Father Antoine Marie Garin (1810-1889)


On May 9, 1850, Father Antoine Marie Garin arrived in Nelson. During the next 40 years Father Garin would contribute hugely to the development of education in the area as well as the establishment of the Nelson parish. From the time that he arrived in Nelson up until just before his death, Father Garin kept a meticulous diary.

Father Antoine Garin, circa 1870. Photographer unidentified, Alexander Turnbull Father Antoine Garin, circa 1870. Photographer unidentified, Alexander Turnbull Library,1/4016333F  
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Early Life and Pre-Nelson Work
Father Garin was born July 23, 1810, at Saint Rambert-en-Bugey,  Ain, France. He was the son of a notary who instilled strong Catholic beliefs in him from a young age. In October 1834 Father Garin was ordained and began working as a priest in Chalamont . He stayed there for three years until he joined the Society of Mary  in 1837. He was accepted into the Society in 1840 and was immediately sent to New Zealand with other Marist priests and catechist Brothers, under the leadership of Bishop Pompallier.

After his arrival in June 1841, Father Garin spent seven years in Northland converting Maoris to Catholicism. After several years of hard work, many adventures (including helping both sides during the Maori War of 1845), and copying out Bibles for the Maoris, Father Garin left the Bay of Islands for Howick where he stayed 1848-1850 working with Irish veterans.

Arrival and Pastoral Work in Nelson
In May 1850 Father Garin and his life-long companion, Brother Claude-Marie Bertrand, arrived in Nelson. Father Garin was the first resident priest in Nelson - previously a priest had had to row across Cook Strait to minister to the local Catholics. These parishioners had already built a chapel and were a small but determined bunch, representing 4% of the entire population. Along with the 230 Catholics in Nelson, Father Garin also had Catholics to preach to in Marlborough, Westland, Golden Bay and Buller - a daunting task, especially with the anti-Catholic feeling in this strongly Protestant area.

Father Garin’s first act upon arrival was to walk up to Sion hill (now Shelbourne Street ) and inspect the chapel that had been built in 1847. He said his first Mass on Sunday, May 12.

When Father Garin first began travelling around his large parish, once every two weeks to places relatively nearby, such as Takaka, and annually making separate journeys to Marlborough, Westland and Buller, he had to do it all on foot and on his own. Fortunately, after a year a young curate, Brother Delphine Moreau, arrived to help and soon after his parishioners bought him a horse. By the early 1860’s Westland and Marlborough had been given priests of their own, and, by the late sixties, Buller was also removed from the Nelson parish. In 1863 Father Garin fell ill and was confined to Nelson.

During his 40-year in the Nelson region, Father Garin had five churches built. Firstly, he moved the Chapel on Sion Hill to Collingwood Street, next to where he was living, which meant that it could also be used as a school house. In 1853 he got a government grant of two acres for a church to be built at Waimea West, where there were many Catholics. Saint Peter and Paul’s was opened on December 16, 1855.

Saint Mary’s Church, Andrew Hill (2001)Saint Mary’s Church, Andrew Hill (2001)
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In 1856, St Mary’s  (originally named Saint Michael’s) was built in Nelson. It was enlarged in 1864. Father Garin then erected churches in Takaka (1867), Wakefield (1870), and Motueka (1878).

By 1876 St Mary’s had again become too small owing to the influx of miners who stayed in Nelson after the goldrush in the sixties. It was decided that another church was to be built and the existing one be used as a school house. Father Garin appealed for funds from all over New Zealand. Building and fundraising was hurried along when part of the old church burned down in April 1881. Construction began on January 1, 1882, and the new St Mary’s, was opened January 1, 1883.

The Marists saw education as a priority and Catholic schools were generally highly regarded by both Protestants and Catholics. When Father Garin arrived in Nelson there was already a Catholic school which had been operating since 1848, set up because the public school was wholly secular. Almost as soon as Father Garin arrived, he started taking boarders for the school at £24 a year. The boys stayed in his presbytery, up in the loft. In 1851 Father Garin opened a separate boys’ school (Redwood College) in the chapel, while the girls stayed in the school house, which had been moved onto the Catholic station. At the same time, the recently arrived Brother Moreau set up a secondary school for boys, which offered French, Latin, and Mathematics. This was the first secondary school in New Zealand. The schools were very popular.

