Photo: St Columbans Mission Society
Paul Prendergast, better known as Prendy, was born in 1935 in the town of Akaroa on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand. He was the youngest of six children. It was there that he enjoyed a very carefree upbringing, including primary and secondary education.
After four years working in a bank in his home town, Paul went to St. Kevin’s College for two years study of Latin, by way of preparation for going to the seminary. He also managed to fit in a lot of cricket, rugby and tennis. In 1958 he went to Sydney and entered the Columban Missionaries initial formation program at Wahroonga. Within a couple of years the program moved into the newly constructed seminary in North Turramurra. In 1963 he was ordained a missionary priest in Christchurch Cathedral. The following year he returned to Sydney for two more years of study at the diocesan seminary at Manly.
In 1966 Paul arrived in Peru and studied Spanish in Cieneguilla. Later that year he was assigned to the parish of San Mateo on the northern side of the city of Lima. Here he ministered and missioned for 18 years especially in the chapel of “La Virgen del Carmen”. During that time, he made frequent visits to villages in the Andes at the request of his parishioners. There he came to appreciate both the culture and the needs of the largely abandoned communities, indeed parishes, of the Sierra.
In 1984 he offered himself full time to the Prelature of Sicuani and to their bishop, Albano Quinn. His first appointment was to the parish of St. Tomas, in the south western corner of the Prelature. Next stop was to Checacupe and Pitumarca, followed by Tinta where he also formed part of the Prelature seminary team. Finally, to Yanaoca at 4,000 meters, which is the provincial capital and serves what used to be three other parishes, all now part of the Yanaoca Pastoral Area. There were many small settlements and Paul helped the communities there rebuild their chapels, the people putting in the labour and the costs of the mud brick walls, whilst Paul found the funding for the tin roofs. He trained a large number of catechists from the communities and a number of teachers helped Paul develop a pastoral plan that included lay lead liturgies when it was not possible for the priest to be there.
During his time in the Sierra, Paul put much of his time into promoting and defending the local language, Quechua. He celebrated Masses in Quechua rather than Spanish. He published song and hymn books and translated books of the Old Testament.
His final visit home to New Zealand was in 2019. He returned to Yanaoca but had to come down to Lima after a few months for health reasons. He never returned and died in the Columban Centre House on the 23rd August, the day after his 85th birthday. Paul’s wish, and that of the people of Yanaoca, is that he be laid to rest among them and to the sound of his beloved Quechua.
Watch Celebration of the Holy Mass for the eternal rest of Father Paul
Watch memorial Mass celebrated in the Centre House in Sol de Oro