A Catholic Monthly Magazine

The Re-Opening of St Mary of the Angels Church

By Fr Barry Scannell sm

At the time of writing, St Mary of the Angels church will be re-opened for the Easter ceremonies, after being closed for nearly four years following the Seddon earthquakes on Sunday 21 July 2013.

These earthquakes, of magnitude 5.8 during the 7am Mass, and 6.5 during the 5pm Mass, did not cause any damage to the church. However, as the church was considered earthquake-prone -- less than 33% of the New Building Standard (NBS) -- it was decided that the church should be closed, in the best interests of safety, and a rigorous engineering assessment should be commissioned.

Over the ensuing months professional consultants concluded that, from an engineering perspective, the building met only 15 to 20 percent of NBS. This meant that the Church would be 100 times more likely to suffer extensive damage in a major seismic event than a building which met the modern building code. The decision was made to strengthen the church, and to bring it as close to 100 per cent of the NBS as possible.

The sanctuary before seismic strengthening began

The major challenge facing the Parish was two-fold: to raise the necessary funds to ensure the work could be undertaken; and to maintain the integrity of this listed Category 1 Historical building.

Several concepts for strengthening were considered, and in mid-2014 a plan was put in place which would both retain the integrity of the church, and strengthen it to as close to 100 percent of NBS as possible.


A major fundraising effort was launched on Thursday 7 August 2015 with a function at Parliament, hosted by a St Mary of the Angels parishioner, the Attorney General, the Honourable Christopher Finlayson. Almost 300 people attended this function to view the presentation of our professional consultants on the plans to strengthen the church. The cost of the work was estimated to be $9.5 million. The initial fundraising was aimed at acquiring a third of this amount, $3.2 million, so that work could begin on Stage 1. Through the generosity of many donors, this first milestone was reached in early 2015 and work began on St Patrick’s Day 2015, following a liturgy in the Church and an address by one of the Patrons, former Prime Minister, the Honourable Jim Bolger.

1. Floor reinforcing

The Project

It was an extremely challenging project. In a Gothic-styled Church, the architecture and structure are so closely intertwined that opening any work front has numerous flow-on effects structurally. It has been a complex process to get the sequencing of work correct and a lot of temporary propping was installed to ensure the Church remained a safe place to work.Construction within the Church was extensive, with the main features being:

1. new ground beam foundations running the length of the church. There was 460m3 of concrete, approximately 100 truck-loads, poured into 140 tonnes of reinforcing steel.

2. ten ornate columns have been replaced. This involved complete demolition of the existing columns and recasting them to match the originals exactly, with stronger reinforced concrete tied into the new ground beams.

2. Column reinforcing

3. the main portals from the columns to the roof of the Church have been replaced and strengthened with new in situ concrete sections, hidden structural and steel supports, and fibre wrap to contain the existing concrete.

4. new shear walls were constructed at each end of the church. These shear walls rise from the ground beam foundations to the roof of the church. They provide incredible longitudinal strength to the building and are the only visible change in the whole seismic strengthening programme.

5. new steel cross-bracing has been erected above the existing ceiling lining.

6. new gutters have been constructed behind the parapets in the roof.

4. Shear wall (right of picture) providing longitudinal strength

7. new foundations were constructed underneath the two towers.

8. 1200m2 of new roof -- the old copper and slate was removed and replaced with a new copper roof and gutters (see over page).

9. 370m2 of new sprayed concrete walls on the side chapels of the Church.

10. 50 tonnes of structural steel beams and braces, which are discretely hidden.

8. Replacing the old copper and slate roof with new copper

11. 500m2 of new cork flooring on the floor of the church.

12. 100 new LED lighting fixtures installed.

The first liturgy after re-opening is to be the Mass of the Lord’s Supper with Cardinal John Dew as celebrant.

Fundraising continues to meet the shortfall of $800,000 between funds already raised and the final cost.

Madonna and Child

If you wish to make a donation to help the parish to pay the $800,000 still owed, please go online at


or contact the parish office

(04) 474 8074, or smoaoffice@xtra.co.nz

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