New Zealand Catholic Patronal Feast - The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The Feast of the Assumption on 15 August celebrates the Blessed Virgin Mary’s assumption into heaven. It is also the patronal feast of the Catholic people in New Zealand. It is one of two Holy Days of Obligation for New Zealand Catholics. The other is Christmas Day. They are Holy Days of Obligation regardless of when they fall, including Saturdays and Mondays.
The depiction of the Blessed Virgin Mary on this page and in the header of this section is called the Pompallier Madonna and is of special significance to Catholics in Aotearoa New Zealand.
On 13 September 2004 the New Zealand bishops on their ad limina visit to Rome met with Pope John Paul II. Bishop Denis Browne, then the President of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference, presented the Holy Father with a copy of the “Pompallier Madonna”. In his address to the Holy Father Bishop Browne said the following:
Dear Holy Father,
We come as bishops of Aotearoa, New Zealand to visit you from that far distant land. We come to offer you our affection and love as well as our loyalty and appreciation for your dynamic leadership of the Church. We also come representing all the priests, religious and laity of the Church in New Zealand and all people of good will from that beautiful land. On behalf of all of them we express our heartfelt appreciation for your leadership and service that is an inspiration to all of us…
Holy Father, as a sign of our unity with you, we wish to present to you a gift of a Madonna which has become an important expression of the links between the Holy See and the Church in New Zealand. This Madonna was presented to Pius IX in the 1840s by the Benedictine Nuns of Campus Martius. In turn, this Madonna was given to Bishop Pompallier by Pope Pius IX on the occasion of Bishop Pompallier's visit to Rome in April 1847. He brought the Madonna back to Aotearoa New Zealand and had copies distributed widely. This work has now become known in New Zealand as "the Pompallier Madonna". We offer you this copy of the Madonna as an appreciation of your own love for Mary and the frequent calls that you make for us to place all we do in Her hands.
The original Pompallier Madonna is believed to date back to before 750AD. Sadly the original was stolen in the late 1960s from St Patrick’s College in Wellington. Soon after it vanished from the glass cabinet where it was stored a passerby saw it in the window of a secondhand shop and called the school. The shop was closed when the school staff arrived and when it reopened the man in the store said he could not remember any such item being for sale.
Rumours persist about the icon being secretly taken back to Rome by a Vatican official but it is much more likely it is in the collection of a private owner who may not know of its significance to the Church in Aotearoa New Zealand.