Before the church of St Mary existed in Gordonton/Hukanui, Archdeacon Cowie arrived on horseback once a month to take a service in the old Gordonton Hall. Later the services were held in the Old school on Piako Road.
The Mission was run by a loyal group of Anglicans including Marama Puhipuhi. The local ngati Wairere were taught English and the Gospel was preached to them. Archdeacon Raiti came from Ngaruawahia to lead services in Maori for them as well.
Saint Mary’s was built as a combined effort of the Anglican community of Gordonton and the ngati Wairere of Hukanui. Once a sum of 500 pounds was raised, the church was built and completed in 1934 with no money owing, as was stipulated by Bishop Cecil Arthur Cherrington. This was no mean feat during the Depression.
Architect Frederick Daniells was commissioned to design St Mary’s, and he did so in the Gothic Revival style. It is one of very few double brick buildings to be made, and is built from Huntly brick. Before its construction, Bishop Cherrington advised that he did not want a stained glass window in the east end, as he thought it may distract parishioners from listening to sermons! The congregation voted against this, and went ahead and installed a beautiful Rose window. The main window of the west wall features Perpendicular Gothic tracery and stained glass patterns featuring a red cross.
The foundation stone was laid by Bishop Cherrington on the 4th March 1934 and St Mary’s was consecrated later that year in July, assisted by Archdeacon Hori Raiti.
Shortly after the church was consecrated, Sunday School was also held, led by Mercia Carswell and then by Alison Drummond.
The first Wedding held in St Mary’s was for Dudley and Lilian Cleland. The first funeral held was for J.B Maunder (1875-1936) who had made the church pews. Mr Maunder had also made and presented the church’s prie-dieu (prayer desk).
Roman Catholics used the church once a month in 1968 and 1969.
Saint Mary’s was served fortnightly by locum priests from Hamilton’s St Peter’s Cathedral and then from St Alban’s church in Hamilton, until 2004 when Archbishop David Moxon appointed The Reverend Rosemary Carey to go to St Mary’s to build the dwindling congregation up. In 2006 Saint Mary’s became a Mission District parish in its own right, with Rev Carey as its first Vicar.
Rev Carey left in 2012, and in 2013 The Reverend David Smithson was inducted as the second Vicar of Saint Mary’s.
The church building was closed in 2019 to 2023 while it was deemed a seismic risk, and strengthening work carried out, meanwhile while the parish worshipped in the nearby Old School Rooms until reopening in September 2023.
The church is located in a very picturesque spot against a backdrop of a grove of tarata (lemonwood) trees and a tall pine plantation. There are numerous native and exotic specimen trees and shrubs throughout the churchyard. Take time to wander around, and take a seat to pause and reflect. The adjacent graveyard is well tended by the district council and holds many past loyal parishioners and historic local families such as Riddell’s, Gower’s, Sainsbury’s, Brigman’s, Shepherd’s, Smith’s, Kestle’s, Hopa’s, Henare’s, Pene’s and Matika’s.
The Komakorau stream meanders past at the bottom of the church yard. The gully and the banks of the stream was once a weed infested wasteland, but has now been cleared and replanted by parishioners with native trees. There is now a large array of native flora to be found in the gully; harakeke (flaxes), pauhou (five finger), manuka, kanuka, kauri, makomako, titoki, maipi, houhere, totara, ti kouka (cabbage tree), ponga, tarata, kowhai, rimu, miro, akeake, tanekaha, rewarewa, kahikatea, nikau, horoeka (lancewood), matipo, coprosmas, and various pittosporums.
There is an abundant bird life around the church yard and gully, ranging from ducks, pukeko, fantail, kingfisher, silvereye, white faced heron, tui, grey warbler, swallow and morepork. As the native gully planting matures, we hope it encourages more wildlife.