Built in an area of Dunedin known as the
"Vatican", the stately Brothers Boutique Hotel at 295 Rattray
St was once home to the Christian Brothers religious order. Kim
Dungey explores its history.
The Brothers Boutique Hotel. Photo by Craig Baxter.
More than 300 members of the Christian Brothers order lived
in Rattray St over 129 years, many in the grand residence
that is now a boutique hotel.
The first brothers arrived from Ireland in April 1876, to
teach at the neighbouring St Josephs Christian Brothers High
It is reported the four - Bros Bodkin, Dunne, Healy and
McMahon - "were met by Bishop Patrick Moran and a group of
Catholics and driven rapidly to Dunedin where, at 11am Mass,
they were introduced to the people".
The four lived in a wooden house which was replaced by the
larger, red brick building in the early 1920s.
Founded by Edmund Rice in Waterford, Ireland, in 1802, the
Christian Brothers Order opened schools in Melbourne and
Brisbane before setting out for Dunedin at the request of the
first bishop of the Dunedin diocese, Bishop Moran.
In Rattray St, they were well-placed to teach across the road
at the Christian Brothers High School, which in 1942 split
into St Pauls High School and Christian Brothers Junior
School, and was renamed Kavanagh College in 1988.
They were also surrounded by several other Catholic
buildings, including St Joseph's Cathedral, St Joseph's Hall
and the Bishop's residence, and they commuted to St Edmund's
Primary School in South Dunedin after it opened in 1949.
Br Graeme Donaldson, a former teacher and prison chaplain who
lived in the house for almost 20 years, says the main thing
he missed after moving out were the "million dollar views" of
the harbour and peninsula.
When the new millennium was celebrated with fireworks on the
harbour, the brothers in-vited fellow clergy from
neighbouring parishes to watch from the top balcony.
He also recalls that the order rented out an old house next
door, initially to "reputable" students, such as athlete Dick
Tayler, but "bikies" later "got in".
"I was community leader then.
"They used to make a dickens of a row and one night a rifle
shot went off."
After evicting the tenants, the brothers pulled down the
house and replaced it with a garage, glasshouse - and a
"We'd entertain the sisters, priests and brothers from around
Dunedin before Lent and before Christmas each year.
"They just loved being together and having a yarn . . . one
year we had 42 barbecues."
The brothers' day began at 6am with prayers and meditation,
Then, after morning Mass and breakfast, they went to their
teaching jobs, often also coaching sport after school.
"Evening prayers and tea were at 5.45pm.
"Then there was your own study time and evening recreation -
billiards, cards and snooker.
"Finally, there was prayers about 9pm."
At one time, they had to be in bed by 10pm and silent from
then until breakfast, but that changed in the early 1970s.
"The thing I liked about it was the fun and games, and the
camaraderie we had together as young male teachers.
"I didn't want to move."
But with fewer men entering the order, the huge residence
eventually became too big for its occupants.
At one time, the property housed up to 13 brothers but by
March 2005, when they moved to St Kilda, there were only four
Once a cloistered place in the middle of the city, the former
Christian Brothers residence is now visited by hundreds of
people from around the world.
Rod and Shelley McMeeken spent eight months converting the
former Christian Brothers residence into a boutique hotel,
opening its doors to guests in December 2005.
"Our brief was to restore it as much as possible to what it
was originally like, to keep the integrity of the building,"
Mr McMeeken says.
Although the bones of the building were good, it still needed
to be replumbed, rewired with 2.5km of fire-protected cabling
and strengthened to meet earthquake requirements.
There was virtually no heating - which was why the balcony on
the middle floor had been closed in - and there were no
While the couple lived off-site to avoid the mess, the 15
bedrooms were upgraded into guest rooms, each with its own
tiled bathroom, and central heating was installed, making it
practical to reopen the second-floor balcony.
Unfortunately, though, the top level had been dramatically
altered in the 1950s, with the loss of three dormer windows
in the roof-line.
Restoring that floor was not feasible but the effect was
softened with a new balustrade and awnings.
The McMeekens had moved to Dunedin for their children's
education and were looking for a project when they saw the
residence advertised for sale.
Mrs McMeeken admits she had never noticed the building
before, partly because of the greenery in front but also
because it is on a busy road that demands a driver's
Like their guests, she enjoys being within six minutes' walk
of Dunedin's main shopping centre and restaurants.
"One of the lovely things about living here is that we don't
use the car much," she says.
"Yet, perched above the road overlooking St Joseph's
Cathedral, the city and harbour, it is also "very peaceful".
The couple previously lived in Arrowtown, where Mr McMeeken,
an ex-pupil of Bayfield High School and a former Contiki
guide in Europe, had run a Milford Sound tour bus and a
market research company specialising in tourism.
He says Dunedin's heritage, climate, schools, university and
proximity to Central Otago, mean it has more going for it
than any other New Zealand centre, but the city is at a
"crossroads" and needs to capitalise on its competitive
Europeans, in particular, often book two nights at the hotel
but end up staying three because they find much more to do in
the city than they expected.
Christian Brothers and their former pupils also call in
occasionally to have a look around.
One of the bedrooms is their former chapel, still with its
original stained-glass windows.
Mrs McMeeken says they liked the building as soon as they saw
"It just had a lovely feeling from the minute we walked into
"Now we've got heaters, it's even better."