1978 Parish History Ch. 2

Illustration: Copper etching of St Augustine’s Yass, NSW


 Fr Charles Lovat – Indomitable Missionary to the South

Bishop Polding must have been inspired when he decided in 1839 to appoint Fr Lovat to Yass.


Fr Lovat had been brought to Australia by the Most Rev W B Ullathorne in 1837. He was an Englishman, born in 1799, who had been ordained a Jesuit in Rome in 1824, and was one of the few Englishmen to respond to the invitation to do missionary work in far off Australia.


He had spent several years as professor of Mathematics and Moral Theology in the Jesuit college at Stonyhurst. he was an admirable choice for the seminary which Bishop Polding proposed to open and, on his arrival, he was appointed President of the college. His qualities as a preacher and a confessor were quickly recognised and he was active in the community when the college was on vacation.

This situation did not continue for long. Dr Ullathorne, in charge of Parramatta, insisted on coming to Sydney and he was made President of the seminary. The two young priests at Yass were moved, Fr Brennan to Parramatta and Fr Fitzpatrick to Penrith and Fr Lovat, the professor, took the place of both of them at Yass in 1840.


[Click on this Additional note  for the link to ‘Southern Tablelands History Matters’, which gives a further interesting insight.]

The parish of Yass extended from Camden to the Murray River and covered the present dioceses of Goulburn and Wagga, and part of the dioceses of Wollongong and Wilcannia-Forbes.

The burden placed on the shoulders of the deposed president of the college was a heavy one, but he did not flinch from it. The burden was lightened somewhat by the appointment of a second priest, young Fr Michael McGrath, to assist him.


Fr Lovat decided that Fr McGrath would work mainly in the Goulburn district, while he would attend to the Yass area and the extensive territory south. No minister of religion had preceded him into the vast southern part of his parish.

This man of letters, who previously had led a comparatively sheltered life, did not hesitate to obey the wishes of his superior and he left Sydney on horseback in November, 1839, for his new assignment.


The year was the mid-point of perhaps the worst drought in Australia’s history, a drought that ravaged the country from 1836 to 1843.

That ride of 127 miles (204 km) to Goulburn would have tested the endurance of a much more athletic man; it must have been doubly severe on a man who previously had no acquaintance with horses!

At the same time, he was inspired by a sense of duty and a spirit of dedication. On a later occasion he baptised an infant in Albury and two days later another child in Yass, 190 miles (305 km) away!

Within Two days of his arrival in Goulburn he was on the road again and within the first three weeks he travelled 500 miles (805 km) to ten different centres.


He soon had a clear picture of what his programme would be. For the first year he would follow the tracks pioneered by Fr Michael Brennan and make the acquaintance of his parishioners. Then he would travel new paths, first in the direction of the high country to the south and south-east, then across the Riverina on comparatively level ground to the Murray River.

The early settlers, whose flocks and herds were oppressed by the drought and heat, had already learned of the value of what is now termed “summer leases” in the high altitudes. These elevated lands were also part of the Yass parish and lonely souls must be visited. The priest had not the benefit of made roads; his journey was mainly through bush, at times guided, at other times alone, always from hut to hut to make the acquaintance of all he could meet. And he was ever welcome.


In four months of a scorching parched summer in 1840 he rode 1,800 miles (2897km) – a rate of over 5,000 miles (8,047km) a year. The following year, on completion of his journey to the high country, he picked up Hume’s track south and travelled as far as the Murray River.


Between the Murrumbidgee and Murray Rivers there were about 150 stations. The territory was really out of bounds to the settlers, but that did not prevent them from taking up land; they were indeed squatters because they squatted without a title.

Some of the people were Catholics or they had been and up to the present no priest had visited them. It was Fr Lovat’s responsibility to seek them out and bring them comfort. As he travelled from station to station he often had two horses, a hack and another with his pack and Mass kit.


He baptized children, married couples, instructed those who had never heard of God, brought back those who had known Him but had forgotten. He celebrated Mass where a few people could be gathered together, most often in the open air but also in the court house, an inn, a public house, a bark room.


Hume’s track ultimately brought him to the Murray River at Albury where he saw Brown’s shanty and a further six or seven tents. Mass that day was attended by half a dozen settlers; a year later there were sixty present. Albury was a burial place for the indigenous peoples of the area.

The following year, Fr Charles Lovat SJ, continued his journey across the river and south as far as Wangaratta where he said the first Mass in north-eastern Victoria.

On his way back to Yass he travelled through Rutherglen, Corowa, Howlong (Oolong), to Albury. Father Lovat has to his credit many “firsts”, but the one that appeals to the people of Corowa is the fact that it was he who first introduced the Mass into this district. That alone will ensure him a special place in the prayers of the people.


The endless miles of travelling continued for a period of almost ten years until his health was undermined by incessant hardships, exposure to weather, inadequate meals, impossible beds.

In July, 1849, he was replaced by Fr Patrick Magennis and was transferred to Liverpool, an easier parish.


In 1858, it became apparent that Fr Lovat could carry on no longer. The people of Liverpool – Catholic and non-Catholic alike – paid a sincere tribute to him in a beautifully worded address accompanied by a gift of 120 pounds.

     “The endearing relations which have for a period of nine years existed between you and us; the peculiarly amiable regard; the gentle and truly loving character of your ministrations and above all the living example of your personal virtue have so completely bound you to and identified you with us, that we cannot look upon your departure as otherwise than a public loss and a personal bereavement.”

The address was signed by O Meehan, G Meehan, Michael Conlon, John Conlon, K Robertson, Justice of the Peace. Three months later Fr Lovat died in St Vincent’s Hospital, a gentle, holy priest.


The bell in St Augustine’s church, Yass, bears this inscription: “In memory of the Rev Charles Lovat who departed from this life on June 20, 1858.” It is known as Father Lovat’s Bell.

St Augustine's Yass - new church with Fr Lovat bell in tower

St Augustine’s Yass – new church with Fr Lovat bell in tower

Twelve years after he had left Yass, Dr Morgan O’Connor wrote of him: “The name of this holy priest is still remembered and revered in the hearts of the people, and is ever associated by them with all that is saintly and good.”

Fr Lovat considered his first duty was to burnish the presbytery, which was the only place where the Holy Sacrifice was offered for many years. It was the Dean who was successful in securing the present valuable church ground and cemetery, both of which he had fenced. Later, he had erected St Augustine’s and subsequently the church school room. The names of Hamilton Hume and A B Paterson figure among the subscribers.

The Catholics of Corowa, who owe him such a debt of gratitude, can join Fr Hartigan (former pupil of St Augustine’s Yass) in his description of this dedicated priest – “the gentle Fr Lovat, the scholarly Fr Lovat, the saintly Fr Lovat.”

History of Yass Parish – with further links

(End of Chapter 2)