John is a senior reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

New church rises from the ashes

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St Therese's Chapel at Bethlehem has risen from the ashes of a fire which destroyed the old Catholic church two years ago.

A big community celebration is planned to take place tomorrowwhen Bishop Steve Lowe opens the new $400,000 chapel.

Sited next to Hangarau Marae, the chapel's simple lines are based on a traditional Maori wharenui or meeting house.

The guttered interior of Bethlehem's St Therese's Church after it was destroyed by fire in February 2014. PHOTO/FILE
The guttered interior of Bethlehem's St Therese's Church after it was destroyed by fire in February 2014. PHOTO/FILE

Parish priest Father Mark Field said locals were delighted with the chapel that included a feature window at the sanctuary end so the congregation could enjoy lovely views across the harbour.

The rimu pews were from the Piopio Catholic Church in the King Country while the pictures lining the walls of the 14 Stations of the Cross originally hung in Reporoa's Catholic Church - both little country churches that had closed.

"One door closes and another opens up," Father Field said.

Another nice touch was the donation of a contemporary Madonna and child painted by Bonnie Casey whose original painting of a Maori Madonna and child was destroyed in the 2014 fire.

Father Field said police never found the perpetrator of the fire who removed the vestments and chalice from the church and left them on the grass outside.

Before: Bethlehem's St Therese's Catholic Church in the aftermath of the 2014 fire which destroyed the building. PHOTO/FILE
Before: Bethlehem's St Therese's Catholic Church in the aftermath of the 2014 fire which destroyed the building. PHOTO/FILE

The church planned to replace interior carvings destroyed by the fire and mount them on the wall behind the sanctuary. The other end of the chapel held the sacristy where the vestments, sacred vessels and books were stored and the toilets.

Most of the costs were covered by insurance on the former church which was built in 1972. The chapel will host a Maori Mass on Sundays plus a weekday Mass that was expected to draw Catholics from further afield.

After: The finishing touches are being put to Bethlehem's new St Therese's Catholic Chapel overlooking Tauranga Harbour. PHOTO/JOHN BORREN
After: The finishing touches are being put to Bethlehem's new St Therese's Catholic Chapel overlooking Tauranga Harbour. PHOTO/JOHN BORREN

Michelle Reihana, the kaiako (lead teacher) at the Ngati Hangarau kohanga reo said it was amazing to see the church rebuilt, with such nice views from inside.

"It is a big thing for the community, Sunday's opening will be quite a big event."

Looking at the starkness of the new chapel, she said it needed some aroha (love) put into it - a touch of community. New carvings would give a glimpse of what the old church used to be like, she said.

Bethlehem's St Therese's Chapel
- Destroyed by fire February 2014
- Rebuilding starts April 2016
- Opening of new chapel August 28, 2016

- Bay of Plenty Times

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