A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Reading a Window – 2

Fr Merv Duffy sm

by Fr Merv Duffy sm

Last month’s Messenger had the tale of the window dedicated to St Monica and her tears for her son, which carried also the sub-text of the donor’s grief at the death of her son. The saints depicted in a window may be in the glory of eternity, but the donors belong to this world with its struggles, defeats and triumphs.

One aspect of early New Zealand life was that Catholics were generally poorer and had less influence than their Protestant neighbours. The Church of England has a special status as the established Church in England, and it has considerable prestige and power in the Commonwealth.

This prestige is particularly evident in Nelson where the Anglican Cathedral has a dominant central location and the town had officially become a city in 1859, despite only having a population of about 5,000, because Queen Victoria had erected a Bishop’s see there.

What this has to do with a window in St Mary’s Catholic Church in Nelson may not be immediately evident, but I think it must have been in the minds of the parishioners who first viewed the St Thomas Aquinas window.

The dedication of the window is simple “W.T. Ward & Relations,” it means they paid for it and implicitly it asks for our prayers for them. “Relations” is oddly vague, leading us to wonder which Ward family members are meant.

The window, along with two others, was unveiled on 7 January 1917 and unlike other windows in the church they are “New Zealand-made” being the work of Messrs. Bradley Bros. of Christchurch.Aquinas ImageCRP

Mr William Thomas Ward was very familiar to the congregation of the time because he had been both the choir master in the church and the Chief Postmaster of the town until June 1915 when he was promoted to be Chief Postmaster in Christchurch. The St Mary’s people had farewelled him and his family two years before and presented him and his wife with “a handsome chiming clock.” The return gift of the window suggests there was warm friendship and respect between the parish congregation and the top civil servant.

Mr Ward’s second name, “Thomas,” explains the choice of saint. It is his patron whom he wants honoured by the church community of which he had been a part.

When the window was unveiled and the word “relations” read, one relation would have immediately sprung to mind – William’s brother, Sir Joseph Ward who had been Prime Minister from 1906 to 1912, was then leader of the opposition Liberal party, and was to have a second term as Prime Minister from 1928 to 1930.Aquinas Print

This window is the Catholic community honouring and praying to a saint, but it is also a generous gift by one of their own who is doing well in the world. He asks their prayers for himself and for his relations, including his brother in high political office.

Despite the prejudices of the age, New Zealand in the early twentieth century proved to be a place where Catholics could succeed and advance in society.   

Tagged as: , ,

Comments are closed.