St Patrick's Church (Catholic)

12 Colonsay Street And Lancaster Street, Lawrence

  • St Patrick's Church (Catholic). Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Shellie Evans - flyingkiwigirl. Taken By: Shellie Evans - flyingkiwigirl. Date: 14/05/2014.
  • St Patrick's Church (Catholic). Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Shellie Evans - flyingkiwigirl. Taken By: Shellie Evans - flyingkiwigirl. Date: 14/05/2014.
  • St Patrick's Church (Catholic). Nave looking towards the narthex.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Heather Bauchop. Date: 10/03/2010.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 2247 Date Entered 20th August 2010


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Pt Secs 1-2 Blk V Town of Lawrence (CT OT2D/1346 and CT OT3B/407), Otago Land District and the building known as St Patrick's Church (Catholic) thereon, and its fittings and fixtures including the altar, baptismal font, the cross, the Blessed Sacrament Canopy, and the statues of Our Lady and the Christ child, St Joseph and the Christ child, and the Pieta. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).

City/District Council

Clutha District


Otago Region

Legal description

Pt Secs 1-2 Blk V Town of Lawrence (CT OT2D/1346 and CT OT3B/407), Otago Land District


St Patrick’s Catholic Church on Colonsay Street overlooking the main street of Lawrence, was constructed in 1891. Although the story of St Patrick’s was just beginning, the Catholic Church in Lawrence already had a rich spiritual and social legacy. The discovery of gold at Gabriel's Gully in May 1861 led to the establishment of the thriving Lawrence Township. Significantly to the Presbyterian-founded Otago province, a number of miners were Irish Roman Catholics. By 1862 Catholic Mass was regularly celebrated in a calico tent. A hilltop site on the corner of Colonsay Street and Lancaster Streets was purchased in 1863 and in 1864 a corrugated iron church was erected on site; the first Catholic church in Otago. The nave of St Patrick’s Church stands on this site.

Overlooking the township of Lawrence, among a cluster of impressive government buildings, St Patrick’s Church was opened by Bishop Patrick Moran in January 1892. The distinguished architect, Francis Petre (1847-1918), drew the design for the church. As a man of the faith, Petre was often the architect of choice for Catholic dioceses, designing cathedrals and local churches in accomplished Gothic Revival style. Following a Latin cross floor plan, the Church is simple yet elegant, and constructed by contractor Daniel Woods.

By 1926 bricks and mortar were unfortunately decaying. The church was then roughcast to protect the exterior. In contrast, the interior was continually enhanced by gifts from generous benefactors, including stained glass windows, statues, and Stations of the Cross. Indeed a number of the windows were made in the famous Zettler factory in Munich. Several modifications took place in the early 1970s when the sanctuary was restyled in accordance with the liturgical changes of Vatican II and for the Church’s centenary. In the mid 1990s, significant fundraising enabled a programme of repair and restoration.

St Patrick’s Church has significant aesthetic, architectural, historical, social, and spiritual values. It is a landmark building surrounded by Lawrence’s most impressive goldfields’ buildings. The Church reflects part of the social and cultural milieu of a nineteenth century gold settlement and is a visible reminder of the large Catholic presence on the Otago goldfields. It provided Catholics a place for spiritual replenishment, but also a gathering place for the social and cultural expressions of Irish nationalism. The development of the Church from tent to impressive brick structure represents the period of consolidation of settlement following the gold rush. It represents and embraces not only the history of the Parish, but the history of Lawrence and Otago, dating back to 1861.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

St Patrick’s Church (Catholic) has historical significance. The substantial building with its striking design illustrates the central place Lawrence held in the history of nineteenth century Otago as the location of the first gold rush in the province, and the impact this had on the development of the town. The development of the Church from tent to impressive brick structure reflects the period of consolidation of settlement following the gold rush heyday. St Patrick’s is also a physical representation of the importance of religion in Lawrence, particularly of the Catholic Church. Indeed it was the spiritual needs of the Catholics drawn to Lawrence by the gold rush which stimulated the establishment of the Catholic Diocese in Otago. St Patrick’s Church is the third Catholic place of worship, the second on that site, replacing earlier temporary places of worship. The nave of the present Church stands on the site of the corrugated iron St Gabriel’s; the first Catholic church building in Otago. St Patrick’s represents and embraces not only the history of the Parish, but the history of Lawrence and Otago, dating back to 1861.

