A long faith journey

St Ignatius of Loyola Catholic College in Drury, Auckland, will welcome its
first students in February. But the timeline has spanned decades.


By John Mills, original Chairman of the Faith Committee

“It will be in God’s timing,” is a phrase that embodies faith, confidence and hope. It was a phrase that I repeated for several years to the members of our Steering Committee, long before the foundations were even dug for our school that will finally open its doors to students for the first time in February.

As we know, God can never be rushed. Divine timing seldom happens overnight.

On Tuesday 5 December, the New Zealand Herald published a video clip under the headline: St Ignatius of Loyola Catholic College nears completion but the true genesis of this long-cherished school goes all the way back to 1957. That was the year when Jack Gilbert of the Papakura parish and David Mills of the Pukekohe parish first approached His Grace Archbishop James Michael Liston, to discuss the prospect of establishing a Catholic secondary college south of Auckland.

Forty years later, in September 1997, Paul Manson, the principal of St. Joseph’s Catholic Primary School Pukekohe, arranged a small group to meet and discuss the possibility of a Catholic Secondary College in the region. The following month, a follow-up meeting was held in St Patrick’s hall, Pukekohe, with the very able and talented television producer Ross Jennings as the facilitator. My brother Bede and I were very blessed to have Ross as a close friend.

Ross became the chairman of the Steering Committee and I accepted the role of chairman of the Faith Committee. One of the major discussion points at that first meeting was the subject of a mandate for the Steering Committee to investigate which priestly order would teach in the College, with an emphasis on Mass and the Sacraments of the Church.

Two landmarks were to follow in early 1998. The first, in February that year, was the decision on the charism of the College. It was agreed that it should be Jesuit, based on the carefully researched decision by the Faith Group that the Jesuits were the finest educators in the world. Following eight months of fact-finding by the Faith Group, we could see that the Jesuits had (at the time) a 450-year history of excellence in education and while we did not have specific knowledge of their spirituality, we could see that it was very deep, had stood the test of time and had also been followed to a certain extent by other religious orders.

In March 1998, the members of the Steering Committee approached the then Headmaster of Saint Ignatius’ College Riverview in Sydney, Fr Chris Gleeson SJ, about the possibility of our college becoming part of the worldwide Jesuit network. In July that year, following Fr Chris’s advice, members of the Steering Committee approached the Provincial of the Australian Jesuits, Fr Daven Day SJ, as well as the Jesuit Delegate for Education, Fr Ross Jones SJ. To our delight, the Provincial said a big yes – so for more than two decades, the Society has supported, encouraged, guided and formed members of the New Zealand Steering Committee through the combined efforts of Fr Chris Gleeson SJ, Fr Ross Jones SJ and Fr Gerry Healy SJ, along with 30 other Jesuits.

The second landmark in 2000 came when members of the Steering Committee found 62 acres in Burtt Road, Drury, adjacent to the railway line. Our wonderful Bishop at the time, the Very Rev Patrick Dunn, immediately purchased it. As the committee members noted, the outstanding support of our Bishop as well as the Vicar for Education, Linda McQuade, was greatly appreciated.

After the purchase of the land, Bishop Dunn undertook a comprehensive design process which culminated in lodging an application to the Franklin District Council for Resource Consent for the College. Obtaining this Consent proved an arduous journey due to opposition from Auckland Regional Council and the Runciman Protection Society. To sum up the process:

  • 2001: Resource Consent Application lodged
  • 2002: Commissioner hearing declined.
  • 2003: Appeal by Diocese in the Environment Court.
  • 2004: Appeal by Auckland Regional Council and Runciman Protection Society in High Court.
  • 2005: High Court ruled in favour of Auckland Regional Council and Runciman Protection Society.
  • 2006: Application by Roman Catholic Diocese of Auckland to file for Appeal to the Court of Appeal.
  • 2008: 8th May, 2.30pm – The Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the Auckland Diocese.

We are extremely grateful for the support received from the past CEO of NZ Catholic Education, Br Sir Patrick Lynch, an outstanding and very experienced educator; as well as from his successor, Paul Ferris. After Paul assumed office, his dynamic personality and his leadership skills were a major factor in bringing the College to fruition, as has the support of Geoff Ricketts, the Chairman of the Auckland Diocesan Board.

In October 2022, during a special Mass in St Patrick’s Church Pukekohe, the Vicar-General of the Auckland Diocese, Monsignor Bernard Kiely (left) addressed the Founding Principal Dean Wearmouth before blessing him.

In September 2021, Nicki Patten, the Executive Director of Jesuit Education Australia, wrote an article titled Exciting news about St Ignatius of Loyola Catholic College on the Australian Province website.

She wrote: “Work has now commenced on the site of a new school to be known as St Ignatius of Loyola Catholic College, Drury, in Auckland, New Zealand. It is anticipated that this new diocesan college will open at the start of 2024 with 340 students, growing progressively to 900 by 2030.

“The establishment of a Catholic college in Franklin Counties, south of Auckland city, has been an enduring hope for many. Parishioners first proposed the provision of Catholic education for the young people south of Auckland to Bishop Liston in the early 1950s. Over 40 years later a group of parents led by Mr John Mills, chair of the steering committee, came together to lobby and work for the establishment of a Catholic secondary school in the area.  Working with the Catholic Diocese of Auckland to achieve their dream, they have been supported on this journey by the visits and generous support of Fr Chris Gleeson SJ and other Jesuits of the Australian Province.”

On 24 October, the Province Office in Melbourne held a special Missioning Mass for Fr Michael Smith SJ and Fr Eka Tanaya SJ, before they took on their three-year stints here, and the event on 23 October was covered in an article with the evocative title In the footsteps of St Ignatius.

Fr Quyen Vu SJ, the Provincial, said: “Michael and Eka, both of you have been called to St Ignatius of Loyola Catholic College in Drury, Auckland. You’ve been called to share the characteristics of Jesuit education with the teachers, staff, students and parents in Drury. You are to embed the Ignatian ethos in the school. The Society of Jesus has chosen you specifically for this mission. We entrust you to St Ignatius of Loyola Catholic College in Drury.

“On behalf of the Australian province, I’m missioning you today to St Ignatius of Loyola Catholic College, to carry out your mission with generosity, with passion, with total commitment, with hope and with love. May the spirit of Saint Ignatius be with you for the next three years, throughout the term of your mission. May you bring God’s love to those you serve. May you continue to place yourselves under the banner of the cross and may God give you the grace to fulfil your mission – something we all adhere to as companions of Jesus.”

We could not be more happy that this dream has finally come to fruition and that we will soon be welcoming students onto these premises.