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St. Hyacinth at Waihola, courtesy of New Zealand Tablet


Mary Queen of Peace (St. Hyacinth)


It wasn’t till 1899 that the community of Poles at Waihola saw the opening of its very own Catholic church. Beforehand they worshiped alongside other denominations at the local Presbyterian church or travelled several miles to the Catholic churches in Milton or East Taieri. However, a priest would come to Waihola from Milton about once a month and whenever a special need arose. Before the church came along many weddings were performed in private dwellings such as these early weddings held at the House of Frank Annis; 22 April 1882, Frank Klimek to Franciszka Kirchowska and at the house of Michael Wisneski; 27 June 1892, Robert Anderson to Mary Orlowski and on 7 December 1898, Bernard Wisnesky to Henrietta Kay.

“A new church is being erected at Waihola in the Milton parish. The congregation are mostly German Poles, and the church is to be dedicated to the great Polish Dominican, St. Hyacinth.” New Zealand Tablet, 02 February 1899.

“The erection of a new Catholic Church at Waihola (says the Bruce Herald), is making good progress. The site is excellently chosen, and commands a very extensive view. It is expected that the builders will have finished their work shortly after Easter, when the church will be opened with the usual ceremonies. We are informed that Dr Verdon, Bishop of Dunedin, has presented the church with an altar, and the Rev. Father O’Donnell of Queenstown, formerly of Milton, has presented three beautiful stained-glass windows for the chancel.“ New Zealand Tablet”, 02 March 1899

The very Rev. Father O’Neill and the people of Waihola are to be congratulated on the completion of the new Catholic Church, to be dedicated to St. Hyacinth, the blessing and opening of which will take place on Sunday next. The church, which is 54 ft by 25 ft, exclusive of the sanctuary and sacristy, is a very pretty specimen of the gothic style of architecture. Three stained glass windows behind the altar, having medallions of the Sacred Heart, St Catherine of Sienna, and St. Hyacinth, add much to the adornment of the interior. The church occupies a very find site overlooking the lake, and is close to the railway station. The Rev. Father O’Donnell, of Gore, will preach on the occasion of the opening ceremony. Special trains, at excursion fares, will leave Dunedin and Balclutha on Sunday morning at 9.30, arriving at Waihola about 11 o’clock. An efficient choir and orchestra from Dunedin will render the music on the occasion. Our readers are referred to the notice which appears in our advertising columns“. New Zealand Tablet, 13 April 1899

St. Hyacinth, Waihola – Barra Cottage on right. View from Adams Farm, 1900

The site of the church was situated at the top of Nore Street, overlooking a spectacular view of Lake Waihola and surrounding area. Access could be obtained by a rather narrow winding lane appropriately named Chapel Lane that climbed what is now a rather steep Nore Street. The church was finally opened for worship on Sunday the 16th of April 1899, there being 1,000 persons present on that occasion. Father O’Neill officiated at the opening ceremony.


It is rarely, if ever, that the pretty township of Waihola presented such an animated appearance as it did on Sunday last, when the new Catholic Church, dedicated to St. Hyacinth, was opened. It was computed that there must have been over 1000 persons present in the township during the day, and of these special trains from Dunedin and Balclutha brought between 700 and 800. Apart from its sacred character the church is a decided acquisition to the township, as its pleasing Gothic proportions show out well in the picturesque and commanding site on which it stands. The Very Rev. Father O’Neill has been loyally and generously assisted in his efforts by his people, as well as by many outside friends. As a result, the church has been handsomely furnished. His Lordship Bishop Verdon presented the fine altar; the Very Rev. Dean O’Leary gave the altar rails; the artistically designed stained-glass windows, with medallions of the Sacred Heart, St. Catherine of Siena and St. Hyacinth, immediately behind the altar, were the gift of the Rev. Father O’Donnell of Queenstown; the Stations of the Cross were given by the Dominican Nuns (Milton), and the carved book stand on the altar by the Dominican Nuns (Dunedin). The stained-glass windows were made by Mr. Fraser, of Dunedin. The site, which is an especially prominent one, was presented by Mr. Philipowski, a resident of the district. The building will accommodate a congregation of about 300.  It is needless to say that numbers of those who arrived by the excursion train were unable to gain admittance to the church. The ceremonies commenced shortly after 11 o’clock, when a Missa Cantata was celebrated by the Rev. Father Edward O’Donnell (Dunedin). The music on the occasion was Farmer’s Mass in B Flat, which was rendered by a special choir and an orchestra. Mr. E. Eagar conducted, and Mr. O. Nauman was leader of the orchestra. The solo parts were sung by Misses Crane and Crawford (soprano), Misses K. Blaney and K. Moloney (alto), Mr. Sheppard (tenor), Messrs. J. Woods and W. O. Feil (bass). As an offertory piece the orchestra played ‘Der Fruhlingszeit,’ by E. Weissenborn, while at the conclusion of Mass ‘Marche aux Flambeaux’ was played. The music was admirably interpreted and reflected much credit on the performers. The clergy present were the Very Rev. Father O’Neill, the Rev. Father P. O’Donnell (Gore), Rev. E. O’Donnell (Dunedin), and the Rev. Father Cleary (Dunedin).