Aesthetic Significance or Value:

St Patrick’s Church (Catholic) has aesthetic significance. It is a landmark building with a distinctive style, occupying a prominent hilltop position overlooking the township of Lawrence. Situated in the heritage area of Colonsay Street, it is surrounded by Lawrence’s most impressive goldfields’ buildings. This imposing structure was designed to make a strong visual impression, and has been described as almost cathedral-like when compared to many rural churches. It makes a considerable contribution to the streetscape of the township because of it prominent sitting and bold, yet simple, exterior composition. The Church’s interior is also aesthetically pleasing, with both appealing architectural features and beautiful religious statuary and images.

Architectural Significance or Value:

St Patrick’s Church (Catholic) has architectural significance as an example of the work of prominent architect Francis Petre. The architect was notable for his considerable contribution to New Zealand architecture. He is renowned particularly for his designed Roman Catholic architecture. His expertise was not only sought out for imposing city cathedrals, but also for smaller local churches. St Patrick’s Church serves as a visible reminder of F.W. Petre’s substantial contribution to the Roman Catholic ecclesiastical architecture in this country.

Social Significance or Value:

St Patrick’s Church (Catholic) has social significance. The Church represents the social and cultural milieu of a nineteenth century gold settlement. It provided Catholics not only with a gathering place for spiritual replenishment, but also a place for the social and cultural expressions of Irish nationalism. The large Church, seating 600 people, shows the contemporary aspirations of the Irish community and the significance of the Catholic church and culture in nineteenth century Otago. The building has been associated with the Roman Catholic community for almost 120 years and has served as a focus not only for religious services during that period, but also served as a community meeting place for life events such as baptisms, marriages and deaths.

Spiritual Significance or Value:

St Patrick’s Church (Catholic) has spiritual significance as the place of Catholic worship in Lawrence for almost 120 years. It continues to be the focus of religious contemplation for Lawrence and surrounding districts in 2010.

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

St Patrick’s Church (Catholic) demonstrates the history of the development of Catholicism in Otago from the 1860s into the twenty first century. The history of the Church in Lawrence speaks to the importance of Christianity during the early years of European settlement. It also speaks to the story of Irish participation in the gold rush and eventual settlement in New Zealand.

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

St Patrick’s Church (Catholic) is associated with Francis Petre, pre-eminent nineteenth century New Zealand architect, whose work for the Catholic Church is particularly noteworthy. Connected also with the building is the historically significant Bishop Patrick Moran, Otago’s first Catholic Bishop. He was responsible for the instigation of the building fund for St Patrick’s Church and opened the building on its completion.

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

St Patrick’s Church (Catholic) is held in high public esteem. To the local community it is a Lawrence landmark. Indeed it is the only historic building on historic Colonsay Street which is still used for its original purpose. The history of community support is evident in the construction of the church and in its ongoing maintenance. Despite a declining congregation, and sharing a Parish priest, the Church has been maintained to an extraordinarily high standard. Fundraising has been well supported by the local community, and thousands of dollars have been contributed towards the upkeep of the place. Community esteem is also evident in the Church interior which is beautifully enhanced by windows, statues and Stations of the Cross donated by generous benefactors. This shows the special public esteem with which the Church is held.

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

St Patrick’s has significance as an example of nineteenth century church design, particularly Petre’s style of Gothic revivalism. It is one of Petre’s more cathedral-like rural churches.

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

St Patrick’s Church has commemorative value. There are a number of memorial items, including windows and statues, commemorating individuals in the history of the church.

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

St Patricks Church (Catholic) is a significant element in the historical landscape of Lawrence. The building represents early efforts during the gold rush to meet the needs of Catholics, which promoted the establishment of the Catholic Diocese in the Presbyterian stronghold of Otago. It represents also the religious and social requirements of the influx of Irish immigrants drawn by the gold rush. Finally, this fine structure reflects the period of consolidation of settlement following the gold rush heyday. It stands in the historically impressive Colonsay Street which is littered with the remains of impressive heritage structures, all reflecting the halcyon years of Lawrence township. St Patrick’s Church stands alone as the one historic place still fulfilling the purpose for which it was first envisioned.

