Star of the Sea Convent Block

Granger Road, Howick, Manukau

  • Star of the Sea Convent Block 1992. From: NZHPT Northern Region Field Record Forms.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Jeremy Salmond.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 5430 Date Entered 26th August 1993


City/District Council

Auckland Council (Manukau City Council)


Auckland Council



The Granger Road Property was purchased in 1925 for the purpose of establishing a Diocesan Orphanage for girls under the supervision of the Sisters of Mercy. Auckland's first Star of the Sea orphanage had been established in Freemans Bay in 1878 initially with fifty girls. Upon the sale of that site to the Auckland Gas Company in 1912, the building was dismantled and rebuilt at Northcote only to be destroyed by fire in 1913. A few months later "The Pah", now Monte Cecelia, was purchased and used as a temporary orphanage until 1925 when the Howick property was purchased.

A large house on the Granger Road site served as the convent until it too was destroyed by fire in 1929. Fifty girls accommodated in the adjoining brick dormitory escaped harm. A new convent, chapel and additional dormitory block were built in 1930-31.

The chapel is dedicated to the memory of Henry William Cleary (b.1859 - d.1929), Bishop of Auckland from 1911 until his death in 1929. Bishop Cleary oversaw the initial stages of the design for the re-building project. The orphanage was completed by March 1931; but it was the decision of Bishop Liston not to have an official opening of the chapel or dormitory blocks in view of "the period of sadness through which the Dominion was passing". Distress resulting from unemployment and difficult economic conditions of the time had been overshadowed by the Napier earthquake of February 1931.

The orphanage was designed to obtain the greatest amount of sunlight in all rooms and took advantage of sea views. Initially 75 girls ranging in age from pre-school to 18 years were accommodated. The Sisters also developed a day school for local Roman Catholic children. Introduction of the orphans' benefit in the Social Security Act 1938 contributed to a decline in the number of orphans in institutional care generally in New Zealand. Children deprived of the care of both parents through death or by severe poverty also decreased nationally as a result of improved standards of living following the 1930s depression and World War Two. In later years the Star of the Sea Orphanage was referred to as a "Girls' School" and the girls as boarders. In late 1976 the orphanage closed. Two years later the Sisters withdrew from the convent. The Star of the Sea School was integrated into the state school system in October 1982. The school now has a lay staff.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The building has strong historical links with the first Star of the Sea orphanage which was established in Freemans Bay in 1878 and also with the Order of the Sisters of Mercy who, since their arrival in 1850, played an important role in the care of orphaned girls in Auckland. The building is notable as part of a residential institution which provided for the care of orphans prior to the development of the welfare state in the 1930s, a need it continued to meet into the 1970s. The memorial chapel commemorates the work of Bishop Cleary, who significantly furthered Catholic education and the welfare of children in Auckland during his episcopate from 1911 until 1929.


The Star of the Sea Convent Block is a fine example of the Romanesque style applied to a small building in an ecclesiastical institution. It represents an interesting departure from Gothic and other styles commonly adopted for ecclesiastical architecture. Because of its scale the interior of the tunnel vaulted chapel has a delicate character. The building is little altered, and has very great architectural quality.


Originally built overlooking the sea, the Star of the Sea Convent Block is a familiar building to many Howick residents and is valued for the contribution it makes to the visual amenities of the Granger Road area.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Tole & Massey

An Architectural Partnership which spanned the years 1928 to 1935. George Edmund Tole (1898-1972) and Horace Lovell Massey (1895-1978).

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description


George Edmund TOLE (c.1898 -1972)

Horace Lovell MASSEY (c.1895 -1978), FRIBA, FINZIA


The former convent block which includes the chapel was designed by Tole and Massey, an architectural partnership which spanned the years 1928 to 1935.


