Wewak parish: A brief history


In the early days, until the early 1960s, all the people who were staying in Wewak town used to go for pray at the Wirui cathedral.
An idea came to the then late bishop Leo Arkfeld to establish three other parishes; Shalom (Boram), St Francis (Kaindi) and Holy Spirit (Wewak Hill) to cater for the spiritual needs of all the faithful.
This would also negate the need to travel to and from Wirui.
Pursuing the idea of establishing a parish at Wewak Hill, the late bishop soon found out that there was no free land to build the church.
He, therefore, had to work hand in hand with the civil authorities to find a suitable area for building the church.
He recieved a positive response from the kiap (patrol officer) at that time who was himself a Catholic.
He gave him the land where the church now stands.
Prior to the construction of the church, the land was swampy and was used as a dumping ground.
Nothing mattered to the visionary late bishop Arkfeld other than securing a piece of land for a new parish.
As soon as the land was granted to the church, late bishop Arkfeld wasted no time.
He sent workers to start building.
They worked hard draining and clearing the land and building the church on a solid foundation.
Br Jack SVD was in charge of the construction.
The task was finally completed and the parish was opened in 1971.
Today, 50 years later, it is still standing with no visible cracks!
With the opening of the church, all residents of Wewak Hill started attending mass at the Holy Spirit parish rather than going to the cathedral.
During those days, the residents of Wewak Hill consisted only top government employees, most of whom were expatriates and a few locals.
These senior government officials, bankers, teachers and members of the security forces (police and army) used to gather for the celebration of the Eucharist and to receive other sacraments on Sundays and on other scheduled days.
One of the old parishioners recalled how the priest would say mass: “I can remember seeing the priest saying mass in English turning his back to the people”, which was the practice at the time.
Fr J H V D Pavert OFM (Order of Franciscan Minor) was the first parish priest.
He was succeeded by Fr John Egan SVD (Society of Divine Word) in 1973 who served until 1974.
Generally, in those days, there were no residential priests at Wewak Hill.
Most of the priests used to reside at Wirui and come back and forth to Wewak Hill.
With non-resident priests, different people were chosen to look after and reside at the parish premises, for example, Mr and Mrs Dierke and others.
The Holy Spirit sisters, though based in Wirui, used to take charge of liturgical music during the celebration of mass and other sacraments.
Preparations for receiving sacraments and catechesis was done by Catechist Emmanuel who used to work across many parishes in the diocese.
In 1974, Fr Brian Hasett took over as parish priest from Fr John Egan SVD.
He served as parish priest for three years and was succeeded in 1977 by Fr Cherobim Dambui SVD (later Bishop).
Fr Cherobim was, at this time, also the premiere of East Sepik.
He was staying at the premiere’s residence (Wewak Hill).
In 1980, Fr William Liebert SVD took over as parish priest.
He was, at the same time, in charge of the Boys Town (juvenile) and was consequently operating from Boys Town.
Fr Albert Olah SVD took over from Fr Liebert SVD as the next parish priest in 1983.
He carried out his responsibilities until 1991.
Fr Olah is fondly remembered by some parishioners for his devotion to the rosary and his passion for looking after flowers.
As time passed, when the parish was well established, the Holy Spirit sisters stopped coming to take the lead during liturgical celebrations.
The responsibility of choosing liturgical songs and leading the singing shifted to families or individuals.
Similarly, working on the parish ground like cutting grass or looking after flowers was done by interested individuals.
In 1992, Fr Patrick J Doran became the parish priest.
His first act was to divide the parish into four sections or communities: Blessed Peter Torot (area 1), St Gabriel (area 2), St Anna (area 3) and St Peter (area 4).
He also introduced the vigil mass (on Saturday evenings) mainly for the Filipino community which is the fifth community of the parish.
From then until now, these communities take turns to look after the church, parish grounds and to take charge of singing and dancing during liturgical celebrations.
Fr Pat (as he is affectionately known) also introduced the Charismatic group, the Legion of Mary, Antioch group and made sure that all the communities pray the rosary during the month of October.
He left the parish in 1998.
Fr David Ify Atuanya CSSp became the next parish priest from 1998 until 2001. He was succeeded by Fr Donatus Onyeke CSSp in 2002.
Fr Donatus also used to lecture at the university (DWU-Kaindi campus).
In 2003, Fr Daniel Manique CSSp became the next parish priest.
He looked after the parish until 2008.
During his tenure, some maintenance work was done to the Church building.
Fr Manique also served Moem Barracks parish since they had no priest during that time.
After Fr Manique, Fr Caspar Talmai became parish priest in 2009.
He was doubling as the parish priest of Turubu parish.
He stayed in his role at Holy Spirit parish for a few months.
He was replaced in the middle of 2009 by Fr K Mouka SAC (Pallotines).
He stayed on until the end of 2010.
In 2010, Fr Steve Duggan became the next parish priest.
He was also vice-president of Divine Word University, St Benedict Campus.
He was residing at Kaindi and came on Sundays for mass.
He did this for three years until 2013.
In 2014, Fr Xavier Razzafimanjay CSSp became parish priest.
He stayed on until 2016.
That year, Fr Erico Todivelou CSSp became the next parish priest.
He was replaced by the current parish priest Fr Edward Tembo CSSp in 2017.
One person who has worked and contributed a lot to the Wewak Hill parish is Br Theodore Pierre CSSp.
He came to reside in the parish in January 2001 and left in December 2018 (18 years).
He worked with all the priests who came and left the parish during this period.
When there was no resident priest, he carried out all the administrative duties and made sure that he found a priest to celebrate masses on the weekends.
When new priests came to serve at the parish, he would welcome them and give them proper orientation.
Br Pierre served the two Sepik provinces (East and West) with his rural outreach programme.
The Stella Maris community of the Missionary Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, which is located within the parish, is also another source of charisma of the Holy Spirit.
For many years now, different sisters have settled amongst the parishioners.
Their witness, teaching and way of life have inspired and enriched the life of the parish.
The history of Holy Spirit parish would be incomplete without the mention of various individuals who collaborated with the priests as leaders of the communities and pious groups, Eucharistic ministers, catechists.
The most memorable chairmen are John Wakoni and John Morere (both were PPC), Paul Bengo, Peter Panau, Patrick Moran, Peter Taiko, Lainus Natio, Pius Mungkaje, David Golpark and many more others.
At Holy Spirit parish, the Holy Spirit has also given to women, the youth and children.
Several women took leadership roles and carried out their duties like the Biblical Miriam and Deborah.
Some of them are Maria Molai, Schola Natio, Josepha Speedy and Mary Kaule.
The Filipino community has also contributed richly to the parish.
Men and women like Nelda, Tiofi, Mario Sarita and many others have shared both the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit for the wellness of the parish.
Over the years, people from all walks of life, from all races and various languages, cultures, countries and continents have identified themselves as members of Holy Spirit parish.