Thieves ‘desecrate’ Catholic church in Geraldine, New Zealand

Thieves ‘desecrate’ Catholic church in Geraldine, New Zealand


The Church of the Immaculate Conception in Geraldine was broken into overnight Saturday and a number of sacred items stolen. Sacrostant minister Liz Hewson points to the empty space where another candlestick used to sit behind the altar. The green veil to the right of her covers the tabernacle, which was tampered with. Opihi Parish property manager David Atwood indicates the height of the two angel statues stolen.

[What’s a “sacrostant minister”: a stealth priestess? What’s a “parish property manager”: a lay trustee? Where’s the parish priest (if any)?]

June 19 2016

Geraldine’s Catholic parishioners are reeling after their historic church was “desecrated” by thieves overnight on Saturday.

Thieves entered through the main doors of the Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception on Peel St, by forcing them open.

Parishioner Nigel Scarsbrook said he felt disgusted by the actions.

Sacrostant minister Liz Hewson, who has been attending the church since 1951, was preparing for mass on Sunday at about 7.40am when she noticed some items missing.

“I came in the side door so didn’t realise anything was wrong straight away, but I did have an uncomfortable feeling.”

Two plaster angel statues 500mm high and three solid brass candlestick holders were missing from the reredos, an area behind the altar.

“We can never replace the candlesticks. They were donated by parishioners who had no money around the Depression,” Hewson said.

The church was established in 1935 and the missing items had been part of the church since then.

A gold chalice, a small silver cyborium (plate), crystal vessels with communion wine in them and a wooden cross were also taken from the unlocked sacristy (a room where the priest keeps vestments). A Roman Missal, used for readings, and a lectionary, which has the gospel and the epistles in it were also stolen.

Opihi Parish property manager David Atwood said he felt violated, as did the other more than 50 parishioners at mass on Sunday morning, once they discovered what had happened.

“I’ve been coming here since 1949 and some of those things are priceless.”

However what was most offensive to the parishioners was that the thieves had tampered with the tabernacle, an ornate secure container in which the blessed sacraments are stored.

In Catholic doctrine the tabernacle is the dwelling place of divinity and is shrouded in a veil until mass, when it is opened.

“They have desecrated the church by handling the tabernacle, which is where God is for us. We will have to have a re-blessing service,” Atwood said.

The parishioners said they thought whoever had taken the items would not have realised the significance of them. Instead of being angry, they would like the opportunity to explain to the culprits why the stolen items so are important in their worship.

“If they were short of food or money we would have helped them,” Atwood said.

Police did not appear too positive about recovering the items and had suggested the parish should claim insurance, Atwood said.

Geraldine police could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

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2 comments on “Thieves ‘desecrate’ Catholic church in Geraldine, New Zealand

  1. Where on earth (or Hell) do the trendies get these new positions from? What on earth is a “sacrostant minister”?
    Our Cathedral has a sacristan, a male, who is in charge of the Holy Vessels, the vestments and setting up the Sanctuary and the altars for Mass.
    As I asked, what on earth is a “sacrostant minister”? Who makes up this stuff?

    • I researched the Internet regarding that, thinking it might be a term used “down under” for some kind of “lay minister.” I could only find one other similar reference on an American woman’s Linkedin profile where she describes herself and her mother as such as a volunteer to set up the church and altar at her Catholic parish. I conclude that the term was transcribed from an oral report and that the transcriber wrote down what he heard as “sacrostant” for what was actually said as “sacristan.”

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