Ngati Hauaroa tribal elder, Mr Titi Tihu, usually invites people from the seven canoes when there is a major function at Ngapuwaiwaha pa, Taumarunui. But for the celebrations to mark the silver jubilee of the ordination of Rev. Father Wiremu Te Awhitu as the first ever Catholic Maori priest, Mr Tihu extended the invitation to the ‘people from the four winds’.
The result was the assembly on the marae of more than 1,000 people, Maoris from many tribes and many parts of the North Island, European wellwishers and a mission priest with three of his Papuan parishioners from Bougainville Island, New Guinea.
Father Te Awhitu was born at Mokau, had his early education at Okahukura and Taumarunui, then went on to St Peter's Maori Boys' College and St Patrick's College, Silverstream. He studied for the priesthood at Greenmeadows, Hawke's Bay.
Now stationed at the Catholic mission at Jerusalem on the Wanganui River, Father Te Awhitu was accompanied onto the marae by elders of Wainui-a-rua from Wanganui. Others in the official party were the catholic co-adjutor Bishop of Wellington, the Most Rev. O. Sneddon, who represented Cardinal McKeefrey and who accepted the challenge by Mr R. A. Jones, the co-adjutor Bishop of Auckland, Most Rev. R. J. Delargey, and the Superior General for the World of the Catholic Mill Hill Order, the Very Rev. Father G. Mahon, London.
The Anglican Bishop of Aotearoa, Right Rev. Manu Bennett was represented by Rev. Broughton, Vicar of Wainui-a-rua.
Following the powhiri on the marae, speeches of welcome were given by elders Titi Tihu and Hikaia Amohia, with Dr Pei Te H. Jones acting as interpreter. The Mayor of Taumarunui, Mr L. A. Byars, welcomed the visitors on behalf of the people of Taumarunui and district.
An altar had been erected on a dais on the marae and Holy Mass was con-celebrated by Father Te Awhitu assisted by the four other Maori priests — the first time all five Maori priests had con-celebrated a mass. The other four are Rev. Fathers H. Tate, Karaitiana King, Harwood and Bennett. They were assisted by a recently ordained priest, Rev. Father Peter Lander, a nephew of Father Te Awhitu.
Master of Ceremonies was the Rev. Father G. Mertens, a Mill Hill priest stationed at Taumarunui and who was chairman of the organising committee. The two
Bishops were in the sanctuary during mass.
At the offertory, the bread and wine were brought to the altar by three small boys and three girls, all in Maori costume and all nephews and nieces of Father Te Awhitu from Te Kuiti. A Maori choir sang the hymns and at the moment of consecration a Maori woman chanted a karanga.
Following the mass, most of the visitors moved to the War Memorial Hall where a jubilee dinner was served to more than 700 people in one sitting.
After the dinner, gifts were showered on Father Te Awhitu. For the mass he had worn a new set of vestments presented by his family. At the dinner he received another set of vestments from the 200-strong Auckland party which had been billeted at Hiakaitupeka pa. A third set of vestments made by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Auckland, was also presented. An alb made by the Sisters of Mt. Carmel, Auckland, embroidered with a taniko strip, was yet another gift while the Cenacle Sisters presented a crusade of prayer and a communion set.
From the staff, pupils and old boys of St Peter's College where Father Te Awhitu was stationed for some time, came an elaborately bound missal and from Hato Paora College where he was also stationed, a carved model canoe. From St Patrick's College, Silverstream, came the gift of a gold watch.
Many other groups and individuals presented gifts, including a rug and several cheques. One cheque was for Father to make a pilgrimage to Rome and another from the Wairoa parish had a stipulation that part of the money be used to pay a return visit to that parish where he had served for a period and ‘where your memory is held very dear’.
A concert in the evening opened with Maori items by pupils of St Patrick's convent school, Taumarunui. Ngati Hauaroa came next, followed by items by groups from Auckland, Wanganui, Pakipaki and Tokoroa.
Several local halls were used to sleep the visitors. Before leaving on the Sunday, the visitors attended another con-celebrated mass at the memorial hall and each group performed action songs before their buses left for home.