Posted by Br Gary Wison
on 28 September 2020
Who wants to restore a rugged island off the coast of New Zealand? Orla Walsh suggested making a difference, to celebrate the 300th death anniversary of her school's inspirational saint, John Baptist de La Salle. A Year 12 student of John Paul College, Rotorua in 2019, she was involved in the school's strong environmental and social justice committees.
A Catholic friend of Orla's family is the owner of Motukaraka Island on the Hokianga harbour. It is seven minutes from Totara Point, where the legendary Bishop Jean Baptiste Pompallier said the very first Catholic Mass on Kiwi soil. To plant trees for Jean Baptiste de La Salle seemed fitting. Who would have imagined that two French Jean Baptistes would have a special place in New Zealand.
The island itself in the far north of the country was purchased from the local Maoris by a Sydney sea captain in 1832. Now, having been neglected for forty years, the strong network of Lasallian schools got into action. De La Salle Mangere, Francis Douglas Memorial College New Plymouth, and John Paul College Rotorua each raised money, buying 300 trees from students giving $4 each. The Department of Conservation produced a planting plan to allow for 3000 trees over five years, which would see the return of native birds including Tui, Fantails and Bellbirds.
The owner of the island had worked with his local kiwi, and with friends and family, to clear the Island of predators. The Forestry Commission donated a beautiful piece of wood to sign "La Salle Grove". Despite a drought on the North Island and COVID-19, a tree-growing nursery had been sourced and when time, the local community and owner's family has seen the trees planted and grown, over the two years. They, as volunteers, were impressed with the schools' fundraising, and can call on them for extra resourcing.
This memorial sanctuary will live on.