part of an important historical landscape, which has been formally recognised as the Upper Symonds Street Historic Area. Other structures in the historic area include another significant Gothic Revival church from the 1880s designed by Edward Mahoney and Son - the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Khyber Pass Road. The associated landscape also includes the Symonds Street cemetery, Auckland’s earliest and most important colonial burial ground. St Benedict’s Church and Presbytery (Catholic) are the only survivors of several ecclesiastical structures of nineteenth-century date that were located in or immediately adjacent to the cemetery during its nineteenth-century use.

Summary of Significance or Values:

The place is of special significance as the headquarters of the first Benedictine mission to New Zealand and for the extent to which it demonstrates the international expansion of Benedictine activity associated with the revival of monasticism and religious feeling in the nineteenth century. It is also of special value for the extent to which it reflects the important role of Benedictine fathers in the development of Catholicism in northern New Zealand. The place is of special significance for incorporating a major church of Gothic Revival design with direct links to the ideas, works and final resting place of the notable British architect Augustus Pugin - who was a major early proponent of Gothic Revival design, a style that was extensively adopted in New Zealand during the late nineteenth century. The place is also of special value for the scale of brick construction used in the erection of St Benedict’s Church, which in 1888 was said to have been the largest church, by area, in New Zealand.

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Construction Professionalsopen/close

Ford, Charles Reginald

Ford (1880-1972) was born in England and served in the Royal Navy. He was later with Captain Scott's 1901-04 expedition to Antarctica. Ford trained as an architect working in Wanganui and also as an engineer. In 1926 he wrote the first treatise on earthquakes and building construction in the English language.

In 1923 Ford entered into partnership with William Henry Gummer (1884-1966). Gummer and Ford was an architectural partnership of national importance. Gummer was one of the most outstanding architects working in New Zealand in the first half of this century.

The firm was responsible for the design of the State Insurance Building, Wellington (1940), the Dilworth Building (1926), the Guardian Trust Building and the Domain Wintergardens (1921 and 1928), all in Auckland, as well as the Dominion Museum (1936) in Wellington. In addition, Ford designed his own house at Westbourne Road, Auckland.

Gummer and Ford were awarded Gold Medals by the New Zealand Institute of Architects for their designs of Auckland Railway Station and Remuera Library. Ford was President of this Institute from 1921-22.

Mahoney, Edward

Edward Mahoney (1824-1895)

Edward Mahoney emigrated from Cork, Ireland with his wife Margaret and three children. The Mahoneys arrived in Auckland in 1856 where Edward set up as a building and timber merchant. In 1876 he established the architectural practice that later became Edward Mahoney & Sons, which for over thirty years designed and supervised construction of many Catholic buildings as well as churches for other denominations.

The Church of St John the Baptist, Parnell (1861) and St Mary's Convent Chapel (1866) are two of the earliest surviving ecclesiastical buildings designed by Edward Mahoney and reflect the gradual evolution from simple Gothic Revival structures to more ambitious and creative use of the Gothic form such as may be seen in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Khyber Pass (1881); and St Patrick's Cathedral, the latter completed in 1901.

Edward Mahoney was a founding member of the Auckland Institute of Architects, attending the first meeting in December 1880 where he was appointed honorary treasurer. He became president of the Institute in 1883. His sons Thomas (1855?-1923) and Robert (1862-1895) joined him in practice in 1876 and the early 1880s respectively.

Upon Edward's retirement in 1885, Thomas and Robert carried on the practice. After Robert's death in 1895, Thomas changed the firm's name to E. Mahoney & Son. The Mahoneys designed a wide variety of buildings including the Auckland Customhouse, hotels, commercial buildings and houses, their best-known surviving domestic buildings being the Pah, at Hillsborough (1877) and the Dilworth Terrace Houses, Parnell (1899). Their ecclesiastical buildings included St Mary's Church of the Assumption, Onehunga (1888) and St Benedict's Church, Newton (1888).

The firm of Edward Mahoney & Son continued to practice for a short period after Thomas Mahoney’s death in 1923, but was eventually dissolved in 1926.

