Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 9, May 1968
By FATHER O'MEARA
The story of the original St. Mary's Parish Church at Paeroa goes back almost 87 years. On the 26th June 1881 it was opened by the Very Reverend Monsignor Fynes, who was impressed by the site on "Te Puru-o-te Rangi" (Gate of Heaven !) It is now 100 years since the Thames Catholic Parish began to function, Ohinemuri being regarded as part of it from 1868. Largely due to the efforts of Monsignor O'Reilly of Thames the first Church in Paeroa was built, the cost, excluding extras being £330. Prior to 1881 Mass was celebrated at the Central Theatre where all the denominations held their early services when visiting clergy came, generally from Thames.
The property on which the Church and other buildings now stand was bought from the Maoris for £300. The original Presbytery - now pulled down - had been the homestead of the Nicholls family and as the father of the Hon. WG. Nicholls had died there the place was "tapu" for many years. Consequently after Mr. Nicholas death, before being taken over by the Church, the house was rented and occupied successively by Messrs Shaw, W. Littlejohn, (County Engineer) and G. N. McGruer (Mine Manager).
Until 1894 there was no resident Priest in Paeroa. The spiritual needs of the Catholics were looked after by the Priests of Thames and Te Aroha. In 1894 Father (afterwards Dean) Hackett was appointed resident Priest of the Ohinemuri Parish, remaining here for 23 years. Soon after his arrival Father Hackett, a man of great energy and popularity, set about raising funds for the erection of a Catholic School for which purpose Mr. Carol Nash of Mackaytown had bequeathed the sum of £208. It was opened on the 23rd April 1900 with 84 pupils. The building then joined to the Church was erected by Messrs Mannix Bros. at a cost of about £500 and the interior decorations were done by Messrs Edwards and Towers of Paeroa.
Three Sisters of the Institute of St. Joseph's came from Sydney to staff the School. They had a temporary residence in the lower township. (This building afterwards known as Railway House or Mrs. Salt's, was burned down in 1939. With the School well established, steps were taken to raise funds for the building of the Convent, and on Sunday 6th July 1902 this was officially opened by the Right Reverend Dr. Lenihan, Bishop of Auckland.
The period of Dean Hacket's incumbence saw Catholic Churches opened at Waitekauri (later moved to Waikino), Waihi 1896, and Karangahake 1898. In 1918 he was transferred to the Ellerslie Parish where he died on 16th August 1923. The next Priest at Paeroa was Father Dunphy in whose time the School was moved to its present site and the Church enlarged. (Father Dunphy was succeeded by Fathers Taylor, Doherty and O'Meara). In 1959 the present Presbytery was erected and a year later a new class room was built. In 1967 a contract was let to Lee Bros. for the building of a new building at a cost of $52,400. This building is now practically completed and is expected to be ready for use at Easter, thus marking a new era in our parish life.