Father John McKenna
In 1877 Parliament passed the New Zealand Education Act which decreed that education should be free, secular and compulsory. Six years later in 1883 Father Halbwacks turned the largest room in the presbytery into a classroom. Catholic education had begun in the Wairarapa. Father McKenna was appointed parish priest of Masterton in January 1887. He had a school but no nuns.
In 1883, on his way to New Zealand, as a young Irish priest, he travelled out on the same ship, the "Chimborazo" as six Brigidine Sisters bound for Sydney. He had promised to keep in touch. In 1897 he was in a position to request a Brigidine foundation for his parish. Letters went back and forth to Australia and Ireland. Finally permission was given. He had taken the unprecedented step of asking that Mother Gertrude Banahan be the leader of the Foundation. This request had also been sanctioned by Bishop, Dr. Byrne.
In the months that followed, Father McKenna purchased the site of the old Royal Hotel and building for the purpose of erecting the convent. Fund-raising for the new convent began in earnest. Donations, concerts and the greatest social event of the year "The Convent Ball", took place on 5 October 1898, in the new Convent buildings.
Father McKenna had heard that the nuns were to arrive in December, he asked for the very best Sisters to be sent. They were to be capable of conducting a first-class high school. Mother Gertrude was also to bring good teachers for the primary school that was, at present, in good working order under lay teachers.
Monsignor McKenna’s health began to fail in early 1930. The nuns, with special permission, visited him frequently during his illness. On the evening of Palm Sunday 13 April 1930, their father, friend and councillor for forty seven years, had left them. He stood beside them in sorrow and in death, in sickness and joy. "As long as I have a shirt on my back I will see that you never want." And we have never wanted, thanks be to God.