Services return to basilica

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by Molly Houseman

The bells of Sacred Heart Basilica are ringing once again.

They were heard for the first time in nearly two years on Sunday, marking the end of Mass.
It was a moving time for the 600 people who attended the reopening, Parish priest Fr Chris Friel said.

‘‘It had been closed for nearly two years and has been the spiritual home for so many parishioners in Timaru,’’ Fr Friel said.

Fr Friel, who was ordained at the basilica 26 years ago, said it was a great joy to have the church filled with friends, family and parishioners.

‘‘The organ was in fine tune and the octave of bells ringing out their joy at the end of Mass from the bell tower,’’ he said.

‘‘Let us rejoice and be glad.’’

The basilica — which is a category one historic building and contains what are considered some of the country’s finest stained glass windows — was closed in January 2019 when a $3.9 million earthquake strengthening project began.

Despite not sustaining any serious damage during the 2010›11 Canterbury earthquakes, the basilica needed strengthening to meet the mandated 34% of the New Zealand Building Code standards for earthquake›prone buildings.

Steel and concrete were used to reinforce the basilica’s nave, transept and tower, and hailstone damage on the dome was also worked on.

The ceremony on Sunday included the confirmation of 31 children and the presentation of Papal Awards to four parishioners of Timaru’s Holy Family parish.

Bishop Paul Martin, of the Catholic Diocese of Christchurch, then blessed the new neighbouring parish centre and Roncalli College’s sport complex.

The complex includes a covered turf for basketball, netball, hockey and futsal, two changing rooms, and two community rooms.

The building also includes a new parish centre with a kitchen and meeting rooms.
Principal Chris Comeau said not only were the new facilities great for the school, but great for the community as well.

The joint project came about as the parish was in need of a new centre and the school had outgrown its gym, he said.

It took a few years of planning and fundraising to come together, but was worth the wait.

‘‘It was good to see everyone come together and see everything open,’’ he said.