Summary of Significance or Values

This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: a, b, e, g, h and k.


It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category II historic place.


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.

Woods, D.W.

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative


Traditionally, the Waitaha people had authority over Murihiku, the southern part of the South Island. Around 1750 the Ngati Mamoe, originally from the North Island’s East Coast, established themselves in Murihiku. They in turn fell under the sway of another tribe from the North Island’s East Coast, Ngai Tahu. Archaeology suggests moa became extinct around 1500. The climate was too cold to grow kumara, so no horticulture was established. Settlement focused on the coast, where ocean fish, seabirds and seals were plentiful. People journeyed inland to harvest eels, forest birds such as weka and kereru, and cabbage trees. They also travelled to sources of highly-valued pounamu in the headwaters of rivers draining into Lakes Wakatipu and Wanaka, While Maori travelled considerable distances seasonally to gather food sources, permanent villages were usually on the coast. Confusion exists over the Maori meaning of ‘Tuapeka’, although one authority says it should be ‘Tuakipeta’ meaning cut down a branch of a tree for firewood.

In 1848 with the arrival of 344 emigrants at Dunedin, the European and Maori population were almost equal. With increasing European settlement, the next few decades saw the loss of major inland mahika kai resources. Inland areas were still visited but the gold rushes in the 1860s lead to closer land settlement by Europeans which often shut out Maori.

Tuapeka, however, saw an increase in Maori population when gold was discovered at Gabriel’s Gully in May 1861. Traditionally, Maori placed no importance on gold but had long been aware of the yellow metal in Central Otago rivers. There are examples of exchanges with Europeans in 1849 and 1851 where they speak of the gold. When Maori realised the worth Europeans placed on the metal, a number of Maori joined the rush.

There are no recorded Maori archaeological sites on the land on which St Patrick’s Church is built.


Lawrence was one of the most important towns in Otago. The discovery of gold at Gabriel's Gully by Gabriel Read in May 1861 led to the Otago gold rush. While gold had been found in the province before, this rush was beyond expectation, with the population of the gold field rising from almost nothing to around 11,500 within a year, twice that of Dunedin at the time. Gabriel’s Gully was the first site of Lawrence; albeit a canvas township.

The gully quickly became dotted with tents and workings, stores and government ‘buildings’. This site, however, was also gold rich (and is now buried beneath thousands of tonnes of rubble from subsequent mining operations.) Gradually, the commercial and administrative services for the Tuapeka fields were concentrated on non-auriferous ground three kilometres away at the entrance of the Gully. The new town, promised by Superintendent J.L.C. Richardson, was surveyed in 1862 by Robert Grigor and named Tuapeka. Town sections were auctioned on 5 November 1862. By 1864 most people had shifted from the canvas town across the stream to Lawrence, where there was already several business including hotels, ironmongers, drapers, a bank, bookmaker, storekeeper, newsagent, and watchmaker. The town became a municipality in 1866 and was renamed Lawrence in honour of Sir Henry Lawrence, defender of Lucknow during the Indian mutiny in 1857. The development of large scale sluicing in the 1870s, however, caused flooding on the flat, forcing government buildings, churches and schools on to the hill on to Colonsay Street. Peel Street became the business street.

Irish Immigrants

The discovery of gold at Gabriel’s Gully saw miners flood into the area. By December 1861, some 14,000 people were on the Tuapeka goldfield; by February 1864 the population was around 24,000. Around a third of these miners were English, some were European, others were of Chinese origin, and a significant proportion of Irish also made their way to the goldfields.

The character of Irish immigration into Otago in the 1860s had remained largely unchartered. Yet analysis of a random sample from passenger lists show 17.7% were Irish. Of those, 90% were male, 83% were aged between 25 and 39, and only 17.9% were married. As the gold rush peak waned, many wives and families immigrated to join their menfolk. New Zealand’s Irish came mainly through Victoria, Australia, as a number of Irish had taken the opportunity of the assisted migration scheme to Australia. Many moved south across the Tasman as news of the gold rush spread. Significant to the Presbyterian-founded Otago Province, was that two thirds of these Irish were Roman Catholic.

