Bishop Francis Redwood’s World Record tenure

Nearly 90 years ago, Ōtaki was the site of a major commemoration – the Diamond Jubilee of Archbishop Francis Redwood. Drawing hundreds of well-wishers to town, the occasion is beautifully captured in a 1934 newsreel.

View the newsreel here.

27 February 1934 marked 60 years since Redwood’s appointment as Bishop of Wellington. That appointment, at age 35, had made him the youngest Roman Catholic Bishop in the world; at 95, his Diamond celebrations had him as one of the oldest. The New Zealand Herald also noted that the length of his tenure was a world record.

Festivities were held at the Ōtaki Catholic Māori Mission, now St Mary’s Catholic Church and Pukekaraka Marae on Convent Road. Ngāti Raukawa hosted the Bishop and entertained the crowd with haka, poi and waiata. This recording shows this kapa haka in beautiful clarity. Sound recording for film was still a reasonably new technology in 1934, but the synchronisation on this clip is impressive – guitar strumming and haka actions are ‘true to life’.

Diamond Jubilee, Archbishop Redwood Part II.

The waiata are accompanied by guitars, ukulele, and piano accordion. A number of other cameras and photographers can be seen, speaking to the affection and renown in which Redwood was held.

The kapa haka took place on the marae ātea in front of Roma and Hine Nui O Te Ao Katoa meeting houses, built in 1904 and 1905 respectively. These wharenui had been used by both Ngāti Raukawa and Muaūpoko and was the site of a Catholic mission from 1842. One of the early figures involved in missionary work in the area was Octavius Hadfield, the 19th century Bishop who helped establish Rangiātea Church.

Dozens of cars had driven hundreds of clergy and laity up from Wellington. The crowds were welcomed by Taite Te Tomo, Reform Party Member of Parliament for Western Māori (1930-1935). Another speaker, Father James Riordan, addressed Archbishop Redwood: ‘My heart is like a harbour to which a thousand ships are returning laden with a freight of love.’

Archbishop Francis William Redwood, 1887-1888, Wellington, by Connolly and Company. Te Papa (D.000055)

In his reply, the 93-year-old said he was very touched by the ceremony: ‘I have to thank you very much for this imposing reception and I shall keep a happy memory of this function as long as God gives me life.’

The following month, more than 10,000 people took to the streets of Wellington to celebrate the milestone. Such large numbers speak to Redwood’s enormous popularity. The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography notes that he was revered among Catholics and non-Catholics alike ‘by the stately way he comported himself, by his balanced views and his eloquence both in the pulpit and on the platform.’

The recording ends with Redwood’s Diamond Jubilee Message to New Zealand: ‘Everywhere I have been in my travels I have extolled New Zealand’s natural beauty and resources, and it’s splendid climate. But the greatness of a nation depends not on material resources, but on the character of its people; and I would say to my fellow citizens, in St Paul’s words when he expressed relations which should always exists between the Church and State “Fear God and honour the King.”’

Throughout the rest of 1934, Bishop Redwood kept busy with appointments across the Lower North Island. He was present at the prizegiving for St Patrick’s College in Wellington – a school he had founded nearly 50 years prior. His blessings for the Christmas season were passed around the country. Following complications from surgery however, the Archbishop passed away on 3 January 1935.

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