The original Catholic Enquiry Centre was established in 1954 in London by Fr Michael O'Connor of the Catholic Missionary Society. In 1957, Fathers Dwyer and Holland of the Catholic Missionary Society visited New Zealand to preach a series of parish missions and retreats. While here they spoke to the New Zealand bishops about the Enquiry Centre and its success in England. Fr Michael O'Connor travelled to Australia and New Zealand in 1958 to continue the conversation with the bishops.
The bishops appointed Fathers Maurice Ryan and Brian Ashby to begin the new project of evangelisation in New Zealand. In 1960 they went to the Enquiry Centre in London to learn the ropes, and on their way home they swapped notes with Fr Tom White, director of the fledging Enquiry Centre in Sydney.
The New Zealand bishops purchased a property at 140 Austin Street, Mount Victoria, and soon the Catholic Enquiry Centre was ready to go. On 28 February 1961, the first advertisement appeared in the major city and provincial newspapers. Fr Ashby describes the response:
“Mail-time, March 1st, was a day of anxiety... Would the hopes of our archbishops and bishops in deciding to found the Centre be justified? Letter after letter was carefully slit open. Coupon after coupon fluttered on to the desk. There were 42 replies, mostly from the ‘Dominion’ that day. Next day there were 89 as mail from Auckland, Christchurch and Dunedin began to flow in. Next day there were 95. By this time it wasn’t only the coupons that were fluttering. Fr Ryan and I were too. However, voluntary typists quickly arrived to send out the particulars of the Centre’s free and confidential course.”
On the move
When Fr Allan Jones SM was appointed Director in June 2006, he was given the brief to relocate the Enquiry Centre to an office better suited to the Centre's needs. The rhythm of searching and waiting, of blind alleys and dashed hopes went on for more than a year as he waited for the right place.
Finally, 27th August 2007, the agent took Fr Jones to a property at 72 Abel Smith Street. It was the place he had been waiting for. With the approval of the Board and the bishops, Fr Jones signed the lease on 7 September.
On 7 November 2007, the Mount Victoria property was sold by auction. A farewell for the property was held on 14 November, with an ‘open day’ for supporters and those who knew the place.
The next step was to prepare the property for its new owners. So began the long process of sorting, packing and discarding books, boxes, files and furniture. Volunteers helped on Saturday mornings and the St Vincent de Paul Society was a great help also. The work was completed on 12 December, just in time for the 14 December handover.
Meanwhile, the new office was awash with boxes, files, office gear and new furniture. The phones and Internet were reinstalled after a 10 day hiatus and, on 21 November, Mass was celebrated in the new premises for the first time. On 18 December local volunteers were invited to Christmas morning tea to celebrate.
On 22 April, Bishop Colin Campbell blessed the new premises. It was a grand occasion with the bishops of all six dioceses present, as well as the Board of Governors, priests, brothers and a good number of CEC supporters, volunteers, friends and benefactors. The Blessing Ceremony was a joyful celebration of Faith and Community; a fitting way to re-commission the Enquiry Centre to continue the Church’s work of evangelisation with imagination and zeal.