The Catholic Church

Otago was established in 1848 as a Presbyterian settlement. The discovery of gold, however, saw miners of all nationalities and creeds flood in, among their number Irish Catholics.

Perceiving the spiritual need, Father Delphin Moreau (1813-1883) began visiting the miners, from Dunedin, in the first weeks of the gold rush. Moreau, born in the South of France, arrived in New Zealand in 1843. For 18 years he worked with the Catholic mission to North Island Maori. The discovery of gold saw his mission diverted.

Cobb & Co’s first coach to the diggings was not until 11 October 1861 so Moreau’s first visits to Tuapeka were on foot. At first travelling to Lawrence once a month to hold Mass, by 1862 he was travelling every alternate Sunday and services were being held in a calico tent in Gabriel’s Gully. Even during winter he was seen walking from claim to claim over the snow carrying a long stick with which to test the ground. The gold rush led to such a population increase that Moreau was formally appointed to the South Island and his duties extended over the whole of Otago.

Moreau saw the need for land to house a church and school and set about raising awareness. In October 1863 a section on the corner of Colonsay and Lancaster Streets was donated by John Donovan, a prominent local businessman. The land was vested in the hands of trustees John Donovan, Bryan Sweeney and Father Joseph Eccuyer, who in 1864 had become the first priest resident permanently in Lawrence.

A corrugated iron church was erected on the site. In November 1864 Bishop Viard blessed the church named St Gabriel’s; the first Catholic church in Otago. The nave of the present church now stands on this site.

The influx of Catholic miners and an increasingly settled population in Otago prompted the formation of a Catholic Diocese of Dunedin in 1869. It was not until January 1871, however, that Bishop Patrick Moran arrived to take charge of the new Diocese. The first parish he established was Tuapeka. Bishop Moran travelled often to Lawrence as it contained the largest community of Irish in the new Diocese.

On 30 May 1871 Moran appointed Father William Larkin as Parish priest to Tuapeka. Larking brought vitality to the Parish. As the Tuapeka Times remarked he ‘possesses in a marked degree the ‘organising talent’, if we may so term it, and in fertility of resource it would be difficult to find his equal’. His impetus saw a large wooden Gothic church-school opened on 17 March 1872, across the road from the now superseded St Gabriel’s. In 1875 St Patrick’s was the biggest Catholic school in the Diocese with 140 pupils, compared with 113 in Dunedin and 85 in Invercargill.

Fr Larkin was succeeded by Fr Crowley in 1875. Resident until 1880, Crowley was succeeded by Fr Patrick O’Leary in 1882. O'Leary was a staunch Irishman, fervently nationalist in politics, and an expert in Irish history and language. His leadership helped shape Lawrence's Irish and Catholic community, which he served until his death in 1916. It was during his tenure that calls intensified for a separate Catholic Church, distinct from the combined St Patrick’s Church and School. The existing building was large and commodious but it was essentially a school rather than a church.

Bishop Moran had established a building fund for a new church in 1880, by selling a Diocese-owned farmlet. As the 1880s drew to a close, major fundraising was taking place for a new church. One bazaar, for example, raised over £250. The community proved supportive and half the amount was raised before construction even began.

The Architect

The noted architect, Francis Petre, was selected to draw a design for the church. Petre was born at Petone in 1847, into one of England’s oldest and most influential Catholic families. This religious faith was to play an important role in Petre’s career. Educated in England, he worked for architects and engineers. This experience afforded a thorough understanding of the latest engineering techniques including the use of concrete. In 1872 Petre returned to New Zealand to work as an engineer for a contracting company, building railway lines. By 1875 he was based in Dunedin, and had returned to architecture. His career went from strength to strength; the first New Zealand-born architect to rise to national importance. Pioneering the use of concrete in New Zealand architecture, he employed this material more extensively and more imaginatively than any of his contemporaries.

It was Gothic Revival architecture, however, which was his first enthusiasm. One of New Zealand’s most able practitioners in the style, he praised it for ‘the great richness and delicacy of detail, and the closer application of geometrical rules to architecture….’ This ‘delicacy of detail’ is the common denominator in his buildings. It was said that his drawings of stones, window traceries, arches and ornamentation were so precise that stonemasons could execute his intentions from one single drawing.

