The Lower Hutt parish of Saints Peter and Paul was established in 1850 with Father John Forest S.M. as its first parish priest. The Church of Saints Peter and Paul, built on a site west of the main road where Andrews Avenue now runs, was consecrated by Bishop Viard on 24 August 1851, and was the centre of parish life until January 1940 when it was demolished following the sale of the property to the Lower Hutt City Council.
The building of a new church in Knights Road was delayed by the Second World War and by shortage of materials. This affected the design of the new church, which was constructed of simple materials nearly all produced in New Zealand. The new church was opened and blessed by Archbishop O’Shea on 17 November 1945. Even as the church was opened it was realised that with the rapid expansion of housing in the Hutt Valley there would soon be a need for new churches and new parishes.
Fr Leo Daly, parish priest of Lower Hutt from 1924 to 1949, foresaw the need for new parishes and purchased the Park Avenue property where the Church of St. Martin de Porres now stands. When advertised for auction in 1940, the property was described as follows:
“There are nearly 3 ¾ acres rich level land, beautifully laid out, well grown shelter hedges, beautiful native bush, flowering and ornamental shrubs, lawns, gardens, sunny aspect. The residence contains six large rooms, kitchen, veranda, storeroom, vestibule, Formica sink bench, gas cooker, coal range, servery with sink, two pantries, many cupboards, laundry etc. There is also a detached garage, workshop, man’s room, and tool shed.”
The property was later subdivided, and the residence, much altered, became the parish house. The church was designed in 1958 and on 14 October 1959 the Sacred Congregation of Rites granted that it be dedicated to Blessed Martin de Porres.
The parish of Blessed Martin de Porres was constituted on 3 January 1960 and the Church blessed and opened four months later on 1 May 1960 by Bishop Kavanagh.
Though many Catholics of Lower Hutt had become used to assisting at Mass in halls and other places, the Church always strove to provide buildings worthy of the sacraments, emphasised Most Rev. J. P. Kavanagh, D.O., J.C.D., Bishop of Dunedin, speaking to parishioners and visitors at the blessing and official opening of Blessed Martin de Porres Church, centre of the new Avalon parish, on Sunday 1 May 1960.
The church was one the parishioners could be proud of, and those present who would be at the jubilee celebrations 50 years hence would be able to look back, Bishop Kavanagh hoped, on a record of growing strength and fruition.
Because of steady light rain, the official opening took place in the church itself instead of in the grounds.
Avalon parish was proud to have as its patron one who was an outstanding example for his works of charity, said Father Pettit, parish priest, who also expressed his thanks to his parishioners for their work and encouragement in the four months between the constitution of the parish, on 3 January, and the completion of its church.
The Mayor of Lower Hutt, Mr P. Dowse, congratulated the Catholic Church on “its great building efforts, even outstripping the City Council”. Noting that this was the tenth Catholic building with the opening of which he had been associated in his term of office, Mr Dowse paid a tribute to the “tremendous sacrifices involved” in such development. The church, a magnificent building representing a new conception in ecclesiastical architecture, was another anchor in society to keep people together on the proper road of life.
Mr J. H. Bray, chairman of the parish committee, said it was pleasing for parishioners to welcome on such an occasion Bishop Kavanagh, known to many of them earlier as a loved and revered curate of the parent parish of Ss Peter and Paul’s, and also to have as parish priest one whose qualities they also knew of old.
The development of a new parish and the building of another church, needed for a long time, meant the loss to Ss Peter and Paul’s of many very good parishioners, said Monsignor Fletcher, who paid tributes to Mr W. Keith Cook, the architect and associated with him Mr John McKeefry for the design of the church, to Mr David Daily for its construction and to Rev. Brother Gerard for his advice on interior decoration.
His presence as a guest was an honour to the Dominican Order, said Rev. Brother Martin, who praised the parishioners for the work they had done in preparing the church and its surroundings.
Avalon’s new church was the first in New Zealand to be dedicated to the saintly coloured Dominican lay brother, who was born at Lima, Peru, in 1579; his mother was a coloured woman from Panama and his father was Spanish.