The former Star of the Sea Orphanage is comprised of three buildings which form three sides of an open "square" facing onto Granger Road. The central dormitory block, built in 1926, is linked by short, enclosed arcades to wings located at right angles. The lower wing, a second dormitory block, was built in 1930-1. The upper wing, also built in 1930-31, is the former convent block which incorporates the Star of the Sea Chapel. It is currently used by the Star of the Sea primary school as an administration block. Only the former convent block is the subject of the classification proposal.

The dominant feature of the building is the chapel which is Italian Romanesque.

The building is rectangular in plan. The main entrance to the block is on the north-eastern side of the building facing Granger Road. The entrance vestibule opens into a small hall which has a coffered plaster ceiling. Opening to the left and right are what were formerly the sisters' reception room and community room respectively. From the hall a passage runs almost the length of the building. It provides access to what were the sisters' cubicles and bathroom facilities on the south-eastern side; and to a further cubicle, sacristy, the chapel and sisters' refectory on the north-western side. Two loggias offer an alternative means of access to the chapel from the rooms on the north-western side of the building, also symbolically reinforcing the central spiritual importance of the chapel at the heart of the complex. Beyond the sisters' refectory a small lobby provides access to the kitchen, laundry and service area and to the girls' refectory. The girls' refectory is in turn linked by a covered way to the adjoining dormitory area.

The centrally located chapel is the visual focal point of the main (north-western) facade. The apsidal wall of the sanctuary protrudes from the otherwise flat facade of the chapel. The plain external wall surface of the apse is relieved by pilaster strips and arches producing a blind arcade pierced only by two small stained glass windows. The flat roof of the apse has enabled the incorporation of a small rose window in the end wall of the chapel. The gable rises to a simple bell-cote surmounted by a cross. The side walls of the chapel rise sufficiently above the hipped roof of the rest of the block to permit a row of small clerestory windows.

The north-eastern facade is symmetrically arranged with centrally located entrance and a pair of arched windows on either side. The white plaster of the exterior contrasts strongly with the red tiles of the verandah, steps, window sills and roof.

The chapel has a tunnel vaulted ceiling supported on enriched pendant capitals. Between the capitals are polygonal clerestory windows. Above the main door on the chapel interior is a memorial tablet to Bishop Cleary. Glazed doors and windows which open onto the arcades on either side of the sanctuary have arched heads and simple lead-light crosses.


date unknown - small addition adjoining laundry (virtually indistinguishable from original building)

Notable Features

- chapel interior including enriched capitals and leadlight windows

- timber pews in chapel

- timber altar table in the sanctuary

- original fireplaces

- built in cabinet, (staff room)

- the unmodified state of the building overall

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1930 - 1931

Construction Details

- concrete piles

- brick foundation walls

- brick cavity external walls (plastered)

- partition walls single brick

- timber frame, tiled roof

- timber floors

Information Sources

Auckland Public Libraries

Auckland Public Libraries

Auckland Scrapbook, Sept 1959- p59; Obituary Scrapbook July 1971- p76 'G E Tole'.

Auckland Weekly News

Auckland Weekly News

25.9.1929 p8(2)

New Zealand Architectural and Building Review

New Zealand Architectural and Building Review

10.6.1926 p31

New Zealand Herald

New Zealand Herald, 12 July 1932, p. 6; 28 September 1933, p. 6.

6.4.1930 p16(4) 'Tenders'

New Zealand Building Record

New Zealand Building Record

24.5.1930 p2

Sisters of Mercy, 1952

Sisters of Mercy, Gracious is the Time: Centenary of the Sisters of Mercy Auckland 1850-1950, Auckland, 1952

Busch, 1960

H Busch. Romanesque Europe, London, 1960

Knowles, 1947

G L H Knowles (ed), The Book of Howick, Panmure, 1947

La Roche, 1991

A La Roche. The History of Howick and Pakuranga, Auckland, 1991


The Month

15.10.1929 p iii

17.12.1929 p11(1)

1.12.1930 pp14-15

2.3.1931 p40

Eastern Courier

Eastern Courier

6/12/1978 p1

Other Information

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Proposal for Classification report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

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.