Source: NZHPT Registration Report for Bank of New Zealand (Former), Devonport (Register no. 4511).

Mahoney, Thomas

Thomas Mahoney (1854/5?-1923) was the eldest son of Edward Mahoney, a leading Auckland architect. Thomas joined his father's firm, Edward Mahoney and Sons, in 1878 and was followed soon after by his younger brother Robert.

The firm was responsible for a wide range of designs including domestic buildings, commercial and public buildings, churches and hotels. They won a competition for the design of the Auckland Customhouse in 1888, and were also responsible for the design of The Pah (now Monte Cecilia Convent), Hillsborough (1887), the Elliot Street facade of Smith and Caughey's Building (1910) and Wrights Building, Auckland (1911).

Thomas was secretary of the Auckland Institute of Architects in 1885, president in 1883, and treasurer in 1902. In 1907 he was president of the Auckland branch of the New Zealand Institute of Architects.

Holland, James (J. J.)

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Early history of the site:

Land in the vicinity of the Queen Street valley, just north of Newton, is said to have been occupied at an early stage by Ngati Huarere. A later group, Te Waiohua, are traditionally believed to have occupied Te Hororoa pa at the northern end of the Symonds Street ridge before invasion by Ngati Whatua in the eighteenth century. A track along the Karangahape Road ridge to the north of the St Benedict’s Church site formed a thoroughfare for food-gathering parties and others. In the nineteenth century, Ngati Whatua retained cultivations on the Symonds Street ridge on an occasional basis. In September 1840, Ngati Whatua’s offer to sell 1214 hectares (3000 acres) to the British Crown for the creation of a colonial capital at Auckland was agreed.

The current site lay just outside the boundary of the new town, and to the south of the main burial place for the settlement - Symonds Street cemetery. Established during the course of 1841, the latter was initially a general burial ground but was later divided into separate sections according to religious affiliation. The Catholic burial ground comprised just over 2 hectares (5 acres) and lay in the southwestern part of the cemetery, adjoining East Street – now known as Alex Evans Street. It was consecrated by Bishop Jean Baptiste Pompallier in 1844.

Land on the corner of Alex Evans Street and Albert (now St Benedicts) Street initially formed part of Allotment 4 Section 7 Suburbs of Auckland - which was issued as a Crown Grant in the same year (1844). The allotment passed through several hands before being subdivided by Maunsell from 1860 onwards. Within the current site, Lots 30 to 32 were split into two parts and sold respectively to Nicol and to Simpson; Lots 33 to 35 were purchased by Thorne; and Lots 36 and 37 were bought by Potter. Subsequent onselling occurred. Several houses were built on the site, including a single-storey structure fronting Alex Evans Street.

Construction of the first St Benedict’s Church (1881-2):

In 1880 and 1881, the lots were purchased by the Catholic Church for the headquarters of the first Benedictine mission in New Zealand. Benedictine monks were to run a large new parish from the site, catering for rapidly-expanding settlement to the south and west of the city. An important monastic movement founded in the sixth century A.D., the Benedictine Order had undergone a major resurgence in nineteenth-century Europe, gradually also expanding its activity in the New World. In 1879 an agreement was reached between the Bishop of Auckland, Archbishop Walter Bishop Steins (1810-81), and Abbot General Dom Raffaele Cesta of Subiaco, Italy, whereby monks would be sent to New Zealand for a trial period with a view to ultimately taking charge of the Auckland Diocese. Subiaco was an influential reforming monastery that had been a cradle of the Benedictine revival, and within the broader movement was noted for the austerity of its reforms.

The fathers chosen for the New Zealand mission came from the Subiacan monastery of St Augustine’s at Ramsgate; an outpost at Gawler, South Australia; and Subiaco itself. Nearly all had held important positions within their order, including Abbot Wilfrid Alcock (1831-82), the first mitred Abbot in England since 1535 who had founded the Ramsgate monastery; and Father Adalbert Sullivan (or O’Sullivan), Pro-Visitator of the English Province. Headquartered in Newton for the next twenty years, the fathers undertook local parish work as well as assignments in other parts of the Auckland Diocese. From 1880 to 1890, they comprised about half of the Diocese’s clergy The fathers were initially accommodated in a house at Newton and temporarily employed a mortuary chapel, St Francis de Sales, in the adjoining cemetery as a parish church.

