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Dunedin comprises the provincial district of Otago (including the Otago part, Southland, and Stewart Island, as well as other adjacent islands). The diocese contains the most picturesque lake and fiord scenery in New Zealand. Its area is about 24,000 sq. miles, of which some 4000 sq. miles are gold-fields, and 2340 forest. This part of New Zealand was visited (perhaps discovered) by Captain Cook in 1770. Beyond a few traders, there was, however, no white population in the Otago provincial district till 1840, when some families settled on land at Waikouaiti. In 1848 the district was first colonized systematically and on a considerable scale by the Otago Association, under the auspices of the Free Church of Scotland. It was desired to retain the province as a Free Kirk reserve, and the immigration of Catholics was at first resented. The last barriers of religious exclusiveness were, however, swept away by the rush of population that flowed into the province from all parts of Australasia when, in 1861, rich gold was discovered at Gabriel's Gully and elsewhere. The new conditions thus brought about led to a rapid development of the mineral, pastoral, agricultural, and forest resources of Otago. All New Zealand formed part of the Vicariate Apostolic of Western Oceania, which was erected in 1835. The first vicar, Dr. Pompallier, arrived in the country, with the pioneer (Marist) missionaries, in 1838. All New Zealand remained within his spiritual charge till 1848.

From 1848 till 1869 the territory now comprised in the Diocese of Dunedin was included in the episcopal See of Wellington. In the latter year the Diocese of Dunedin was established. Its first bishop was the Right Rev. Patrick Moran, translated thither from the Cape of Good Hope, 3 December, 1869; died 22 May, 1895. He was succeeded by the Right Rev. Michael Verdon, consecrated 3 May, 1896. In 1840 Dr. Pompallier, with Fathers Comte and Pezant, visited and instructed the native villagers and a few white Catholic whalers at Otakou and Moeraki. Up to 1859, however, there was no Catholic church or school or resident priest in the whole southern province, and only about ninety scattered Catholics, who were periodically visited, on foot, by the saintly Marist, Father Petitjean. Early in the gold-rush of the sixties, another devoted Marist missionary, Father Moreau, was appointed resident priest in Dunedin, with charge of the whole province. He built, at Dunedin, the first Catholic church and presbytery in that part of New Zealand. Soon after the arrival of Bishop Moran, ìn 1871, Father Moreau and a few of his fellow-religious who had been for some time labouring in Otago, were recalled to the Diocese of Wellington .

The Dominican nuns and the secular clergy were introduced by the new bishop in 1871, the Christian Brothers in 1874. The "New Zealand Tablet" was established in 1873, and strenuous work was done in extending the facilities for religion and education, a sum of over £80,000 (about $388,000) having been expended for these causes during the first fifteen years of the episcopate of Bishop Moran. When the secular system of public instruction was established by law in 1876, he became, and remained to the close of his life, an eloquent champion of the rights of the Catholic schools to a share in the moneys devoted by the State to the education of youth. The extension of the external organization of religion has more than kept pace with the increase of Catholic population, and Dunedin is one of the best equipped of the smaller dioceses of Australasia. The first Sisters of Mercy were introduced in 1890, the second and larger division in 1897, the Marist Brothers in 1897, the Sisters of St. Joseph in 1897-8, and the Little Sisters of the Poor in 1904. A provincial ecclesiastical seminary for all New Zealand was opened at Mosgiel (near Dunedin) in 1900, and has been greatly enlarged in later years.

At the beginning of 1908 there were in the diocese 20 parochial districts, 65 churches, 32 secular priests, 8 brothers, 160 nuns, 1 ecclesiastical seminary, 4 boarding schools for girls, 6 superior day schools, 20 primary schools, 1 orphanage, 1 home for aged poor, and at the census of 1906 there were 22,685 Catholics in a total white population of 180,974.

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