Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

89 North Road, North East Valley, Dunedin

  • Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
    Copyright: Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Ben Hill. Date: 8/08/2009.
  • .
    Copyright: Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Ben Hill. Date: 8/08/2009.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 2214 Date Entered 10th September 2004


Extent of List Entry

Registration Includes: all of the land in CT OT3D/606 and the Church, its fixtures and fittings, thereon. The registration applies to the Sacred Heart Church only and not to the hall or Presbytery (See Plan A in Appendix 4 of registration report).

City/District Council

Dunedin City


Otago Region

Legal description

Pt of Lot 2 Blk II DP 75, being Pt Sec 5 North East Valley District (CT OT3D/606), Otago Land District


The Church of the Sacred Heart, a noted landmark nestled under the hills which define Dunedin's North East Valley, was built in 1891-1892. Catholicism arrived early in Otago, and Bishop Pompallier celebrated mass at Otakou in 1840. The establishment of a Presbyterian colony in the region in 1848 ensured that Catholics would remain a minority group. Nevertheless, by the 1870s Dunedin had an established Catholic community, swelled by the influx of Irish migrants who had arrived with the gold rushes of the 1860s.

Catholics from the northern end of Dunedin attended services at St Joseph's, in the centre of town, until 1883, when weekly masses began at Kirk's Hall, close to the Botanical Gardens. The hall soon proved inadequate and Dunedin Bishop Patrick Moran planned a new church for the district, but disagreements over its location and problems finding a suitable site led to long delays. In the meantime, from 1888 mass was held at Kirk's Hall twice each Sunday to cater for the growing congregation.

In 1890 Bishop Moran finally purchased from John Clegg suitable land in the North Road for the new church. Dunedin architect F.W. Petre designed, in Gothic Revival style, a building to seat over 400 people. Construction began in 1891, and contractor Daniel Woods completed the work in "the most satisfactory manner" under Petre's supervision. Other contributors included Barningham and Co. (iron work), Anderson and Morrison (copper work), A. & T. Burt (bell) and D. Scott (lead light windows). The local Catholic community, particularly the pupils of Dunedin's Catholic schools and the Dominican Sisters, donated many of the furnishings. On 7 February 1892 Bishop Moran dedicated the new church, by then complete except for the stained glass windows, which arrived from Lyons to be installed in June of that year.

The church has remained a spiritual centre for much of Dunedin's Catholic community since 1892. In its early years, the church building also served as a school, the Dominican Sisters teaching there from 1895 until they opened a dedicated school building nearby in 1904.

Until the 1930s, when the Church of the Holy Name was established, it hosted the only centre of Catholic worship for the northern end of Dunedin. In 1934 a Presbytery was built adjacent to the church for the parish priest; prior to this the church had been served from St Joseph's. The church and school did not remain the only Catholic institutions in the neighbourhood, with the Saint Sabina Convent of the Dominican Sisters nearby and, from 1954, Aquinas Hall, a residential hall for students, run by the Dominican Fathers. The Dominican Fathers served as parish priests for many years, but its current priests are Rosminians.

Through all these changes - indeed, to the present day - the church building remained largely unaltered, fulfilling its intended function as a place of worship. Various minor alterations, repairs and renovations have retained the original design. At an unknown, but probably early, date, the brickwork was plastered. A 1984 storm caused significant damage, blowing down the spire, and the NZHPT assisted the parish with the restoration required.

Petre designed numerous Catholic churches, including Dunedin's three nineteenth-century buildings - St Joseph's Cathedral, St Patrick's Basilica in South Dunedin and Sacred Heart. Sacred Heart is by far the simplest of the three, yet has been described as "Petre's best and most original ecclesiastical work in Dunedin." The church is set back from the road, with the path leading to its door bordered by roses. The building is now showing signs of its age, with various structural problems evident, but it has stood as one of North East Valley's most noted architectural and spiritual landmarks for over a hundred years.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

The Sacred Heart Church is a building of architectural and spiritual significance. It is the work of noted Catholic Church architect Francis Petre. It displays the versatility of the architect who designed three cathedrals, for he produced here a small, simple yet graceful building in his favoured Gothic Revival style.

It has been a centre of Catholic spirituality in the north of Dunedin for 112 years, forming the spiritual heart of a complex of buildings and a community which included church, school and, formerly, a convent and student residence.