Construction of an imposing timber church was soon underway on the new property, said to be ‘the highest ground about the city’. A foundation stone was laid in September 1881 by the Vicar-General, Father Henry Fynes (1822-87). Capable of comfortably seating 1200 people, the new structure was said to be the largest church in Auckland and may also have been the largest in New Zealand. Erected of kauri timber on brick and stone foundations, it incorporated a sanctuary, nave, side aisles and transepts, as well as a prominent tower at its northeast corner. A basement was said ‘to be used as a lower chapel, with large room for Sunday-school purposes’. Architecturally, it adopted a Gothic style that was ‘strictly Early English of the 13th century’. The church was named ‘St Benedict’ after the sixth-century religious leader and saint, Benedict of Nursia, who founded the Benedictine movement.

The church designer was Edward Mahoney (1824/5?-1895), of Edward Mahoney and Son - a firm responsible for most of the Catholic churches built in Auckland province in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as well as many places of worship for other denominations. Mahoney was a notable Auckland-based exponent of Gothic Revival, who had previously designed the chapel of St Francis de Sales (erected 1866) and the nearby Anglican Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Khyber Pass Road (1880-81). Gothic Revival was an architectural style that consciously evoked the European medieval past, a time when religious orders such as the Benedictines had an influential role in society. The style was popularised in Britain by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-52), who in 1845-51 had built St Augustine’s Church next to his own house in Ramsgate, Kent. After being gifted to the Catholic Church by Pugin, St Augustine’s was re-established as a Benedictine foundation by Abbot Alcock in 1856, two decades before his arrival in New Zealand. The close connections between St Augustine’s Church and Augustus Pugin extend to it housing Pugin’s tomb.

According to one source, Mahoney additionally prepared plans for an associated presbytery. A month after the church was formally opened in July 1882, Abbot Alcock died at home in Newton and was buried in Symonds Street Cemetery.

Following the arrival of the Benedictine priest, John Edmund Luck (1840-96) as Bishop of Auckland in November 1882, the church was briefly considered suitable as a potential cathedral in place of St Patrick’s Church. Luck had been stationed at St Augustine’s monastery prior to gaining the bishopric. His father was both a close friend of Pugin and had purchased Pugin’s home in Ramsgate, before helping to fund the re-establishment of the Benedictine community at St Augustine’s by erecting its monastery. In the early 1880s St Benedict’s parish contained between 1500 and 2000 Catholics, and held a greater number of communions weekly than the parish of St Patrick’s Cathedral. In December 1886, a large fire at the northern end of St Benedicts Street destroyed the church and presbytery as well as an adjoining house lived in by the parish priest, Father Cuthbert Downey. Within days, a meeting was held to discuss ways in which the church could be rebuilt. It was resolved that a new structure ‘be constructed of brick and stone, and that Mr Mahoney be instructed to prepare plans’. A large timber building was also immediately built on nearby land in St Benedicts Street to act as a temporary place of worship.

Construction of the second St Benedict’s Church (1887-8) and Presbytery (1888):

The second church was, like its predecessor, a very large Gothic Revival structure, although more austere in its overall appearance. Father Sullivan is reported to have selected its architectural style, as well as other details such as stained glass windows. Although Edward Mahoney may have participated in its design, his son Thomas is generally considered to have been its principal architect. Thomas Mahoney (1854/1855?-1923) had inherited the family firm shortly after undertaking an overseas trip in 1884, which had included visiting St Augustine’s monastery in Ramsgate and becoming more familiar with the work of Pugin. Thomas subsequently became president of the Auckland Institute of Architects (1888) and the New Zealand Institute of Architects (1913-14), and was responsible for many notable buildings in Auckland including the Customhouse (1888-90). In an obituary in 1923, he was said to have been known in Auckland as the ‘Father of Architecture’.