The Settlement of Waihola from Adams Farm, overlooking Lake Waihola. St. Hyacinth is top centre. Ca. 1900

The sermon was preached by Rev. P. O’Donnell (Gore). The rev. preacher took for his text the account of the miraculous draught of fishes described in the Gospel. He made an interesting and well-reasoned application of this great miracle to the repugnance which existed between the simple, humble ways which Christ enjoined and the world’s ideal of wealth, comfort, and worldly power. He also showed how Christ teaches the multitude from St. Peter’s barque to-day as he did long ago by the sea of Galilee; and drew the lesson from Christ’s command to St. Peter to let down his nets in the open day, after a night of fruitless toil, that at God’s command we must practice what our holy religion enjoins-fasting, &c.-even when our intellect does not at all times see the reasonableness of the divine commands, ever remembering the large draught; which rewarded the simple faith of St. Peter. When we labour independently of Christ, our toil is in vain, as regards supernatural reward; when it is done under the guidance and direction of God, it will meet with its reward exceeding great. At the close of an able and instructive discourse, Father O’Donnell congratulated the Very Rev. Father O’Neill on having built such a fine edifice in a district where the Catholics were represented by a few scattered people from far-off Poland. Father O’Neill had erected churches in Mosgiel, Greytown, Catlins, and Balclutha, a convent at Milton, and now this fine edifice at Waihola. The Polish people, though coming from a different land, speaking a different tongue, and having different national customs, would benefit by the ministrations of a warm-hearted Irish priest. There was a bond of sympathy between the Irish and the Polish peoples-a sympathy which sprung from the fact that both had borne centuries of bitter persecution for the faith and remained steadfast under it all. The preacher concluded with a brief biography of the great Polish saint, St. Hyacinth, to whom the church is dedicated. By a happy coincidence, to which the preacher also referred, the opening of the new edifice took place on the seventeenth anniversary of Father O’Neill’s ordination to the priesthood.  The total cost of the building is about £220, whilst the amount in hand, including subscriptions received on Sunday (£80), is about £120. Mr. Barty, of Balclutha, prepared the plans and specifications of the building, and Mr. J. Agnew, of the same place, was the builder. After the ceremony some of the visitors made the most of the fine weather in seeing the various points of interest in the neighbourhood, whilst others were entertained with sacred selections by the orchestra. A start was made for Dunedin by the visitors at 5 o’clock, the city being reached in good time“. New Zealand Tablet”, 20 April 1899

Waihola with St. Hyacinth on top left amongst the trees

August Orłowski, local carpenter of Waihola, had helped the builder, Mr. J. Agnew, do the major construction work on the church. Later on, August did all the repairs of his own accord. Paul Baumgardt also supported and voluntarily assisted in the building of the church. Paul presented to the church of St Hyacinth the bell. Its tolling could be heard throughout Waihola calling its parishioners to mass. It is also noted that August helped build the Waihola Hall and was regarded as a wonderful tradesman of the old class. He had only a few basic tools and no modern machinery. In appreciation of the work that had been done to the church, the Parish presented August a bible which is still in the family today.

