When New Zealand was declared a colony in 1840, there were no more than 500 Catholic colonists. Now there are around 500,000 Catholics in New Zealand, approximately one eighth of the population.
This figure is based on the people who identified themselves as Catholic in the 2006 Census. The census also revealed that Catholic numbers had grown by 23,000 (4.7%) since the previous census. If these trends continue then Catholicism will be New Zealand’s biggest faith by the next census.
Although this data indicates that New Zealand's Catholic population is growing, it does not represent the number of practising Catholics. Also, some of this growth is due to immigration, so there is no guarantee trends will continue at the same rate. New Zealand’s population grew by 7.8% between 2001 and 2006, so population growth was greater than Catholic growth.
There is a diverse range of age groups and ethnicities represented in the New Zealand Catholic population. Backgrounds of New Zealand Catholics include Maori, English, Irish, Scottish, French, Italian, Polish, German, Croatian, Dutch, Portuguese, Indian, Pacific Island, Korean, Chinese and Filipino
The chart shows the percentage of people from the specified ethnic groups identified themselves as Catholic.
Once again, this does not represent the number of practising Catholics.
The Catholic Church in New Zealand is divided into six regions called dioceses which are made up of parishes. There are 271 Catholic parishes throughout the country – 67 in the Diocese of Auckland; 37 in the Diocese of Hamilton; 33 in the Diocese of Palmerston North; 47 in the Archdiocese of Wellington; 50 in the Diocese of Christchurch and 37 in the Diocese of Dunedin. Each diocese is headed by a bishop.
The six bishops who head the dioceses are part of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference – the national body for the bishops of Aotearoa New Zealand. Within the Conference bishops work together to carry out pastoral functions which are better done on a national rather than diocesan basis. The diocesan bishops, coadjutor bishops and auxiliary bishops of the country are all members of the Conference. The Conference has a Secretariat located in Wellington, and a number of agencies and offices to assist the bishops in carrying out national level functions.
Eastern Catholic Churches
The majority of Catholics in New Zealand are Roman Catholics. However, there are also Catholics from the Eastern and Latin Churches. The Eastern Catholic Churches with the largest number of members in New Zealand are Maronite – who first came to New Zealand from Lebanon over 100 years ago; Melkite – also from Lebanon; Ukrainian – sometimes referred to as Byzantine or Greek Catholics, and Chaldean.
The following Eastern Catholic Churches are likely to have smaller numbers in New Zealand: Armenia; Albanian; Syrian; Coptic; Malankar; Hungarian; Romanian; Ruthenian; Slovak Byzantine; Syro-Malabar. The eparchies and eparchs (bishops) of the Eastern Churches are based in Australia, though there is a chaplain to represent these Churches in New Zealand.
New Zealand has two seminaries for priesthood training – Holy Cross Seminary for Diocesan priesthood and the Marist Seminary. Each offers separate priestly formation programmes for their respective seminarians that reflect the particular spirit of their institution.
In the late 1990s the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference decided to enter into an agreement with the Society of Mary to establish a partnership for the theological education of candidates for the priesthood in New Zealand.
Good Shepherd College, Te Hepara Pai was established as a partnership between the diocesan bishops and the Society of Mary. Seminarians from Holy Cross seminary and the Marist Seminary do their theological studies together at Good Shepherd College. The college is open to any student who wishes to study theology in the Roman Catholic tradition.
At the beginning of 2010 there were 22 seminarians training at Holy Cross Seminary. Of these, 21 lived on site and one was on pastoral placement. The seminarians were mainly of New Zealand origin, with the others from Korea, Philippines, Vietnam, Africa and India. At the same time the Marist Seminary had six seminarians. Four were New Zealanders and living on site. The other two were from Fiji and the Solomon Islands and were on pastoral placement.
There are approximately 45 religious orders represented in New Zealand. Most orders are international so only a small number of people enter in New Zealand.
The number of people entering religious orders varies from year to year and between religious orders. However, on average religious orders in New Zealand would accept one to two new entrants to their order per year. Most are from New Zealand, but often international members will come to New Zealand for formation after they are professed overseas.
There are many Catholic organisations for lay women and men in the New Zealand Church, which focus on or provide support in various areas including social justice, prayer and spirituality, ethnicity, marriage and family.
These organisations give life to the Church as well as enabling Catholics with a common interest to work together for the good of the Church or society.
Some organisations are associated with dioceses or the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference. Others are New Zealand branches of international Catholic organisations, or groups of New Zealand Catholics who are working together in a particular field or ministry.
Catholic education in New Zealand is strong, with 11 percent (almost 64,000) of the country’s school students enrolled in the Catholic school system. There are 190 Catholic primary schools and 49 secondary schools or colleges, all of which are integrated into the state education system.
In their ethnic composition Catholic Schools show the increasing cultural diversity in the Church in Aotearoa New Zealand. Catholic migrants from Asia and the Pacific are growing rapidly in numbers and as a percentage of the Catholic population.