Francis Redwood

Francis Redwood

Francis William Mary Redwood SM (6 April, 18393 January, 1935), was the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Wellington, Metropolitan of New Zealand.

Redwood was born on 8 April 1839 on the Tixall estate in Staffordshire, England. In 1842 he sailed to New Zealand with his parents on the "George Fyfe". His father had bought land from the New Zealand Company, and the family settled in Waimea West in the Nelson district. He was educated at the Nelson school of Fr Antoine Garin SM. In December 1854 he went to study at St Mary's College at St Chamond, near Lyon, France, and in 1860 he entered the scholasticate of the Society of Mary (Marists) at Montbel, near Toulon. He entered the Marist novitiate at Sainte-Foy. He was ordained priest at Maynooth in 1865 and gained his baccalaureate in theology at Dublin.

After three years' teaching at Catholic University School, Redwood suffered a near fatal bout of pneumonia in 1867 and went to Lyon to convalesce. There he met Philippe Viard, Bishop of Wellington, who was going to Rome to discuss his diocese and later to attend the First Vatican Council. Viard was impressed and even perhaps thought of Redwood as his coadjutor. However, before any appointment could be made, Viard died. There was a long delay before Redwood was appointed his successor in January 1874. Redwood was consecrated by Cardinal Manning at St. Anne's, Spitalfields, London, on 17 March 1874. Redwood spent his time appealing for funds in France and personnel in Ireland before returning to New Zealand in November 1874.

When consecrated second Bishop of Wellington, Redwood was the youngest Roman Catholic bishop in the world. At his death, aged 95 he was the oldest.

The overwhelming size of the Wellington diocese led to the decision to create a new diocese comprising Canterbury and Westland. At the same time a metropolitan archdiocese was created. Redwood favoured the appointment of his fellow Marist John Grimes, an Englishman, as bishop of Christchurch, but in 1885 the first Plenary Council of Australasian bishops recommended that the appointment go to a diocesan priest and that Dunedin be the new archdiocese. This would have strengthened the largely Irish diocesan clergy at the expense of the Marists, who successfully petitioned Rome to overturn both recommendations. In 1887 Grimes became bishop of Christchurch and Redwood archbishop of Wellington and metropolitan of New Zealand. Moran, the Irish-born bishop of Dunedin, was not impressed.

Redwood was created archbishop by a papal brief dated 13 May 1887. Even though his see was large and roads were bad, Redwood attached great importance to personal visitation. He established numerous churches, hospitals, and orphanages, was a founder of St. Patrick's College, Wellington in 1885, and lived to open the new St. Patrick's College, Silverstream, in 1931 in the Hutt Valley.

During his episcopate, Redwood invited many religious orders into New Zealand, notable among these being the Sisters of Mercy, the Marist Brothers, the Little Company of Mary, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, the Sisters of St. Brigid, the Sisters of the Mission, and the Sisters of St. Joseph. He also encouraged the foundation of the New Zealand order, the Sisters of Compassion.

Redwood during much of this time was also Provincial of the New Zealand Marists. He founded the Seminary in Hawke's Bay and lent his support to the foundation of Holy Cross, Mosgiel. An eloquent speaker, the Archbishop frequently preached at great ecclesiastical gatherings in Australasia. For 26 years (1877–1903), he served on the Senate of the University of New Zealand where he played an active part in its proceedings. He also became the first life member of the Early Settlers' and Historical Society, Wellington.

Redwood's concerns extended to all aspects of life. He agreed that alcohol was one of the evils of the day, but advocated temperance rather than prohibition. He resolutely resisted pressure to support prohibition, and a pastoral letter of 1911 urging Catholics to vote against prohibition was widely believed to have been responsible for the defeat of the measure in that year.

At the Diocesan Synod, in 1878, Redwood framed the practical Canon Law for the New Zealand Church. His Statutes provided a pattern later followed by the Auckland and Dunedin dioceses. He convened and presided over the first Provincial (Ecclesiastical) Council of Wellington (1899), and played a prominent role in the first Plenary Council of Sydney (1885). Archbishop Redwood died at Wellington on 3 January, 1935. He was succeeded by Archbishop Thomas O’Shea SM who had been coadjutor archbishop since 1913.


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