His passion for sculpture also showed itself in his best work, which had a strong sculptural quality. Despite Petre’s emphasis on detailed, sculptural Gothic Revival architecture, he also believed that an architectural style should be ‘treated liberally’. His designs, therefore, remained individual creations, lighter and more delicate than many who designed in the Gothic style. It has been said that ‘he can now be seen as one of our great creative artists: the man, perhaps shy and modest, but the architect, one of daring and intelligence’.

Petre’s other strong passion, Roman Catholicism, equally directed his career. As a Catholic, he was often the architect of choice for Catholic dioceses. He designed St Joseph’s Cathedral and the Dominican Convent in Dunedin, Sacred Heart Basilica in Wellington (NZHPT Category I, Record no. 214) and, perhaps his most imposing design, the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Christchurch (NZHPT Category I, Record no. 47). His expertise was not only sought out for imposing cathedrals, but also for smaller local churches.

In March 1891 The New Zealand Tablet reported that Petre’s design indicated the new Church would be ‘a fine, roomy building possessed of architectural beauty, and fit for the ceremonies of religion’. The periodical also approved of the site which was central and elevated at the intersection of Colonsay and Lancaster Streets, conspicuously situated beside fine government buildings and above the main street.

St Patrick’s Catholic Church

On 21 November 1890, Petre called for tenders for the erection of a brick church at Lawrence. Specifications were available at the office of the County Clerk, Lawrence, or the office of Petre. On 7 December 1890 the successful tenderer was announced as Mr Daniel W. Woods of Dunedin, with the price of £3000. Woods was the brother of John Woods of Lawrence, who composed the melody for the national anthem God Defend New Zealand.

On 17 March 1891, St Patrick’s Day, the foundation stone was laid by Bishop Moran, even though the walls were almost at their full height. A special train to Lawrence was laid on for the occasion. Numerous Dunedin visitors arrived, including the altar boy choir of St Joseph’s Cathedral. After the conclusion of the Mass, a procession was formed and proceeded up the hill. The Tablet described the scene: ‘A gay line of bunting hung across the road, and conspicuous on the newly-erected walls was a green flag with a harp, a round tower, a Celtic cross, and, most appropriate to the day, a sprig of shamrock.’

On 6 January 1892, Bishop Moran officially opened the completed Church. Every seat in the Church was filled, and a large crowd filled the main entrance and any other vacant spaces. The ceremony was described as ‘picturesque and imposing’. An offering towards costs was also taken up. At the beginning of the day, the debt on the Church was £600; by the end of the day it was £400.

The Tuapeka Times waxed lyrical over the new church:

‘Of the building itself, of the symmetry and solidity of its proportions, its appropriateness of outline and correctness of design, and the general air of finish and completeness that pervades the entire structure - in these respects it is impossible to speak too highly, just as it is impossible to over-estimate the warmth of feeling and the generous giving, inspired, of course, by an enduring faith, that could produce so splendid an edifice for so sublime a purpose. In no country parish in Otago, and not improbably in the colony, is it possible to see so handsome a church.’

Tablet described the church’s design in detail. Built in brick, and laid in mortar made with hydraulic lime, the Church was supported on concrete foundations. The roof was slate on timber trusses. An Oamaru stone belfry, 60 feet (18.3 metres) in height, surmounted the building and was given more decorative treatment than elsewhere. A central flight of concrete steps led to a spacious porch entranceway with two sets of double wooden doors. Entering the church nave, to the right and behind were two doors to the confessional, and to the left and behind was the baptistery. Also to the left was a small spiral wooden staircase leading to a gallery for the organ, 27 feet (8.2 metres) by 12 feet (3.7 metres). The design of the nave was 70 feet by 27 feet (21.3 by 8.2 metres); the transept was 50 feet by 27 feet (15.2 by 8.2 metres); and the apse was 16 feet by 20 feet (4.9 by 6.1 metres) with the height of the walls being 20 feet (6.1 metres), and that of the middle ceiling 32 feet (9.8 metres). The windows were stained glass and there was seating for about 600 worshippers. Lighting was provided by lamps in brass cups on twisted brass rods standing in the middle aisle against the pews. The ironwork was produced by J. Mann, Stuart Street, Dunedin. The altar and baptismal font were carved from Oamaru stone by parishioner Andrew Moody.