“The church was open for the Polish settlers to pray there during the week, there being no resident priest in Waihola at any time. Holy mass was celebrated by visiting priests who mostly came from Milton usually on Sundays. A very neat statue of the Blessed Virgin was recently presented to the church of St. Hyacinth, Waihola, by Mrs. Captain Bernech, Dunedin. The statue was blessed on the feast of All Saints by the pastor, Rev. Father O’Neill, and a fervent Rosary in the Polish language for the donor was then offered up.“ New Zealand Tablet, 09 November 1899.

Hyacinth Wisnesky was born on the 21st of April 1900, the son of Bernard and Henreitte Wisnesky, being the first child to be baptised at the Waihola Church. He recalls his grandparents, father and auntie Anna, (who never married), look after his sister and himself after the death of their mother during the birth of his sister Ada Katarzyna on the 9th of May 1905. The small farm his grandparents owned in Waihola could not keep the family therefore his grandfather worked for the railways on the line up to Middlemarch. In 1907, when his grandfather was about 70 years of age Hyacinth stayed home looking after about 200 chickens and chopping firewood for his grandfather. When he was about seven-10 years old he used to drive a horse-cart or sledge for his grandfather, collecting firewood or cutting ripe grass for grass-seeds. As a boy Hyacinth also used to help Mr. August Orlowski by holding the ladder for him when he was doing repairs to the church. While at home in Waihola the old people including his father (Bernard Wisnesky), and Aunt Anna, used the Polish language. Between themselves, they spoke about Poland but never to Hyacinth. It is noted that Michael Wiśniewski was the real leader of the Waihola Community. He used to ring the church-bell on occasions such as funerals, etc. All visiting priests used to have breakfast at their home where all the meetings were also held. Johann Orlowski had gifted to the church four large candle sticks and made the two milking stools. In 1921 his nephew, August Orlowski (son of the original builder) presented to the church a water-font made of Oamaru stone.

It is believed that one of the Palmerston immigrants brought out with them from Poland the Picture of the Holy Mary of Perpetual Succour. This was presented and still hangs in the church today. The writing below the picture has the following words: “CUDOWNY OBRAZ NAJSWIETSZEJ MARYJI PANNY OD USTAWICZNEJ POMOCY W KOSCIELE SW. ALFONSA W. RZYMIE. ARTYSTYCZNEGO ZAKLADU C.F. CALOWA W KOLONII.” (Miraculous Picture of the Holy Mary of Perpetual Succour, as it hangs in the Church of St. Alfons in Rome. Made by C.F. Calowa in the artistic studio in Coln.) This picture could be the oldest of its kind in New Zealand.

On Sundays Anna Wisnesky (nee Orlowski) allowed no physical work and this was very strictly observed in the family. Michael Wisnesky used to read extracts from the bible in Polish. He could read Polish but not German or English. When they needed a letter written in German or English, they asked Mr. Hilgendorf of Waihola for help. Hyacinth remembers two such occasions. Aunt Anna Wisnesky, (daughter to Michael and Anna), was the organist and washed the altar linen and cleaned the church. She was very distraught and upset when the church was moved to Broad Bay in 1948. Due to all the original Polish settlers passing on, and most of their children moving to bigger centres for work, the number of Catholics at Waihola diminished sharply. It is believed no mass was celebrated in the Church from about 1918. Father Michael Howard, later to become Monsignor Howard in Invercargill, was the last visiting priest. However, it wasn’t uncommon on passing the church just to pop in for a short prayer. In 1948 the church authorities decided to shift the church to Broad Bay in Dunedin, where a number of Catholics were without a church.

Poish marriages held at St. Hyacinth.

