BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN PORT MORESBY
The Vicariate Apostolic of Melanesia was established by Pope Gregory XVI on 16th July, 1844. The Vicariate was first entrusted to the Society of May (Marists) and then to the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions (P.I.M.E.). For a number of reasons both groups withdrew from Melanesia and from 1855 there was no mission activity in the area. It is most likely that any of these early missionaries visited the place now called Port Moresby.
In July 1885 three Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSC) visited Yule Island and on 4th July 1885 Father Henri Verjus MCS celebrated Mass for the first time in Papua. It was the beginning of a permanent Catholic presence. In 1887 Father Andre Navarre MSC was appointed Vicar Apostolic of Melanesia. He had his headquarters in Yule Island. In 1889 the Vicariate of Melanesia was split up. Bishop Navarre became Vicar Apostolic of British New Guinea (raised to the dignity of Archbishop) and Father Verjus was named Vicar Apostolic of New Britain responsible for all of the colonial German New Guinea). After a few months it was decided that Bishop Verjus would remain at Yule Island as assistant bishop to Archbishop Navarre. The Church began to grow, mainly into the Mekeo-Roro area and into the Goilala area. But the French Missionaries often did visit Port Moresby. The first baptism in Port Moresby was performed by Father Verjus shortly before he became a Bishop in September 1889. Bishop Verjus died in 1892 and in 1899 Archbishop Navarre got a new assistant, Bishop Alain de Boismenu.
The first resident priest in Port Moresby was Father Denis Elliot. He was ordained for the Vicariate by Archbishop de Boismenu in March 1914, and appointed Parish Priest in August 1914, he died of blackwater fever on 11 September 1914. After Father Elliott's death, several Australian and French priests worked in Port Moresby.
On 7th October, 1923, the Parish Church of Our Lady of the Rosary was dedicated by Archbishop de Boimenu, on site of the present Cathedral. A convent was built in 1925, adjacent to the church.
St. Michael's School Hanuabada was opened on 25 May 1926.
At Koki (in the area now called Badili), a convent and school for boarders was built. Bishop de Boismenu celebrated the first Mass in the Sister's chapel there on 29th January, 1928. At that time Koki was considered to be in the bush! The present church land at Bomana was bought in 1929 to provide food gardens for the Koki boarders.
In 1922 the name of the Vicarite was changed from "British New Guinea" to "Papua" and in 1946 changed, again, to "Port Moresby". But the headquarters of the Vicariate remained at Yule Island. By 1960 the Port Moresby area and the Daru area were considered important enough to be separated from Yule Island. Bishop Virgil Copas MSC was appointed to take charge of the new Vicarite and became the first bishop to reside in Port Moresby.
During the 1960's the city began to grow rapidly, due mainly to a large influx of migrants from all parts of PNG and from overseas, many of the newcomers being Catholic. Until then there were only 3 Mass centres in Port Moresby: Town, Koki and Hanuabada. After the arrival of Bishop Copas, St. Joseph's Hall in Boroko came to be used as a Mass Centre and a school. The Hohola Parish began in 1962, Boregaina in 1962, Six Mile in 1967, Cape Rodney in 1967, Erima, Waigani and Tokarara in the early 1970s, Gerehu in 1973, Sogeri in 1978, Kuriva in 1979, 9 Mile/Brown River in 1989.
Popondetta in Oro Province has a fair number of Catholics in the town itself and on some of the plantations in the local area. A parish to cater for these people was established in the 1960s.
On 15th November, 1966 the Hierarchy of Papua New Guinea was erected and Port Moresby was raised to the status of an Archdiocese, with Most Rev. Virgil Copas MSC as the first Archbishop. The country became independent on 15 September 1975 and in January 1976, Archbishop Copas resigned to allow the appointment of a Papua New Guinean as Archbishop. Most Rev. Herman To Paivu was appointed Archbishop and installed on Easter Sunday, 25 April 1976. Archbishop To Paivu died on 12 February 1981. In October 1981 Most Rev. Peter Kurongku was appointed, and he was installed as the Archbishop of Port Moresby on 7 November 1981.
It is estimated that there are about 70,000 Catholics in the Archdiocese. There are 17 parishes, 6 Chaplaincies, 16 community schools, 1 International Primary School, 3 Youth Development Centres, 1 Vocational School, 2 Provincial High Schools, 1 Pastoral Centre, 1 Technical School.