The overall effect was impressive and in 1895 the newly appointed Bishop, Michael Verdon, noted that St Patrick’s impressed him as a cathedral church. A convent for the Dominican nuns, built directly behind the Church section, was formally opened by Bishop Moran on Sunday 3 February 1893. In 1902, the Church was further complemented by the construction of the adjacent Presbytery.


In September 1897 a pulpit was presented to the church by the congregation. Designed by Petre and constructed by Daniel Woods, the pulpit was octagonal and entered from the altar rails. The panels were of kauri and the mouldings of red pine. The platform was 3 feet 6 inches (1.1 metres) from the floor, although its full height was 6 feet 6 inches (1.9 metres) and its diameter 4 feet (1.2 metres). The pulpit cost £20 and was a significant addition to the interior of the church.

The interior was further enhanced by gifts generous benefactors over the next years, including stained glass windows, two statues (Our Lady and St Joseph), and the Stations of the Cross. The Pietà and the thirteenth Station of the Cross, for example, were given by a member of the Hart family in memory of the family. Various plaques testify to similar gifts from members of the congregation.

Between 1918 and 1939 stained glass windows, known as the ‘McInerney Windows’, were installed. Made in the famous Zettler factory in Munich, ‘The Annunciation’ window was placed in the west wall of the nave, and the ‘St Patrick’ window was placed in the east nave wall. The ‘Kelleher Window’, titled ‘the Holy Family’, was made in Dunedin by Smith & Smith Ltd and also installed in the west wing of the nave. In the early 1940s, Fr Michael Scanlan, the Parish priest, obtained three windows. One depicted Raphael’s ‘Madonna of the Grand Duke’, which was placed on the left of the apse. Another, titled ‘St John the Evangelist’, was placed on the right. The other has since been lost. A window of St Munchin, previously on the left of the apse, was moved to the right transept; the other window removed from the right of the apex has since been lost. The stained glass picture-light in the niche above the Blessed Sacrament Shrine, titled ‘This is My Beloved Son’, commemorates His Eminence Cardinal Reginald Delargey who, as a child, was a parishioner. The window was designed by Beverley Shore Bennett of Wellington, from an original drawing by Michael McConnell of Dunedin. It was made and installed by Paul Hutchens of Miller Studios, Dunedin, in 1982. The Shrine itself was designed by Sr M. Anthony, O.P., for the alterations in 1971.

Several modifications to the interior took place in the early 1970s when the sanctuary was restyled in accordance with the liturgical changes of Vatican II. The original Oamaru stone altar, for example, was reduced to three-fifths of its original size by Robert Young. The old altar rails were removed and a wooden cross, hung above the altar, was carved from the old kneeler. The Cross figure was carved in Manila in 1974. The Tabernacle was created for the Parish centennial in 1971 and was designed and constructed by Bert Wansink, Dunedin. Around this time also, a Blessed Sacrament Canopy was placed over the tabernacle. It was created from part of the old altar. The Sanctuary’s lamp holder was also added, created from a remnant from the town’s early lighting system.

Concerning the exterior, by 1926 bricks and mortar were decaying. The church was roughcast to protect the exterior. The plastered parapets cracked, however, and allowed water in. The water expanded during frosts and large sections of roughcast came away from the bricks. When the interior walls were painted about 1960, the water in the walls was sealed in. It eventually reacted with the plaster bursting through the paint and causing large areas of efflorescence. By the 1990s the church needed significant repairs. Funds were raised through grants from the Otago Community Trust and the Alexander McMillan Trust, as well as community fund raising. In March 1995 work started. Loose plaster and roughcast were removed and repaired. Rotten barge boards were repaired. Seventy slate roof tiles were replaced. The stain glass windows were protected with polycarbonate shield. Walls, fence posts and the wrought iron fence work were also restored.