1900, 15 Aug, Antony James Wisnesky – Margaret Tarbet

1900, 12 Sep, Robert Storie – Martha Orluski

1908, 20 Apr, Frank Orlowski – Mary Gibson

1908, 20 Apr, Hector Stewart – Lucy Groves nee Orlowski

Picnic at Waihola with St. Hyacinth in the background

The history of the Parish at Broad Bay begins when Father Loughnan began saying mass each Sunday in the public halls at Macandrew Bay and Broad Bay in March of 1936.  The congregation, spurred on by their neighbours in Macandrew Bay, started a building fund and committee towards the building of a church in June of 1940.  The fine site was secured in September 1940 for £190 but the plans for the building of a small brick church were indefinitely set aside by the wartime building restrictions.  Father Fahey saw the opportunity to acquire the building at Waihola which had outlived its usefulness due to the declining congregation there.  This permitted them to have a church much sooner than waiting for the building restrictions to be lifted.  It is believed the church was removed by truck on the 17th of March 1948 (St Patrick’s Day). The bell tower was dismantled during the removal of the church and the bell was sent down to the Catholic Church in Balclutha. During the haul the workers stopped off at the Henley Hotel for a quick one before continuing on their way.  The building was then barged from the head of the harbour to its final destination. On the 7th of November 1948 the church was re-opened for service as Mary Queen of Peace, the right Rev. Mgr. Delany, V.G., officiating at the ceremony.

Official opening of ‘Mary Queen of Peace’ 1948


An important milestone in the history of the Roman Catholic community of the Otago Peninsula was reached on Sunday, when a church, the first to be erected on the Peninsula by that religious organisation, was opened at Broad Bay in the afternoon in the presence of a very large gathering, not only from the Peninsula, but also from Dunedin and the Taieri districts. Representatives of local bodies and prominent local residents also attended. Father Fahey had charge of the proceedings, and associated with him were Monsignor Delany and Father Loughran. Father Fahey briefly outlined the history of the efforts that led up to that day’s historic occasion. Several years ago. he said, a fund was opened at Macandrew Bay, with the ultimate object of providing a church for that district, and that fund had now reached the substantial sum of approximately £I2OO. Shortly after, a similar fund was opened in Broad Bay, with the idea of having a church established to provide for the lower end of the Peninsula. This fund was immediately headed with donations of £5O each from the late Mr. J. J. Nyhon and the late Mr. M. J. Nyhon. of Broad Bay, and Mr. and Mrs. A. G. Neill, of Hooper’s Inlet. Other donations speedily brought the total to a substantial amount, but the great difficulty was to procure a permit and the necessary materials. This difficulty was. however, overcome by the purchase and removal to Broad Bay of an old Catholic Church building at Waihola. It was found that the woodwork of the building was in an excellent state of preservation and it was successfully transferred in sections to a site which had been purchased in Broad Bay. This section occupies a commanding position in the bay. overlooking the harbour and the surrounding hills. The official opening ceremony was then performed by Monsignor Delany. assisted by Father Loughnan.  Addresses were also given by Mr. A. G. Neill and Mr. G. O’Connell (builder). Tributes were paid to all those who had assisted in the effort, especially to Father Fahey, without whose valuable assistance it would still have been years before the church would have been an established fact. The new building, which has been roughcast, with the interior handsomely decorated, should be the means of serving the Roman Catholic community at the lower end of the Peninsula for many years to come. Those responsible for the successful conclusion of the effort express gratification that as a result of the day’s collection the new church building has been opened practically free of debt.” Otago Daily Times, Issue 26924, 9 November 1948, P 7.

Original stained-glass windows courtesy of Ray Watembach

The altar was changed to face the congregation on the 21st of September 1968, and the first Mass in the new way was celebrated there on the 28th of July 1968. The stained-glass windows, which the Polish settlers of Waihola and Catholics of Broad Bay were so rightly proud of, were unfortunately broken by vandals in the early 1960’s and replaced with green glass.  Since 1995 the church has provided a very special place of worship for the Polish community of Dunedin among the locals of Broad Bay and for the Polish descendants and visitors who come to see the church.   Fortunately, during 2001, these windows have been authentically recreated and once again dominate the church thanks to the Broad Bay community and to the Polish Community of Dunedin and descendants of those early pioneers.  It was during April 1999 that the church bell had been found and purchased by the original donors, the Bungard family.  The bell was re-located to its rightful place in time for the church’s centenary celebrations which were held in May of 1999.

Windows authentically recreated by Terry Powers, courtesy of Paul Klemick





Bruce Herald, Hocken Library, Dunedin

Catholic Baptism & Marriage Records, St. Joseph’s, Catholic Archives, Dunedin. Kindly compiled by Pauline Lee

Papers Past | Magazines and Journals | Explore | New Zealand Tablet (natlib.govt.nz)

Pobόg-Jaworowski J. W., History of the Polish Settlers in New Zealand, Warsaw, 1990, pages 29 & 30




Compiled by Paul Klemick (2022)

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