Toast to priest at burial in favourite garden

Long-serving Catholic priest Father Brian Fenton knew what he wanted in life, and in death it was no different.

Having spent nearly 15 years trying to win the right to be buried in the grounds of his Wanaka home, 86-year-old Fr Brian's wishes for his final resting place were fulfilled yesterday following his death last weekend.

Fr Brian's niece, Mary-Jane Fenton, of Invercargill, said correspondence dating back to 1985 related to her uncle seeking approval for burial on his land.

The places people can be buried are almost always limited by law to official cemeteries or traditional burial grounds.

However, the Burial and Cremation Act 1964 provides criteria for applications for burial in a special place, including evidence of exceptional circumstances, supporting referees, iwi consultation and site assessments.

With a Queen Elizabeth II open space covenant protecting the tree arboretum at Fr Brian's home, permission was finally granted by the Associate Minister of Health in 1999 for his burial there.

Fr Brian spent the last months of his life at Dunedin's Little Sisters of the Poor Sacred Heart Home. But following his Requiem Mass at Wanaka's Holy Family Church yesterday, he was returned, just as requested, to his hilltop property ''Arorangi'', to which he had semi-retired in 1999.

His interment was at a spot he selected just metres away from the house overlooking the property's arboretum and next to the graves of his Irish setter dogs Jason and Flame and final companion fox terrier Artemis.

Fr Brian's detailed instructions for his funeral even extended to the number of shovels to be provided for his friends, family and the large group of Dunedin Catholic Diocese and visiting clergy to fill in his grave.

He arranged for his coffin to be made years ago out of a tree on his property by parishioner Mike Cotter, and requested ''sufficient whisky (single malt) be supplied to those at the graveside, to drink a prayerful toast to my journey into eternal life''.

Just as Fr Brian had firm ideas on how things should happen after his death, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Dunedin, the Most Rev Colin Campbell, remembered him as having strong views on all range of matters throughout his life, too.

''Whether there were local issues or worldwide ones you could always count on Brian to have an opinion or his say about it.''

His outspoken defence of Wanaka's Pembroke Park regarding a proposal to turn part of the reserve into car parking was one of many examples of him standing up for what he believed in.

Fr Brian's nieces said their uncle would have been delighted with his farewell.

''He had a lot of ideas about what his funeral would be like and he thought about it and certainly let those closest and dearest to him know his wishes ... he'd be loving it,'' Sydney-based Sarah Fenton said.

The Arorangi Arboretum Trust would ensure the property continued to be enjoyed by Fr Brian's family, friends, clergy and parish, Mary-Jane Fenton said.

Fr Brian's family approved the Otago Daily Times recording the burial.

An obituary will follow.

lucy.ibbotson@odt.co.nz