A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Te Aumangea – Perseverance

Pā Bill Te Āwhitu SM

Pā Bill Te Āwhitu SM

By Pā Piripi Cody SM

When I was a seminarian I used to visit an elderly gentleman, ‘Mr Torley’. He was in the Home of Compassion near the end of his life. He was personifying Shakespeare’s 7th stage of man. He was “sans teeth, sans eyes....” 

He would take my hand in his skin and bones hand. Squeezing mine hard he would say “You know, Philip, there is only one thing necessary”. “What is that, Mr Torley?”, I would ask. “Perseverance”, he replied. 

In case I did not get the point, he would crush my hand again. “Perseverance”! His message was a great focus for me as a student for priesthood. It continues to be in life. 

In te reo Māori the Word is ‘te aumangea’ - to be strong, brave, persistent, resilient, determined, resolute, tenacious, steadfast, plucky… Well, you couldn’t ask much more of someone!

Fr Te Āwhitu newly ordained

Fr Te Āwhitu
newly ordained

The late Pā Wiremu Hākopa Toa Te Āwhitu SM was ‘he tangata aumangea’, a courageous person.

As the first Māori Catholic Priest, he faced huge challenges. Mr Torley’s message would have been appreciated as he faced seven years of training in an environment of the time that was not particularly sensitive to culture or the needs of a Māori student. 

He persevered and was ordained in 1944. Then began a zealous ministry that took him to several places in Aotearoa / New Zealand. Perseverance again in the face of seemingly endless calls from his own people and a wider pastoral need. Some might say he exhausted himself? 

Whatever, he suffered a paralysing stroke in 1958. This took his speech and much movement. His faith and ‘te aumangea’ were called on once again. He was stationed at Hāto Paora College (Feilding) and struggled to regain enough speech to be able to celebrate Mass. Eight long years in fact. 

From there, first to Whanganui and then to Hiruharama (Jerusalem) up the Whanganui River. There he found his niche and faithfully celebrated Mass and helped the Sisters of Compassion (who also kept a weather eye on him!) for 21 years.

You will know the story of James K Baxter who would come to attend Pā Te Āwhitu’s Eucharist at the little Church of St Joseph and pray. “Te Atua sent me a good instructor in Father Te Awhitu. His few words have the weight of wedges splitting timber. His soul speaks of God because it is at rest in God.” 

Then Pā Te Āwhitu felt the call back to his home. He lived at Ōkahukura, near Taumarunui from 1989. 

Called ‘Whānau Maria’ (the Home of Mary), he once again ‘persevered’ to slowly build up the Marae buildings. 

Pā Te Āwhitu spend the last 5 years of his life there. He died in 1994.

It is no wonder then that his descendants are asking the Church to recognise Pā Te Āwhitu as worthy of being blessed. There is a fittingness in this as it would acknowledge an indigenous person of faith. I’m sure Suzanne Aubert would approve!

As Pope Francis reminds us, saints are among local persons. They are the human face of ‘Tradition’. As Peter Lander explained, “The process of prayer for Pā Te Āwhitu being recognised as a saint in fact will deepen the faith of his family and all of us on our journey”. 

Recently the 28th anniversary of Pā Te Āwhitu’s death was held at Whānau Maria, Ōkahukura. Family, friends and priests gathered for Welcome, Rosary, Mass and hākari. 

For example, the Principal of St Patrick’s primary school, Taumarunui, Brian Belczacki, was there with a pupil from the school. “This is very important for our faith”, he said.

Pā Gerard Patterson from Rotorua felt the call and came. He spoke warmly of the simplicity of Pā Te Āwhitu. How there was a beautiful unity of Māori spirituality and Catholic Faith. A balance united in Pa’s life and here in the faith community. It was wonderful to see a Māori Priest so at home, sharing and laughing with his own. “There is something very special here”, Pā Gerard noted.

Here in rural King Country is the face of Mary. Mary woman of the earth; Mary woman of small things; Mary woman of hospitality; Mary woman of faith; Mary woman of courage and perseverance.

Pā Te Āwhitu had a warm chuckle. One personal memory I have of Pā Te Āwhitu was when Brother Gerard Hogg SM and I had paddled down the Whanganui river and pulled up our waka at Hiruharama. Cold and wet, we came up to Pā’s house. We were not sure if he had received our message that we were coming. 

As we passed the kitchen window we saw a large pot steaming on the stove... his welcome was indeed warm: “I knew you would come...”, he said with wide smile and deep chuckle. 

That chuckle and caring smile was the fruit of years of perseverance. Faith and courage at work. 

A lesson for us....

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