Hato Petera College's chaplain celebrates 25 years as a priest this month. He tells his story – one of devotion, tolerance and education – to Joanna Davies.
From his upbringing in Otara to a North Shore school, Father Tony Brown is at ease in all walks of Auckland life.
Hato Petera College spreads out on two sides of College Rd in Northcote. On one side, classrooms and administration blocks surround the playing fields. Across the road, a marae and a chapel stand side by side, next to the school's original old buildings.
The chapel, which inside looks remarkably like a marae with an altar, is where Father Brown spends a lot of his time as the school's chaplain. With the added advantage of being an old boy, he says he has a good handle on student life.
"I have a bit of insider's knowledge," says Father Brown, or Pa Tony as students call him.
This month, he celebrates 25 years in the Catholic priesthood, after spending the last 15 years working in the Maori community, and it's fitting he is back where he started.
"My mother was a convert to Catholicism, so we spent a lot of time in the church and the seed was planted pretty early on for me to join the priesthood.
"I came to school here and I went to the seminary when I was 21, and I was ordained as a priest when I was about 28 in Otara."
His career has taken him all over the Auckland diocese, working in different parishes with many people.
"I see the last 25 years as the ones that have prepared me for the next 25. The future of Maori Catholicism is here in this college, and I want to be engaging with young people to help them for their future."
One of the bigger challenges is finding the similarities in Catholicism and Maori culture and, as the vicar for Maori in the Auckland diocese, Father Brown searches for them.
"When Bishop Pompallier came here, the church was very European, and we have to find ways to bring the cultures together, and find a balance. When the first missionaries from different faiths settled in the far north, many Maori chose different paths, but there was still a sense of unity between them because tribal ties were so strong."
He hopes more young people will find a deeper meaning in life. "The world has changed so much in the last 25 years, and there are so many options for young people. Some of the boys here have expressed interest in becoming ordained but, for a lot of traditional religions, the numbers of people taking up these roles are dropping off.
"But we need to be here for our young people to help them make the best choices for their future. It's a very humbling position to be in."