St Marys Catholic Church Nelson


The first Catholic Mass in Nelson was held in May 1844. The Church’s first chapel was built on Sion Hill (now Shelbourne Street) at a cost of £40.

In 1850 the Catholic Church became a Parish in its own right and Father Antoine Garin was appointed to Nelson. He bought the acre of land, on which the Church stands today, for thirty five pounds.

Catholic Church, Manuka Street. Nelson Provincial Museum, Nelson Historical Society Collection: 326783
St Marys Church, 2010 Andrew Hill
Click to enlarge

The first Church was built on the site in 1856. It was initially known as St Michael’s Church, but the name of the Church was changed to St Mary’s in June 1857. The building was destroyed by fire in 1881 and its foundation stone was built into the west wall of the new Church, built 1882.

As plans had already been underway to build a new Church since 1878, funds were in place to accelerate the work and replace the destroyed building. Donations came from West Coast miners and also the non-Catholics of Nelson.

The present St Marys, designed by Thomas Turnbull of Wellington and built by Walter Good, was opened and blessed on 31 December 1882 by the Right Reverend Dr. Francis Redwood. The main structure of the church is supported on solid rock, concrete and Takaka marble. Its foundation stone, laid 1 January 1882, can be found in the Church. At the same time  a time capsule was buried in the foundations: a sealed bottle containing copies of newspapers of the day - New Zealand Tablet, Nelson Evening Mail and Colonist, a number of 1881 coins and a parchment bearing an inscription.

St Mary’s Church. The Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Studio Collection: 176664. Click to enlarge

The stained glass windows in the south wall came from France, the east wall windows from Munich, Germany and others have come from Birmingham, England and Melbourne, Australia. The pipe organ, from Holdaway and Frenchday of Melbourne, cost one hundred and fifty pounds.

The church bell was donated in 1867, but when hung, a defect in the metal was discovered, and the ringing caused consternation – the Fire Brigade and the people turning out in their numbers. The following year a new bell from France was bought for seventy pounds, and when rung was found to be loud and clear. Another bell was purchased from Dublin in 1912 and presented in memory of Hugh O’Beirne Esq. This bell is still in use today.

St Mary’s is classified as a Category A Historic Building. The church was renovated in 2000. Old totara piles were replaced in the floor. Glass-paneled rimu partitions have been added, as well as extensive remodelling of the Sanctuary area with a new foyer beneath an extended choir loft.

 2012 (updated 2021)

Sources used in this story

  • Clark, Diana (2007) St Mary's Parish, Manuka Street Nelson [pamphlet] Nelson, NZ: St Marys Archives
  • Harris, A. (1994)  The beauty of Your house: Nelson, N.Z. : St Mary's Parish

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  • I remember days and the Masse's that Father Jim and Patrick Bridge man took.Our home belonging to the church, across the road. Sister Elenor our daughter Tassie's Godmother. My friends Alison Oertly and Nicky Gorman,when we were Catacomon's. St Mary's with the wonderful choir. At this moment of writing this I feel so close to. Thankyou all. Arohanui Koutou Katoa, Pat, Kev, Tassie Curran/Jones.

    Posted by Patricia Jones, 23/11/2017 4:10pm (7 years ago)

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Further sources - St Marys Catholic Church Nelson


  • Clark, Diana (2007), St Mary's Parish, Nelson. Nelson, NZ: St Marys Archives
  • Harris, A. (1994)  The beauty of Your house: Nelson, N.Z. : St Mary's Parish
  • St Mary's Parish, Nelson, centenary, 1850-1950 : centennial souvenir. (1950) Nelson [N.Z.] : Enterprise Printing Co.
  • The Nelson Catholic Parish 1844-1994 (1994) St Mary's Parish, Nelson; St Mary's Church Archives.


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