The new church and presbytery were created as part of the same architectural vision. The church was to be close in plan and outline to its predecessor, encompassing an aisled nave, transepts, sanctuary and basement. It was, however, to be of best-quality brick, with door and window jambs of Oamaru stone and other stonework of Melbourne (Malmsbury) bluestone. English slate was to be used for the roof, and timberwork was specified as heart kauri.

The final design of the church was plainer than earlier versions, omitting features such as external mouldings and elaborately traceried windows. Its simplicity, and other features considered at initial stages in the design process but subsequently omitted - such as a spireless tower at its northeast corner - may have been directly influenced by St Augustine’s Church at Ramsgate, regarded as Pugin’s final masterpiece and the fullest expression of his architectural ideas. Simplicity was promoted by Pugin as an expression of humble function, and in the case of St Benedict’s Church can be seen to have conyeyed its role as a monastic establishment linked with Subiaco. Other Pugin influences included the use of asymmetry in its elevations and its employment of exposed brickwork, both of which reflected his notion of the ‘honesty of construction’, whereby a building’s practical usage and construction materials should not be concealed. The church interior, including its arcades of pointed arches and roof of ‘light expressive timber trusses’, has been described as reminiscent of St Wilfrid’s Church, Hulme, Manchester (1839-42) - an urban, brick structure created by Pugin that was also of massive but simple design.

Tenders for construction of the new church were received by June 1887. The contract was awarded to James J. Holland, who had erected the masonry foundations of the previous church – which evidently survived the fire and were incorporated into the rebuilt structure. In October 1887, a foundation stone was laid by Bishop Luck.

After its completion some six months later, the building was described as ‘the largest (area) church in New Zealand’. It was a major, free-standing brick structure and, along with the similarly-constructed nave of St Patrick’s Cathedral (1886) and the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Onehunga (1887-9), appears to have marked a significant shift in Catholic ecclesiastical construction in Auckland. Other than small country churches, all subsequent Catholic places of worship built by Edward Mahoney and Son in Auckland Province were erected in brick. The building was formally opened and blessed on 22 April 1888, at a ceremony conducted by the first Archbishop of New Zealand, Francis William Redwood (1839-1935), and assisted by Bishop Luck.

By the beginning of February 1888, a contract had also been let for the construction of an adjoining presbytery or ‘monastery’ on the site of the earlier presbytery building. The Gothic design of this structure was to complement that of the new church. The successful contractor was John Lynch, whose tender amounted to £1,386. The new building was to be two storeys high, exclusive of basement (and attic), and to be erected of pressed brick with stone dressings. It may have been erected within a couple of months, as at the time of the opening of the new church in April, a report in the New Zealand Tablet stated that ‘the Benedictine fathers have at a great cost erected a most magnificent church and presbytery, both of which were very much needed.’

Due to financial constraints, neither building was completed as initially anticipated. Although the central and northern parts of the presbytery were erected to their full height, the southern part of the design was not built. Similarly, in the church, a temporary sanctuary was created in place of a more ambitious arrangement. However, in 1893 a large altar and reredos created by Bishop Luck’s brother, Father Francis Augustine Luck, was erected in the church sanctuary reflecting the Benedictine tradition of priest-craftsmanship.

In the same year that the buildings opened, the General Chapter of the Subiaco Congregation affirmed that the New Zealand Mission was not to be a permanent charge due to insufficient funds. In 1890, the Mission’s initial leader Father Sullivan was farewelled from the presbytery prior to his return to Britain. Five years later, the parish priest since its creation, Father Downey, died at the presbytery and was buried in Panmure after a funeral at St Benedict’s Church. Bishop Luck, who had succeeded Father Sullivan as Superior, died in 1896. By 1899, the Benedictine Mission in New Zealand was effectively defunct and the parish came under direct diocesan control. The new parish priest was the Reverend George Gillan, who added iron boundary railings in 1900, plaster to the interior walls of the church two years later, and an organ in 1907.