Protestants felt that they should have a secular secondary school and a campaign led to Nelson College  being built in 1856. Consequently, Father Garin’s secondary school dropped in numbers, but it still maintained some popularity and its hard earned reputation.

In 1856 the Education Act was passed, which stated that ongoing funding would only be provided to secular schools, despite an education tax being levied on all. Father Garin campaigned for a law change, to allow funded schools to include limited religious instruction. In 1867 the law was changed and government financial assistance to Garin’s schools commenced.

In 1871 Father Garin started a Catholic girls’ secondary school, and on 9 February of that year two mission sisters arrived in Nelson to help Father Garin run this school, with two more sisters arriving a week later.

In 1872 Father Garin opened an orphanage. Many parents complained about the attendance of orphanage children at Garin’s schools leading to a rapid drop in the roll. To make matters worse, an Education Act was passed in 1877 which made education ‘Free, compulsory, and secular’. There was no amendment to allow for Father Garin’s schools and the government grant ceased, along with the attendance of most of the Protestant boys. To make up for the lost revenue Father Garin returned to school fees to pay his teachers, and the school carried on, however it was never as successful again during his lifetime.

Final Years

The chapel at Wakapuaka Cemetery, Andrew Hill (2001) The chapel at Wakapuaka Cemetery, Andrew Hill (2001)
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On October 19, 1884, Father Garin celebrated his golden Jubilee. He had been in poor health for many years, but refused to give up his work and return to France. He died in Nelson on April 14, 1889. Father Garin was laid to rest in the cemetery at Wakapuaka and, following his wishes, a chapel was built at Wakapuaka in his name and his remains. Eighteen months after he was buried, his remains were exhumed and placed in a crypt underneath the chapel. Despite the coffin being waterlogged, there was neither sign nor smell of corruption from the body, according to those present. The document stating this was secretly signed by all the people present - Archbishop Redwood  wanted it to remain secret to prevent a cult developing around Father Garin.

Father Garin’s tomb, Andrew Hill (2001) Father Garin’s tomb, Andrew Hill (2001)
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Father Garin’s legacy lives on today through the churches that he built and in the Catholic schools of the area - St Joseph’s primary school  in Nelson and Garin College in Richmond. Garin College is the first secondary school of the twenty first century, his was the first secondary school of the nineteenth century.


This is a summary of Andrew Hill’s sixth form history assignment, 2009, for Waimea College. To read the full version, click here.

 Updated : April 09, 2020

Sources used in this story

  • Broadbent, J. (1990) The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Volume One, 1769-1869, Wellington, N.Z.:Allen & Unwin, pp144-145
  • Father Garin’s Diaries
  • Gill, E. (1944) The Life and Work of Reverend Antoine Marie Garin, S.M., thesis: Elizabeth Gill
  • Goulter, M.C. (1957) Sons of France, Wellington, N.Z. : Whitcombe and Tombs Ltd.,pp.72-96
  • Harris, A. (1994) The Beauty of your House, Blenheim, N.Z. : St Mary’s Parish, pp 21-41
  • Hill, A.M. (1993) A History of Saints Peter and Paul’s Church, Waimea West. Richmond, N.Z. :Anna Hill, Richmond
  • Hill, Marty (18/07/2001) Personal Communication
  • Nelson Examiner
  • Tyree Collection, the Nelson Provincial Museum

Want to find out more about the Father Antoine Marie Garin (1810-1889) ? View Further Sources here.

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  • I really appreciate this summary written by Andrew Hill, especially learning on the life of Father Garin. It is believable that he was exhumed incorruptible. What an amazing account. Thank you.

    Posted by D A Hall, 08/07/2024 4:18am (16 days ago)

  • fantastic learnt so much on timeline thank you

    Posted by Charlie PEARCE, 31/07/2023 9:40pm (12 months ago)

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Further sources - Father Antoine Marie Garin (1810-1889)




  • Garin, Father A.M (1850-1888) Father Garin’s Diaries. [ Catholic Archives at the Nelson Presbytery, 195 Collingwood Street ]
  • Garin, Antoine Marie, 1810-1889, (1848-1888) Records [journals, account books and miscellaneous correspondence – copies of those held Catholic Archives], The Nelson Provincial Museum, AG341.


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