The Sacred Heart Church is representative of the significance of Christianity in New Zealand's nineteenth and twentieth-century history. Although Presbyterians were the largest group of Otago colonists, this building demonstrates the significance of the smaller Catholic community in Dunedin. Its part of the wider complex of buildings associated with the Catholic Church shows the important role of the Church in its local community.

This building is held in esteem by the congregation, and its value is noted by the wider community as an important element in the history of North East Valley.

The design of this church is also significant. It is the work of notable architect F.W. Petre, designer of many important Catholic buildings, including three cathedrals. Here he has used his characteristic Gothic Revival style in a smaller church.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Petre, Francis William

Petre (1847-1918) was born in Lower Hutt. He was the son of the Hon. Henry William Petre and grandson of the eleventh Baron Petre, Chairman of the second New Zealand Company. Petre trained in London as a naval architect, engineer, and architect, returning to New Zealand in 1872. During the next three years he was employed by Brogden and Sons, English railway contractors, superintending the construction of the Dunedin-Clutha and the Blenheim-Picton railways.

He set up office in Dunedin in 1875 as an architect and civil engineer. He designed a house for Judge Chapman (1875), followed by 'Cargill's Castle' (1876) for E B Cargill and then St Dominic's Priory (1877), all in mass concrete.

It is for his church designs and for his pioneering use of concrete that Petre is most recognised. His church buildings include St Joseph's Cathedral, Dunedin (1878-86), Sacred Heart Basilica (now Cathedral of the Sacred Heart), Wellington (1901), St Patrick's Basilica, Oamaru, (1894 and 1903) and the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Christchurch, (1904-05), which is the outstanding achievement of his career. Petre's commercial buildings include the Guardian Royal Exchange Assurance Building (1881-82) and Pheonix House (now Airport House, c.1885), both in Dunedin.

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description

The church is in the Gothic Revival style favoured by Petre. Its layout is cruciform, with two small transepts arising from the nave. A chancel arch leads to the sanctuary, which features a deep canted apse. A door leads from the sanctuary to the sacristy.

A small porch at the entrance of the church leads into the vestibule. On either side of the central aisle are the baptistery and confessional. Above them is a gallery, which houses a harmonium. The front of the gallery features kauri and rimu detailing. The ceiling is rimu, with arched ribs.

The windows are lancets. The front gable has three centrally-placed lancets. The gables of the transepts each have a small round window above the lancets. There are three stained-glass windows in the sanctuary. The glass was imported from Lyons. The central window represents the Sacred Heart; on its left is a representation of Our Lady holding the infant Jesus; the right window features St Joseph with the infant Jesus. The remaining leaded windows are all glazed with coloured glass.

The pews were originally positioned in the centre of the nave, with an aisle on either side. They were later cut in half, and arranged at the sides of the nave to create a central aisle. The furnishings of the sanctuary have been altered to suit changing worship practices. The original stone altar remains in place, but the reredos and tabernacle are no longer in use, and the railing once positioned at the chancel arch has gone.

The exterior of the church is marked by regularly placed buttresses. The small vestibule at the centre front repeats the steeply pitched gable of the main body of the Church. A Celtic cross once sat above the vestibule. Above the windows of the front gable there is a relief of a Latin cross. The belfry rises above the front gable and is topped with a small spire. The original spire was covered with copper, but was replaced with a fibreglass replica after storm damage in the 1980s. At the top of the spire is a small Celtic cross. The doors - one at the front and one on each transept - are painted wood in lancet shape. The lancet-shaped light above the front entrance is leaded and glazed with coloured glass.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1891 - 1892

1985 -
Reconstruction of belfry and spire.

Construction Details

The foundation of the Church is concrete. It is constructed of brick and stone. The exterior was plastered at a later date. The roof is slate, apart from the sacristy roof which is iron. The interior is plastered, with timber ceilings.

Completion Date

7th October 2004

Report Written By

Heather Bauchop

Information Sources

Croot, 1999

Charles Croot, Dunedin Churches Past and Present, Otago Settlers Association, Dunedin, 1999

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Lochhead, Ian J, 'Petre, Francis William,' updated 16 December 2003; URL:

Land Information New Zealand (LINZ)

Land Information New Zealand

Otago Daily Times

Otago Daily Times

31 August 1891; 5 February 1892; Supplement 8 February 1892

Tod, 1992

Frank Tod, Sacred Heart Church Dunedin Centennial 1892-1992, Dunedin, 1992

Other Information

A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Otago/Southland Area Office

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.