Physical Description


St Patrick’s Church stands on an elevated site at the intersection of Colonsay and Lancaster Streets, in a cluster of heritage buildings constructed during the heydays of the gold rush. Alongside the Church, on the east elevation, is the former Presbytery. It is now rental accommodation but still owned by the Church. Behind St Patrick’s, on the south elevation, is the former convent for the Dominican nuns. St Patrick’s Catholic Church and School is downhill in an easterly direction. This structure plays an integral part in the history of St Patrick’s. In combination these buildings represent a Catholic precinct.

St Patrick’s Church

Following the Early English or Lancet style of Gothic Revival architecture, the Church has a Latin cross floor plan and a lean-to entrance porch and belfry directly opposite the apsidal end. Lancet windows alternate with buttresses and the various elements of the building are clearly distinguished from one another. The architect introduces an unusual motif in the partially freestanding buttresses which support the gable ends of both transepts. The saddleback roof of the belfry and the cross gable above the main entrance echo the gabled roof of the Church. The exterior is constructed of stuccoed brick, covered by a roughcast plaster, with an Oamaru stone belfry and a slate roof carried on timber arched braces. A fence, which combines wrought iron panels with posts decorated with trefoil reliefs, extends around two sides of the church property contributing to the overall impressive appearance of the building.

Up a sweeping stairway and through the imposing double entrance doors, is the porch. Through another set of double doors is the narthex and a sweeping view of the impressive interior. Above the narthex is the choir loft, originally the organ gallery, accessed by a staircase attached to the east wing wall. Near the bottom of the staircase, at the rear of the nave, is a statue of Mary and the Christ child in a pointed arch niche, formerly the baptistery. The statue was moved from its original position where the Blessed Sacrament Shine now sits. This statue and one of St Joseph, situated behind the pulpit, are thought to have been in the Church since it was opened. On the western side of the entrance doors are two pointed arch doorways to the confessional. The stone baptistery stands just behind the pews.

The nave is six bays long, with two rows of seating arranged on either side of a central aisle. Near the junction of the nave and transept are two secondary entrances to the Church in the east and west elevations. They feature ornamental cast iron door hinges, which are to be seen also on the on the double doors of the main entrance. Most of the windows in the church are filled with diamond-paned cathedral glass. Stations of the Cross alternate with the windows and the effect is aesthetically pleasing.

The east elevation of the transept contains a freestanding organ and a door in rear wall to the vestry. It has a lean-to roof, external access and a fireplace. The east transept also contains a projector and screen, a lectern and a statue of St Joseph and the Christ child in a pointed arch niche above. The east elevation features three windows; two full pointed arch windows and a half arch window above.

The west elevation of the transept includes the Delargey Window, the tabernacle, the Blessed Sacrament Shrine, the Shrine light which should always be kept burning. Also included is a Pietà, in memory of Benjamin and Mary Hart, and a kneeling stool. The windows duplicate the arrangement in the east elevation.

Stepping up into the Sanctuary, the stone altar is the centrepiece above which the Cross and figure of Jesus hang from the Sanctuary arch. The altar is simple and decorated in lancet arches in relief. Three picture stained glass windows adorn the exterior wall. The ceiling of the Sanctuary, like that of the nave, is timber lined. The ends of the trusses are pleasingly embellished and are supported on ornamental stone buttresses.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1891 -

1926 -
Church exterior was roughcast

1995 -
Maintenance programme

1892 -
St Patrick’s Catholic Church opened

1971 -
Modifications to interior for Vatican II

Construction Details

Timber, Brick, Slate.

Report Written By

Susan Irvine

Information Sources

Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1905

Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol. 4 Otago and Southland, Cyclopedia Company, Christchurch, 1905

Dacker, 1994

Bill Dacker, The pain and the love = Te mamae me te aroha : a history of Kai Tahu Whanui in Otago, 1844-1994, Dunedin, University of Otago Press in association with the Dunedin City Council, 1994.

Eldred-Grigg, 2008

Stevan Eldred-Grigg, Diggers, Hatters & Whores - The Story of the New Zealand Gold Rushes. Auckland, Random House, 2008.

Hearn, 2000

Terry Hearn, ‘Half the World from Home. The Irish on the Otago Goldfields, 1861-1871’ in A distant shore: Irish Immigration & New Zealand Settlement, Dunedin, University of Otago Press, 2000.

Other Information

A fully referenced registration 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.