Church of Blessed Mary MacKillop

Balclutha - New Zealand 

Our Church.  

THIS CHURCH represents a quite extraordinary effort by local people to build something for God that they could be proud of. After nearly a hundred years of inhabiting a very old wooden structure, Balclutha Catholics are pleased to have a place worthy of today's worship requirements.  The concept favoured by the architect was for the worshippers to be able to gaze out through transparent windows to the beauty of the sky, the trees and the changes of the weather. Churches are more often inward looking, favouring the concentration of one's gaze on the images within. Part of this development entails a small walled courtyard which has already become a pleasant refuge from the ordinary workaday world.

MARY MacKILLOP was a nun who worked in Australia. Her special charism for herself, and the order of nuns she founded, was to work among people in rural areas, away from the large cities, where she provided education, and where she worked mainly for the underprivileged. Her connection with the town of Balclutha was a convent of Brown Josephite nuns which ran the local school for fifty years. One of their order still works in the parish. She is of special interest to Australia and New Zealand because her cause for canonisation has been introduced. In the Catholic Church a person may be declared to be with God in heaven on the authority of the Church. There is quite a process, including the examination of her life for evidence of outstanding sanctity, and the working of miracles directly due to her influence. Already she has been declared Blessed, so she is, hopefully well on the way to being a canonised saint.

The stain-glass windows shown are very beautiful as you can see. For just on a hundred years they were the focus on the sanctuary of the church at Owaka. It has since been demolished.

The tension at extremes, between no prayer-life, but lots of activity on the one hand, and its opposite, namely a hidden life of devotion to the exclusion of any interest in the world outside, gives a false view. In the interest of balance, there must obviously be room for both elements. In this church an attempt has been made to make of the small chapel a multi-purpose room. There are chairs available to put out for meetings. There is a kitchen discreetly hiding behind attractive doors. the tabernacle can be closed off temporarily if there is need for a meeting. We felt God doesn't mind! But at the same time great care has been taken to preserve this as a special place.

The windows look out onto a beautiful garden, which itself is a concept that most churches don't have. Usually one is encouraged not to look out, but in, to oneself, and especially to God. But here there are no stain glass windows to impede the view. Rather an encouragement to look out at God's creation, and especially to the people who live there. There remains the need for a place where people can be alone with the Lord. The idea of a Sacred Place away from the main church, took on. In this Sacred Place you find the tabernacle, the place of the Sacramental Presence of Christ. A shrine for Mary, God's mother, and signs of piety, like the lighting of candles. All of this builds a personal spirituality, without which, the official Liturgy could be cold, and unappealing.

The Virgin Mary  Tabernacle

The church liturgical furniture is meant to compliment the place it finds itself in. When I looked for a theme that might run through the building, the one dominant feature was the twin buttresses which run the length of the church. The obvious statement these buttresses make is that the whole building depends on them. So I incorporated the design already there, of a square filled in by a 45 degree strengthener. That design is in the altar, the chair, the lectern, the small tables, and even the font. Somewhere I read that the church furniture should be so particular to the building it is in, that it wouldn't fit anywhere else.

Altogether it is a successful church for modern times. It lends itself to a good deal of flexibility. The whole concept of what makes holiness used to be associated with withdrawal from the world, and a fascination with things which were regarded as unworldly. Today the distinction between the holy and the worldly is not so easy to make. Yet there has to be time for separation from the world as well as engagement with it. This has been one attempt to wed the two.


1998 - 2014


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