Monasteries have always been freeloaders on society – for the last 2000 years or more. I’ve never quite understood the mystique of the monk or the nun – and their insistence that someone else pay for their way of life, essentially doing mindless things like praying 14 hours a day or keeping silent for years on end. Get a job, you schmucks! Try actually working for a living. Stop asking for handouts!!
Yes, you can tell that I’m not that religious – or maybe I’ve just watched too many movies about devout monks and their shenanigans. Name of the Rose was my favourite, of course, with Sean Connery as a medieval monk/detective, solving the mystery of the labyrinth while trying to enter the Library. Much the same as we are all doing currently, trying to figure out the labyrinthine paths of policy within Council, while trying to get the Library open so we can once more enter it….
And so to St Gerard’s Monastery stuck up there on the hill beckoning out to the good people of Wellington. It was erected for the “Redemptionist Fathers” which as far as I am concerned is just another name for Catholic priests behaving badly – ie seeking redemption in the eyes of the Lord for something bad they have done. That could range from not picking up litter in the street, to picking up young children in the street… but let’s not go there. At least, not just yet. The architect was John Swan, who was pretty good at this sort of thing: Gothic revival.
It was smaller at first – less than half the size – with a lovely chapel (not) enjoying a great view out over the sea and into the sky. Added to later with a monastery, there are of course no no more monks in the building, and for the last few years it has been operating as a place for missionaries – again, a fairly frowned-upon past-time.
And so, the time has come to close its doors and sell off the building. It needs vast amounts of strengthening against potential earthquakes – and as it is Heritage grade 1 listed, it really should stick around. Not that Grade 1 means much these days – the only true god of our modern society is Mammon. And so it must be sold – to the private sector – who will be made to promise to retain as much as possible of the existing fabric of the building.
There is an article on Scoop which has comments from people, as usual most of them without a shred of common sense. Someone whose tag is Helenyi writes: “St Gerard’s should be a community centre, it’s already purpose built! It would be a tragic lack of imagination in the ‘creative capital’ if this monumental building that was built for the community is given over to developers.” Another person called D’Esterre is similarly hopeful but similarly devoid of reality: “I am so sad about this. St Gerard’s has been a part of the Wellington I know, for as long as I’ve known it. It’s of prime importance with regard to its place in the Wellington landscape. Given that it was originally built for the Redemptorists, and given that it’s dedicated to St Gerard Majella, I wonder if the Catholic church could be persuaded to fund the strengthening? Maybe an appeal to the Vatican would yield results.”
Ahh, yeah, naaaah. Not going to happen. Let’s be clear about this: the Catholic Church is not going to pay for it – they’ve been asked many times over the years and have failed to say anything that included the word Yes. The Vatican is certainly not going to be paying for it – on the rare occasions they get their hand out of their pockets it will be for things like saving people’s hearts, souls and respiratory systems – not for buildings. The people of Wellington are not going to be paying for it either – they’ve been asked before but a figure of $10million is unlikely to succeed without an energetic congregation. The City Council of Wellington is certainly not going to be paying for it – they’re virtually broke and have about $3billion worth of drains to dig. It is going to be sold to the highest bidder, and we have to hope that it does not go to the Wellington Company, who have a terrible track record when it comes to retaining historic Catholic building fabric.
They’re the ones who have destroyed Erskine College but saved the Chapel – letting the building rot for long enough and then claiming it was too far gone to save. Erskine was far more photogenic than St Gerard in my opinion, by virtue of the haunted Gothic towers aesthetic. They’ve replaced the old school with loads of tacky-tacky little boxes all over the hillside.
Let’s have a look at what is actually in the St Gerard’s building. I confess: not being a Catholic or a wannabe Missionary, I’ve not ever been inside, but the interwebbies tell me that there is at least one great space within here – the original St Gerard’s Church. I’m hoping to get in there before it completely closes at the end of May. Here it is looking full:
The beautiful stained glass windows look onto the folk of Hawker St in Roseneath. Here it is again, looking the other way, looking fairly empty, including the large blank wall that the monks would pray towards – no getting distracted during communion boys! Concentrate on the naked man nailed to the Cross! I must admit that my thoughts would have been straying towards: what is outside the building? Who or what is sailing on the sea? Are there people swimming on Oriental Bay? I confess: I would have been a terrible priest.
Let’s face it: there is no need for a “Community Centre” of that size up the hill. Nor is there much parking up there. If the fathers of redemption really wanted to do good for the people of Wellington they should turn the whole building into housing for the homeless – give away the building for zero dollars and hope that some benevolent benefactor picks up the tab for the strengthening. But the chances of that happening are more close to absolute zero than is Lord Kelvin. Having invested a hundred odd years into the site, the church will once again want its pound of flesh, and so to the highest bidder it will go.
There is an obvious route for the building: to be strengthened and converted into apartments. Killer views. Bays of windows, some already with patios that could be well-suited for apartment balconies. There are at least six slots for fresh new apartments right here, per floor, in the middle between the Church and the Library:
So that means at least 3 floors of apartments – possibly 4 floors if you provide some dormers in the roof. Maybe even more if the outbuildings are also converted. But still – what to do with the big volumes at each end? Could the Church itself be kept whole, in the same way that Erskine has? For weddings and occasional events? I guess there is a chance of that – but it is a small chance. More likely that the developers will propose that the large spaces are infilled with more floor plates and the space divided up Into littler spaces for apartments. Eat up the space in 70m2 chunks. That would be sad – but is almost inevitable, given the crucial need for housing. There will be calls for it to be “affordable” housing of course, but we both know that that is never going to happen. Hard enough to get it to work on a greenfield flat site in far off Hutt Valley, but even harder in a grade 1 listed heritage former Catholic monastery requiring a minimum of $10 million strengthening first.