Construction of St Benedict’s Club Rooms (circa 1917) and subsequent changes:

A few years before the parish was transferred, the Benedictine fathers had been involved with the formation of the St Benedict’s Club at Newton. According to a contemporary report, this was created in May 1894 ‘for the mutual improvement and social amusement of the Catholic young men in the…parish.’ The account additionally noted that ‘the Society…will be composed of various branches, such as literary, gymnastic, musical, and dramatic, and it is also intended to establish a club-room where members may assemble in the evening to read papers, books, etc., or else indulge in chess, draughts and similar games.’ After the construction of St Benedict’s Hall on the opposite side of St Benedicts Street to the church complex in 1896, the club held fortnightly social gatherings in this new building, attracting up to 120 couples for music and dancing. In 1917, it sought to expand its membership among older parishioners due to the number of young men being away on active service in the First World War (1914-18).

By early 1919, a new club room building had been erected within the St Benedict’s Church and Presbytery site, to the west of the church. This was built as a single-storey brick structure of gabled design. Internally, it incorporated a central lobby in its east elevation, with larger spaces at either end. It was subsequently used for events that included meetings for the Marist Brothers’ Old Boys’ Rugby Football Club. An early plan also shows it as ‘billiard rooms.’ Other changes to the complex at a similar time included a single-storey and basement extension to the presbytery, which was added after 1908 and before 1923.

The church remained at the heart of the local Catholic events. In 1919, crowded congregations attended an observation of thanksgiving for peace at the end of the First World War. Churches were built elsewhere in the parish at Grey Lynn (1914), Balmoral and Avondale (1921). These subsequently became independent, reducing the area of St Benedict’s responsibility.

For most of the 1920s, the parish priest was James Michael Liston (1881-1976). Liston was subsequently Bishop of Auckland for more than 40 years, during which period he established numerous institutions and organisations, including Catholic Social Services, the Catholic Youth Movement and the Christian Family Movement. While priest of St Benedict’s Church, he established a parish branch of the Hibernian Australasian Catholic Benefit Society and also founded the Guild of St Luke, open to all Catholic professional men with the aim of clarifying Catholic teaching on public issues, which met monthly in the presbytery. The University Catholic Society at nearby Auckland University was also created in 1922 under Liston’s patronage. In the same year, Liston became the central figure in a notable legal case when he was accused of sedition due to comments on the Irish question made during a public speech in the Auckland Town Hall. A summons was served on him at the presbytery. He was subsequently acquitted by an all-Protestant jury after a two-day trial at the Auckland Supreme Court. Liston was responsible for new seating in the church and stained glass windows in the transepts.

Notable weddings in the church included that of the weaver Josephine Mulvany (1901-67) in 1936.

In the 1950s, alterations to the church included the addition of a porch, and the replacement of the temporary sacristy and sanctuary with a permanent brick structure containing these elements as well as a Lady Chapel and offices. These were designed by Reginald Ford of the noted firm Gummer and Ford, which had previously gained national recognition for works such as the Remuera Public Library (1926) and the Auckland Railway Station (1928-30). Part of the altar designed by Father Luck was moved into the Lady Chapel at this time. The upper storey of the presbytery was modified to include a new staircase, room partitions and other features designed by Gummer and Ford. During the 1960s, a motorway was constructed on the northern side of Alex Evans Street, removing much of the Catholic burial ground.

Between 1976 and 2002, the parish was run by members of the Dominican Order. Its Superior, Father R.J. Batten, was also Vicar of the Provincial for New Zealand, and had his office in the upper floor of the presbytery. Alterations in the church included the partitioning of the southwest part of the crypt to provide administrative rooms in 1987. In 2002-3, the church was subject to a major conservation project, which included modifying the access to the crypt.

The church and presbytery remain in respective use for worship and residential accommodation. The club rooms are currently (2012) used as private offices.

