St Gerard's Church
73-75 Hawker Street And Moeller Street And Oriental Terrace, Mt Victoria, Wellington
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 1
5th April 1984
Lot 3 DP 76510 (CT WN42D/685), Wellington Land District
75 Hawker Street, Mount Victoria, Wellington
St Gerard's Church, the first church in the world to be dedicated to the Italian saint Gerard Majella, sits on an imposing site above Oriental Bay. It was erected in 1908 for the Redemptorists, an order dedicated to reviving the spiritual lives of Catholic parishioners. Prior to its construction, the Redemptorist fathers held mass in their own house, two rooms of which had been converted into a chapel. The new, purpose-built church represents the commitment of the Redemptorists to their work in New Zealand and, as it was funded entirely by public donations, shows the strong support that the fathers had inspired in the local community.
The church, incorporated into the new monastery in 1932, forms one of Wellington's most distinctive landmarks. The Catholic Archbishop Francis Redwood [1839-1935] foresaw the landmark potential of the site, and concerned that it would overshadow his Cathedral, initially objected to it. Reassured that the church would be a simple affair, the Archbishop relented and the well-known architect John Sydney Swan was asked to draw up some suitable plans.
Surviving the earthquake that occurred the day after it was opened, the Church was soon a centre of the Catholic community. Retreats or 'missions' and novena sessions attracted many Wellingtonians. The church, renowned for its choir, became known throughout New Zealand as its services were broadcast on national radio for 37 years. In 1965 the building became a parish church and, despite the departure of the Redemptorists in 1993, it continues in this role today. From its superb site overlooking Wellington Harbour, St Gerard's Church, remains a highly visible symbol of commitment and devotion.
The brick exterior of the church displays a large white cross over which a statue of Mary presides, heavy with child. The simple Gothic style of the church is reflected in the design of the monastery building built alongside the church in 1932. The eastern gable of the monastery mirrors the shape of the church, lending a pleasing air of symmetry to the combined composition. The interior of the church is simple, almost severe. The single storied structure forms a cross. Transepts branch off from main body of the church to the north and south. Framed with carved wood, the south transept contains the organ and the north transept acts as a vestry. Small alcoves behind each vestry house two minor chapels. The wooden pews, hand-carved by Brother Lawrence Watters, provide seating for 200 people.
The tall lancet windows are made of exquisite stained glass and provide relief from the stark, white plaster walls and timber floor and dado. The windows, depicting gospel scenes and saints, were made by Hardman and Son of Birmingham and are of very high quality. An oil painting of St Gerard in Ecstasy, gifted by the Vatican in recognition of the church's status as the first to be dedicated to the saint, once hung above the altar. It was returned to the Vatican in 1993 when the Redemptorists departed. From the altar to the organ, the many riches within the church were all public donations and illustrate the support commanded by the Redemptorists. Apart from changes to the exterior made when the church was incorporated into the monastery, the original form and fabric of the church has been retained. Changes to the interior have also been minor and reflect the building's role as a living centre of the Catholic community.
The spectacular location of the church and its combination with the large and impressive monastery has made the building one of Wellington's most significant and well-known landmarks. As the first church in the world to be dedicated to St Gerard Majella, the church has considerable international spiritual significance. As the first structure purpose-built for the Redemptorists in New Zealand the church can be considered a symbol of their commitment to their work in this country. The quality of the choir and the broadcast of weekly services on the national radio furthered public awareness of both the building and the Redemptorist mission. The high esteem in which the Redemptorists and church were held is demonstrated by the generous public support it received. The church has architectural significance as an example of the work of well-known local architect John Sydney Swan. Its juxtaposition with the monastery, the work of Swan's mentor Frederick de Jersey Clere, makes the building a unique piece of architectural history and adds greatly to the significance of the structure.
Swan, John Sydney
Swan (1874-1936) practised architecture during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He formed part of the last group of architects to follow the traditional Gothic and Classical styles. He was articled to Frederick de Jersey Clere, working with Clere on many major designs such as the Wellington Rowing Club building (then known as the Naval Artillery Boat Shed, 1894) as well as smaller provincial buildings such as the Church of the Good Shepherd, Tinui. The firm was known as Clere, Fitzgerald and Richmond and was one of the most prominent architectural practices in Wellington. From 1901 to 1906 Swan was in partnership with Clere, practising on his own account from 1907. The first major design produced by Swan in this new practice was the Karori Crematorium (1907) which served to establish his architectural identity separate from Clere.
During his long and varied career Swan produced a large and wide range of work, including a number of banks for the National Bank such as the head office building in Wellington (1907), educational buildings for the Wellington Technical College with William Gray Young (1922), and a number of major buildings for the Catholic Church including St Gerard's Church, Mt Victoria (1910), Sacred Heart Convent (later Erskine College), Island Bay (1909), and Wanganui Convent (1912). He was an architect of imagination as evidenced by the design of his own house 'The Moorings', Glenbervie Terrace (1905).
Cliff site created when much of the hill was removed during the Te Aro reclamation.
High quality stained glass windows.
Unusual statue depicting St Mary heavy with child.
5th October 2002
Report Written By
E. Duggan, Diamond Jubilee of St Gerard's Monastery & Church, Wellington, 1965
Charles Fearnley, Early Wellington Churches, Wellington, 1977
P. Kearney, Bounteous Redemption; The Redemptorists in New Zealand 1883-1983, Auckland, 1997
C. Cochran, St Gerard's Monastery, Hawker Street, Wellington; Conservation Plan, Wellington, 1995
A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Central Region Office