When Aotearoa New Zealand was declared a colony in 1840, there were no more than 500 Catholics in the country. Now there are close to 500,000.

Many key people, political moments, Church developments and social changes make up the story of the Catholic Church in Aotearoa New Zealand, one which continues to evolve as it tells Christ’s story.



In the early 1800s, Christianity was introduced to Aotearoa New Zealand by European settlers and the arrival of Protestant missionaries in 1814.

It is thought that Roman Catholicism was brought by Catholic seamen, traders and settlers, and that there were some Māori Roman Catholics before Aotearoa New Zealand became a British colony in 1840.


Increasing numbers of settlers had begun to put pressure on mission stations resulting in Aotearoa New Zealand being made an independent vicariate by Rome in 1842. The rest of the area was named Central Oceania.

Father Philip Viard SM arrived in Sydney in 1845. Bishop Viard was ordained as Pompallier's coadjutor the following year and shortly after returned to Aotearoa New Zealand with Pompallier.

In 1846 Pompallier left for Europe and following his report to Pope Pius IX it was decreed in 1848 that Aotearoa New Zealand would be divided into two dioceses – Auckland and Wellington, with Wellington comprising all areas outside of Auckland.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi - The Treaty of Waitangi

In the Treaty of Waitangi, we find the moral basis for our presence in Aotearoa New Zealand and a vision that sets this country apart.

New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference 1995

The Treaty of Waitangi is a covenant or agreement between representatives of the British Crown and Māori chiefs.

It was signed by many northern Māori chiefs and Governor William Hobson on 6 February 1840, and was later signed by a number of chiefs from other parts of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Figures shaping our history

Pope John Paul II visited Aotearoa New Zealand in 1986.

Pope John Paul II Visits Aotearoa New Zealand

Pope John Paul II is the only Pope to have visited Aotearoa New Zealand so far.

As the first visit by the Bishop of Rome, successor of the Apostle Peter, it was an occasion of great significance for the Catholic people of Aotearoa New Zealand. But interest in Pope John Paul, both as chief pastor of the Catholic Church and as a recognised and honoured world figure, was intense throughout the country from the moment his visit was announced.

Bishop Pompallier

New Zealand’s first bishop, Jean Baptiste François Pompallier, was born in Lyon, France, on 11 December 1802.


Mother Aubert

Suzanne Aubert founded the Daughters of Our Lady of Compassion, New Zealand's only surviving indigenous religious congregation.

Suzanne Aubert, also known as Mother Aubert, was born and raised in France. She was from a middle class family, but developed a great love for the poor by taking food to them. Her grandmother taught her that the face of Christ can be seen in the faces of the poor, and that it was a privilege to serve them.

Suzanne Aubert3

St Mary of the Cross MacKillop

Mary MacKillop was an Australian nun who co-founded the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart (informally known as Josephites). She is the first Australian to be beatified (1995) and having had a second miracle recognised by the Vatican in 2009 was canonised as a saint on 17 October 2010.

20101012 MaryMacKillop

Bishop Max Takuira Matthew Māriu

Of Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Bishop Māriu was born in Waihi and educated at Hāto Pāora College in Feilding.

After studying for the priesthood with the Society of Mary (Marist) seminary at Greenmeadows, Hawkes Bay, he was ordained to priesthood at Waihi (Lake Taupō) in 1977. In May 1988 he was ordained as Auxiliary Bishop of Hamilton,  becoming the first Catholic Māori bishop in New Zealand.

Māriu spoke out on issues around Māori grievances in relation to the Treaty, and just prior to his death said how he worried particularly about young Māori, “…we’re losing them,” he said.

Bishop Max


When Aotearoa New Zealand was declared a colony in 1840, there were no more than 500 Catholic colonists. Now there are around 500,000 Catholics in Aotearoa New Zealand, approximately one eighth of the population.

This figure is based on the people who identified themselves as Catholic in the 2013 Census. It is currently the largest Christian denomination in Aotearoa New Zealand. It does not represent the number that would say they were practising Catholics in terms of Mass attendance.


There is a diverse range of age groups and ethnicities represented in the New Zealand Catholic population. Backgrounds of New Zealand Catholics include Māori, English, Irish, Scottish, French, Italian, Polish, German, Croatian, Dutch, Portuguese, Indian, Pacific Island, Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese and Filipino.


The Catholic Church in Aotearoa New Zealand is divided into six regions called dioceses which are made up of parishes. There are 271 Catholic parishes throughout the country – 68 in the Diocese of Auckland; 37 in the Diocese of Hamilton; 22 in the Diocese of Palmerston North; 22 in the Archdiocese of Wellington; 26 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 Aotearoa 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.

St Pius X Glenn Innes

Catholic Education

Catholic education in Aotearoa New Zealand is strong, with 11 percent (almost 66,000) of the country’s school students enrolled in the Catholic school system. There are 189 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.

Eastern Catholic Churches

The majority of Catholics in Aotearoa 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 Aotearoa 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 Aotearoa 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 Aotearoa New Zealand.

Catholic Organisations

There are many Catholic organisations for lay women and men in the Aotearoa 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 Aotearoa New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference. Others are Aotearoa New Zealand branches of international Catholic organisations, or groups of Aotearoa New Zealand Catholics who are working together in a particular field or ministry.


Holy Cross Seminary, Auckland
Marist Seminary, Auckland
McDonald, Dr. Barry William, Will New Zealand still be predominantly ‘Christian’ in 2011? An analysis of the 2006 Census Religion Question
Statistics New Zealand / Tatauranga Aotearoa, 2006 Census of Population and Dwellings, 2001 Census of Population and Dwellings


Religious Orders

There are approximately 45 religious orders represented in Aotearoa 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 Aotearoa New Zealand would accept one to two new entrants to their order per year. Most are from Aotearoa New Zealand, but often international members will come to Aotearoa New Zealand for formation after they are professed overseas.


Aotearoa 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 Aotearoa 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 Aotearoa New Zealand.

Good Shepherd College, Te Hēpara 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 start of 2017 there were 26 seminarians training at Holy Cross Seminary. Of these, 22 lived on site and four are currently off-site, that is three on sixth year pastoral placement and 1 Deacon on pastoral placement. Around half of the current seminarians are of Aotearoa New Zealand origin, with the others from Korea, Philippines, Vietnam, Fiji, Tonga, Malaysia and Hong Kong. At the same time the Marist Seminary had 4 seminarians. Three were living on site and one at the Marist Theologate in Rome.