Physical Description

Construction Professionals:

Architects:

Edward Mahoney of E. Mahoney and Son (Church basement remains 1881-2)

Thomas Mahoney, of E. Mahoney and Son (Church and Presbytery, 1887-8)

Charles Reginald Ford, of Gummer and Ford (Presbytery modifications 1951; Church porch and sanctuary additions, 1953-5)

Builders:

J.J. Holland (Church basement remains 1881-2; Church, 1887-8)

John Lynch (Presbytery, 1888)

H.J. Short (Church sanctuary, 1954-5)

Current Description:

Context:

The St Benedict’s Church and Presbytery Complex is located in Newton, an inner city suburb to the south of Auckland’s Central Business District (CBD). Newton is a mixed commercial and residential area, which retains a number of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century buildings. The complex occupies high ground, one block to the west of Upper Symonds Street, a major arterial route through the suburb. It overlooks a large motorway immediately to the north, beyond which are the extensive remains of the nineteenth-century Symonds Street Cemetery (Register no. 7753, Category 1 historic place). The latter contains remnants of the Catholic burial ground, including grave markers and a memorial to those whose bodies were removed and cremated during construction of the motorway. St Benedict’s Church is highly visible from the main road bridge on Symonds Street connecting the cemetery with Newton.

The St Benedict’s Church and Presbytery Complex lies within the Upper Symonds Street Historic Area (Register no. 7367). The historic area forms a major concentration of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century structures which reflect the expansion of Auckland from the 1860s onwards and the mixed commercial, religious and other activities carried out in its inner suburbs. Individually registered places within the historic area include the 1880s Stables (Former) (Register no. 7425, Category 1 historic place) erected by W. and G. Winstone in St Benedicts Street; and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Hall (Register no.98, Category 1 historic place) in Khyber Pass Road. In the immediate environs of St Benedict’s Church and Presbytery is St Benedicts convent (1906; designed by Edward Mahoney & Son, and built by J.J. Holland), situated on the eastern side of St Benedicts Street. Further to the south on the east side of the street is a large Masonic Temple (1929). Overlooking the southern end of the street, on Newton Road, is the former Orange Coronation Hall (1923).

Site:

The St Benedict’s Church and Presbytery Complex occupies a large rectangular section on the western corner of St Benedicts Street and Alex Evans Street. The church lies at the northern end of the site, with the former St Benedict’s club rooms situated immediately to its west. The presbytery is positioned to the south of the church, to which it is physically connected via a low building extension. The southwest corner of the site is occupied by a large yard, which may retain in-ground archaeological remains of nineteenth-century date. Early twentieth-century plans show elements such as a well and possibly a stable within this area.

Topographically, the current buildings are built off a flat terrace that is at a lower level than St Benedicts Street. Ground to the north of the church has been built up to the level of this street, but is otherwise retained behind a wall. The retaining wall to Alex Evans Street is surmounted by iron railings that contain memorial tablets commemorating parish priests including Father Cuthbert Downey and Bishop J.M. Liston. Ornamental railings and brick piers of Gothic design enclose much of the site along its St Benedicts Street boundary.

Church:

The church is a large brick building of imposing, Gothic Revival design. It also has a visually distinctive gabled roof that is covered with slate. The building is cruciform in plan, incorporating an aisled nave, transepts and a sanctuary with attached Lady Chapel. It contains a large crypt and basement. Rather than occupying a traditional east-west orientation, the building is aligned with its sanctuary at the south end. The structure has been referred to as a fine essay in Gothic Revival architecture rendered in brick masonry. In its simplicity, it has also been described as ‘a building of unusually reticent expression for its time.’

The tall nave contains aisles on its east and west sides, with clerestory windows above. The clerestory windows consist of pairs of lancets of Early English type. The north elevation of the nave incorporates a brick entrance porch, above which is a large window of triple-lancet design. The lancets are set within a larger arched recess that also incorporates a small rose window near its apex. An identical recess and window arrangement is found in the east and west walls of the transepts.

The sanctuary is of comparatively plain design with rectangular-headed windows. A low addition linking the church with the presbytery to the south is also of brick. This presents a single-storey elevation to St Benedicts Street, but additionally includes a basement area accessed from the rear. A carport has been added against this rear elevation.

The church interior consists of a large space with a visually impressive roof. The roof is of king-post type, following medieval Gothic precedents. The aisled nave includes Gothic arches supported by plastered brick columns. Former confession boxes in the aisle walls are accessed through pointed-arch doorways. Internal walls are currently plastered, although exposed brickwork in a former confession box reveals the use of bricks bearing the nineteenth-century makers’ mark ‘W. Hunt Auckland’.

