At the invitation of Archbishop McKeefry, Kopua Monastery was founded on June 9, 1954, on a property donated to the Church by Tom and Rosalie Prescott. The founding community of six monks came from the monastery of Mt. Melleray, Ireland. Other groups arrived from Ireland in 1955, 1958 and 1959.
The pioneers lived in the shearers’ quarters on the property and set about erecting a monastery, including using buildings that were dismantled and transported from the Polish refugee camp in Pahiatua in 1955, to provide accommodation for a larger community. Some of these buildings, intended to be temporary, still serve their purpose today.
In 1959 the General Chapter of the Order raised Kopua to the status of an abbey. Fr. Joseph Murphy was elected abbot on April 9th, 1960 and continued in office until 1986. During these years the Catholic Church was stirring, catching up with modernity, and the Decrees of the Second Vatican Council began to make an impact. Renewal was required of the community. Monks were offered the opportunity for higher studies in Rome, Latin gradually gave way to English in the Liturgy and the emphasis placed on fraternal life in community led to significant changes in lifestyle.
Tom Prescott died in 1967. Five years later Rosalie urged the community to initiate a Farm Cadet Institute so as to put into partial effect the hope they both shared for the establishment of an agricultural college. The Institute closed in 1980. Rosalie continued to live with her son, John, on the property until her death on July 17th, 2003, four days short of her 104th birthday.
The driveway leaving the abbey
Throughout its history the community supported itself, maintained its charitable commitments and subsidised the guesthouse with mixed farming: dairying, beef, sheep, pigs and potatoes. Other small-scale enterprises were: cropping, the grafting of root stock for orchardists, carrots for the Rabbit Board, strawberry plants and orchids.
Since its foundation the community had received generous assistance from many people. In the 1990s Paddy and Millie Bradford took up residence for seven years and managed and upgraded the dairy farm. Pine trees were planted.
The community elected Fr. Brian Keogh, a monk of Tarrawarra Abbey, Australia, as their abbot in 1998. Fr. Brian set up an Advisory Board of local laymen to assist with the restructuring of finances and the development of the farm now managed by lay workers. An architect was engaged to design a permanent monastery. Work on a new guesthouse, which was our most pressing need, got underway in 2007. The new Guesthouse was blessed and opened in June 2008. A second building, containing a laundry, boot room and living quarters for the Monks was completed in 2011.
1948 – In a letter dated March 16, Fr Guinane, parish priest, of Dannevirke informed Archbishop McKeefry that:
Mr. Tom Prescott of Kopua, Takapau Parish called recently. He is anxious to leave his farm, 500 acres freehold with some other acreage leasehold to the Church. He wonders whether an arrangement could be made whereby after his death, his wife’s interest could be sustained and in the event of her death his adopted son, John, could have a home.
1954 – Monks from Mount Melleray establish Our Lady of Southern Star.
1967 – Thomas George Prescott – patron of the monastery – dies at the age of 66.
2003 – Rosalie Terese Prescott – patron of the monastery – dies at the age of 103. John Prescott moves into the community.
2004 – The community celebrated the Golden Jubilee of its foundation.
Some flowers nearby the abbey church