Sunday, March 3, 2024

Memorial to Lyttelton’s first Catholic church

Christchurch City Council has helped create a memorial to mark the site of one of Lyttleton’s earliest churches.

St Joseph the Worker’s Church provided a place of worship and education for the port town’s Catholic community for 146 years.

Built of stone from the Sumner Road and Governors Bay quarries, St Joseph’s opened its doors for parishioners to attend services in 1865. From 1869 until 1878 it also housed St Joseph’s School, before a schoolroom was built next to the church.

When the 4 September 2010 earthquake struck, the south-facing frontage of the church suffered damage and subsequently collapsed completely on 22 February 2011. A large aftershock on 13 June caused further destruction, and the difficult decision was made to demolish it.

The St Joseph’s Memorial Trust was formed five years ago, to preserve the history and heritage of the church.

“We felt that the loss of St Joseph’s needed to be acknowledged as an important and significant place in the lives of Lyttelton people – and for those who had moved away,” says trust member Penelope Clifford.

“The church was very significant for the Catholic community – as a place of worship, of gathering, of friendship and community over many generations.”

Trust member, Gerry Doherty, agrees the earthquake destruction of the church had an enormous effect.

“It was devastating. However, we still gathered to worship, initially in the St Joseph’s school, then in the parish house at 21 Exeter St, until St Joseph’s was closed when the parishes amalgamated.”

The trust has worked closely with community development, heritage, and planning staff at Christchurch City Council, and were awarded a Heritage Incentive Grant to conserve the original remaining walls, gate, railings and pillars on Winchester Street.

Sitting within these heritage features are interpretation panels and items salvaged from the damaged building, including the original bell, crosses and stone elements. The land for the memorial was gifted to the trust by the Christchurch East Catholic Parish.

“As well as an excellent heritage outcome, this memorial is something to celebrate in terms of community wellbeing,” says Heritage Team Leader Brendan Smyth.

“St Joseph’s was an important building historically and played a vital role in the town’s social history. It holds special memories for many people.”

The memorial can be found at 18 Winchester Street,  adjacent to the steps which led up to the church.

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