At the north end of the nave, there is a choir gallery, accessed via a narrow staircase from a choir lobby in the northwest corner of the nave. Doors to the choir lobby incorporate brass floor plates bearing the maker’s name ‘Smiths Spring’. The gallery contains a large organ built by George Croft of Auckland. Windows throughout the nave and transepts contain stained glass of Victorian and Art Nouveau design. The sanctuary has a coffered ceiling and incorporates a large canopy - or baldaccino - under which the altar was previously located. The adjoining Lady Chapel contains the remaining part of the 1893 altar designed by Francis Augustine Luck.

Basement rooms, including the former crypt, are accessed from a recently-created staircase in the northeast corner of the nave - which replaced an earlier arrangement in the east transept. Basalt walls said to belong to the 1881-2 church are visible on the north and east sides of the building at this level. The main basement room contains timber columns which support the nave floor. A large bearer for the ceiling joists incorporates a scarf joint of unusual, splayed and undersquinted type.

A kitchen is located in the northwest corner of the basement. Other rooms to the south of the main basement area are used as parish offices. The low addition between the church and presbytery also contains service rooms and other facilities.

Presbytery:

The presbytery is a relatively well-preserved building of Gothic Revival design. It is built of brick with a corrugated metal roof. Although viewed as a two-and-a-half storey building from St Benedicts Street, it contains four separate levels, including an extensive basement and an attic. It incorporates a later, single-storey addition with a basement and monopitch roof on its south side.

The main elevation to St Benedicts Street is asymmetrical, with its front door offset towards its south side. This access is enclosed within a steeply-gabled, open porch. Rectangular-headed windows with mouldings and ashlar surrounds occupy the ground floor frontage to the north, each containing stone mullions that divide its upper lights. At first floor level, windows with similar detailing are of wide, pointed-arch type and have Y-shaped mullions. A window of identical wide, pointed-arch type but of larger size indicates the position of a stairwell to the south of the main door. The elevation is surmounted by a steep gablet incorporating a small circular window with mouldings. The gablet is visually emphasised by a parapet and moulded cornice. The south extension is set back from the main structure and has no apertures towards St Benedicts Street other than in an enclosed front porch.

The exposed brickwork of the front elevation of the main structure contrasts with the plastered brick finish of its other elevations. A protruding north wing is gabled, and gables are also incorporated in the roof towards the east end of the north and south elevations. The parapet and moulded cornice found on the front elevation both extend around the north and west sides of the building. Windows on the side and rear elevations are plain and have slightly arched heads. Apertures in the south addition are of slightly different type, being rectangular.

Internally, the building contains priest’s quarters with self-contained flats in the basement. The front lobby incorporates a main entrance with Gothic fanlight and Gothic-panel door. A pointed archway with ornate, Corinthian-capital trusses separates the entrance from a hall providing access to private rooms and a side door on the north elevation. Ground floor rooms include a large living space, a kitchen, bedroom and two former reception rooms. The rooms retain detailing, such as a ceiling rose in the main room, board and batten ceilings, architraves and fireplace surrounds.

Upper rooms are accessed by a large staircase on the south side of the main building, which has balustrading and turned newel posts. A wide arch to the upper landing is embellished similarly to that on the ground floor, with Corinthian-capital trusses. Rooms on the first floor include several former bedrooms. Similar detailing survives as on the ground floor. A small bathroom is matchlined. Upper lights in the windows on the east side of the building feature stained glass of gold, magenta and turquoise. Two small rooms in the northeast corner have been made into a single space through the removal of a dividing wall. A very narrow, dark-stained timber staircase that originally provided further access to attic rooms has been boxed in and replaced by a wider, open stairway in a different location. Attic rooms have more recent finishes than the other spaces and include a space with an added dormer window on the north side.

Basement rooms, some also accessed internally from the bottom of the main staircase, include a space that held a heavy door - which may have been a strong room. A dado lining has been removed in the lower staircase area. Timber floors, ceilings, doors, architraves and skirting boards survive.

