Farewell Father Roberts

Last service: farther Alan Roberts will hold his final service in Marlborough tomorrow.  He is pictured here with George Davenport
Last service: farther Alan Roberts will hold his final service in Marlborough tomorrow. He is pictured here with George Davenport

Tomorrow's Christmas Day mass may be his final service in Marlborough, but St Mary's Catholic parish priest Father Alan Roberts still hopes to return one day to the top of the south after falling in love with the area.

After six years looking after the Blenheim parish, Fr Alan is moving to Auckland to help train the next generation of priests as spiritual adviser at the church's Holy Cross seminary. However, he said it had been a hard decision to leave Marlborough and he originally turned down the seminary job last year before being approached again this year. "It's been a real wrench to go and I think I have gone through a real grieving process. It's been a wonderful experience, really great people, lovely area and plenty of sun. My plan was to stay here a bit longer and then take on a smaller parish, hopefully Kaikoura."

However, he said his move to Auckland has not seen him abandon that dream. "I'd love to end up there [in Kaikoura] maybe in a few years as a parish priest, which would probably be my last parish."

Fr Alan, originally from Taranaki, has been a priest for 39 years, mostly in city parishes around Wellington.

Working in a rural community had been special and it would be hard moving back to the big city life he said.

"In a rural area the whole town comes alive and you get involved in the wider community. In the cities you tend to be confined more to the Catholic community, but in a rural town you meet all kinds of people. It's wonderful, keeps you alive, really."

Fr Alan was the first Diocesan priest in the parish, taking over from the Blenheim Catholic church's founding order of Marist priests who had looked after the church for 141 years.

The size of the parish, which includes Renwick and the Awatere, was a challenge for one priest. However, the people had made it a very enjoyable job, helped by a change in church culture which allowed him to focus on worship, particularly mass, baptisms, weddings and funerals.

"It's exciting because it's a new age in the church. In the past clergy carried out the pastoral work and it's been great having that opportunity to encourage lay people to volunteer their time, especially caring for the sick and the elderly."

The generosity and kindness of people in the church had inspired him.

"The work of the St Vincent de Paul Society, which just secretly goes on, their generosity is just extra ordinary really. One of the things I'm particularly proud of is the way people have involved themselves in the wider community, things like Riding for the Disabled and John's Kitchen."

During the past six years the parish had seen big changes, particularly the introduction of new cultures.

"We now have to cater for Tongans, Samoans, Ni-Vans, Kiribati and Filipinos. I enjoy the challenge of that and they have been wonderful in their contribution."

Fr Alan will be joined in Auckland by trainee priest Dennis Nacorda, who has been working under him in Blenheim for the past year. He will be replaced at St Mary's by current Plimmerton priest Father Bill Warwick. Fr Bill will be taking over a smaller, ageing parish, working hard to make the church relevant to youth, Fr Alan said, but one with a lot of potential.

"I think in the future the church will be smaller for a while, but it will be more dynamic."

His advice to his successor was simple, he said. "Come in and enjoy it. It's a great parish."

The Marlborough Express