A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Celebrating the Immaculate Conception in Wellington, 1855

M Jean François Yvert was born in Pleuville, France on 10 June 1796. He arrived in Kororāreka, Aotearoa New Zealand, on 15 June 1841, and was the printer for the Catholic Mission based at Kororāreka. He arrived in Wellington with Bishop Viard on 1 May 1850. He was a school teacher and assistant to Bishop Viard. He died on 6 July 1867, and was buried in Mount Street cemetery in Wellington.

Jean François Yvert’s grave

Fr Victor François Poupinel was born in Normandy, France, on 14 November 1815 and made his profession as a Marist in 1839. From 1857 until 1870, he travelled in the Pacific as Visitor-General of the Missions, based at Villa Maria, Hunter’s Hill, Sydney. He is known as the “Father of the Missions of Oceania”. He died in Lyons on 10 July 1884, and is buried in Ste Foy-lès-Lyon cemetery.

Fr Victor François Poupinel SM

What follows is part of a letter that Jean François Yvert wrote to Fr Poupinel from Wellington on 2 October 1856. He described at length the celebrations in Wellington which had taken place in Wellington from 7 to 9 December in 1855. The celebrations probably took place in the wooden St Mary of the Angels church which was the predecessor of the present building. The letter begins:

My guardian angel greets your guardian angel.

Very Reverend Father

I am finally breaking silence … in order to tell you how, in Wellington, we celebrated the Immaculate Conception of our lovable protectress. … perhaps you have … read about this event, in an account taken from the Wellington Cathedral archives, and sent by Fr O’Reily, in the English periodical The Tablet.

The article reads:

Triduum of the Immaculate Conception

7 - 9 December 1855

These days will be remembered by the City of Wellington. The Immaculate Conception of the ever Blessed Virgin Mary was proclaimed and celebrated in the cathedral with an enthusiasm which has not perhaps been surpassed in any church of the Catholic world. Our descendants will scarcely believe that a growing congregation, composed for the most part of the humble and poor classes, spontaneously contributed 150 pounds sterling to meet expenses of a festival decoration.

Mr Huntley, a converted Protestant, received in the church some years back in New Zealand, to whom was entrusted the decoration of the solemnity, displayed exquisite taste and untiring industry; and on the third day more than 500 wax candles added to the splendour of the scene.

His Lordship Dr Viard, assisted by his Vicar General, the Very Reverend Father J P O’Reily and two of his missionaries, the Reverend Father Petit-Jean and the Reverend Father Séon, officiated pontifically during the three days. The sermons were preached on each day by the Very Reverend Father O’Reily.

Fr J P O’Reily OFM Cap, Bishop Philippe Viard SM, Fr Jean-Baptiste Petitjean SM 
and Fr Jean-Antoine Joseph Séon SM

The piety of the faithful did not relax for a moment, and the ever swelling enthusiasm was such that more than 700 persons were assembled on the Sunday evening. In a word, the city appeared to be altogether Catholic, so great was the influx of Protestants, and we have every reason to hope, indeed, we have the certainty that our erring brethren who have manifested their respect for the ever Blessed Virgin, the Queen of Heaven, will not fail to obtain their reward.

And indeed, our congregation counts in a few years’ existence as many Protestants converted as original Catholics. Four Protestants, married women of respectability, after being received into the church, had the happiness on receiving on the 8th, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, for the first time, Holy Communion as well as the Sacrament of Confirmation.

Many children on the same blessed day, made their first Communion, and during the three days communicants were very numerous.

We cannot pass over in silence the visible protection afforded by the Blessed Virgin on the 8th December. After the High Mass, Mrs Davis, wife of the drum major of the garrison, brought her child to the Bishop, in the church, hoping to obtain for the little boy of three years old the use of his speech. And how could the Divine Virgin, holding her beloved Son in her arms, be deaf to the cries of an afflicted mother, especially on a day when an entire population pressed around her to celebrate her glories! Scarcely had the child left the church than seeing some cows pass, he cried out, “Cows, cows!”, and his tongue was loosed for the first time.

Every adult as well as the infants that assisted in their nurses’ arms at the festival received a memento signed by the Bishop, and every person above childhood received the Bull of Pius IX, in English, proclaiming to the world of the Immaculate Conception of the Ever Blessed Virgin.

An inscription has been placed on a side altar of the cathedral dedicated to the blessed Virgin to commemorate the day of triumph. Deo gratias.

The full letter, translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, more than 3,000 words in length, can be read at



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