Club Rooms:

The former club rooms is a single-storey building of plastered brick construction. Incorporating some Arts and Crafts architectural influences, it has a rectangular groundplan and a gabled roof with parapets. The latter is reflected in its part-gabled frontage to Alex Evans Street, which is externally elaborated by a moulded cornice. The same frontage contains a centrally-placed arched window of wide, six-light design. Its plastered east wall is ashlar-scored, and has an ornamental string course at parapet level which incorporates projecting brick headers. This elevation contains the main entrance to the building, which encompasses an arched light above its door. Windows in the same elevation are also arched. Its west and south walls are of plainer appearance. The building has a corrugated metal roof, and a small single-storey addition against its south wall.

Internally, the building contains a central entrance lobby with attached service facilities, and two large flanking rooms. The north room has exposed brick walls and a matchlined ceiling with square or rectangular vents of lattice design. The hipped ceiling of the south room is higher, accommodating a large central skylight to suit billiards or other games. Like the north room, the ceiling is matchlined and contains a lattice vent. A timber dado exists on the west wall.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1881 - 1882
Construction of first St Benedict’s Church (and Presbytery?)

Demolished - prior building
1886 -
Destruction of first St Benedict’s Church and Presbytery

Original Construction
1887 - 1888
Construction of second St Benedict’s Church, incorporating earlier basement walls

Original Construction
1888 -
Construction of second St Benedict’s Presbytery

Modification
1893 -
Insertion of altar in church

Other
1900 -
Iron boundary railings added

Original Construction
1919 -
Construction of St Benedict’s Club Rooms

Addition
-
Extension to presbytery

Modification
1951 -
Alterations to upper floor and roof of presbytery

Addition
1953 -
Front porch added to church

Partial Demolition
1954 - 1955
Demolition of sanctuary, sacristy and connecting passage between church and presbytery

Addition
1954 - 1955
To church - Sanctuary, sacristy, parlour rooms and connecting passage to presbytery

Modification
1954 - 1955
To church - Insertion of new altar and relocation of part of the 1893 altar to Lady Chapel

Modification
1987 -
Southwest part of crypt partitioned to provide administrative rooms

Modification
1990 -
Alteration to presbytery

Modification
2002 -
New staircase to basement created during major conservation project

Construction Details

Church: Brick, with basalt and brick basement and slate roof

Presbytery: Brick with Oamaru limestone dressings, and corrugated metal roof

Club Rooms: Plastered brick, with corrugated metal roof

Public NZAA Number

R11/2814

Completion Date

14th June 2013

Report Written By

Martin Jones

Information Sources

Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1902

Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol.2, Christchurch, 1902

Reed, 1955

A. W. Reed, Auckland: City of the Seas, Wellington, 1955

Simmons, 1982

E.R. Simmons, In Cruce Salus: A History of the Diocese of Auckland 1844-1980, Auckland, 1982

Simmons, 1987

David Simmons, Maori Auckland, including Maori Place Names of Auckland. Collected by George Graham, Auckland, 1987

Reid, 2006

Nicholas Reid, James Michael Liston: A Life, Auckland, 2006

King, 1997

Michael King, God's Farthest Outpost - A History of Catholics in New Zealand. Penguin Books, Auckland, 1997.

Ardley, 1988

Ardley, Gavin, The Church of St. Benedict, Newton, Auckland: A Centennial Narrative 1988, [Auckland], 1988

Dixon, 1985 (2)

Roger Dixon & Stefan Muthesius, 'Victorian Architecture', London, 1985 (2nd edn.)

Freedman, 2003

Freedman, Margaret and Paul Freedman, St Benedict’s Catholic Church, Newton Parish, 1888-2003: A Brief History, [Auckland, 2003]

Hyde, 1956

Hyde, A.H., St Benedict’s, Auckland: St Benedict’s Church, [Auckland], 1956

Stone, 2001

R.C.J. Stone, From Tamaki-Makau-Rau to Auckland, Auckland, 2001

Other Information

A fully referenced report is available from the Mid-Northern region office of NZHPT.

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.