1978 Parish History Ch. 4


Archbishop Polding had wanted Dean Hanley to be appointed Bishop of Goulburn, the Bishops of Brisbane, Bathurst and Maitland recommended Fr McAlroy. Had it been left to the priests of the district, Father McAlroy, who had played such an important part in the development of the parish, would have been appointed.


The diocese of Goulburn had been constituted in 1864 with Dr Geoghegan the first Bishop; he died two months later without taking his appointment. Now in 1867, a successor was to be appointed.


For a different account of the life of Bishop Lanigan, check the entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography

here: Aust. Dict. of Biography on Dr Lanigan

The Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith appointed Father William Lanigan, the priest at Berrima, to the vacant position. He had not be trained in Rome, He was born in Tipperary in 1820, was educated at Thurles and Maynooth and ordained there on April 8, 1848. For the next twelve years he was a priest in the Archdiocese of Cashel.

Archdeacon McEncroe persuaded him to come to New South Wales where he arrived in November, 1859. He was sent immediately to Goulburn where Father Michael McAlroy was parish priest, and in 1861 was appointed to take charge of Berrima.


Father McAlroy built on the foundation laid by Father Charles Lovat more than ten years earlier in the parish of Yass. He was a builder who erected a dozen churches in a very short period of time; but he not only built them, he paid for them.

Bishop Lanigan took over the parish of Goulburn from Father McAlroy and began his episcopate in June, 1867, with six priests to care for 16,000 nominal Catholics spread over most of southern New South Wales. A recruiting drive in Ireland increased that number to thirteen in 1871. But this increase did little more than keep up with the growth of the Catholic population, which reached 24,000 by 1880.

The bishop continued Fr McAlroy’s policy of building churches. local committees took charge of the construction of churches and presbyteries, generally under the chairmanship of the priest in charge, and with the sanction of the bishop.

Land for churches was granted to religious denominations without charge during Bishop Lanigan’s time at Goulburn; additional land was donated or purchased at auction.


In 1867 there was only one religious house in the diocese, the convent of the Sisters of Mercy at Goulburn with twelve professed nuns and two novices. A second house was established in Albury the same year.


Dr Lanigan welcomed a third group of Mercy Sisters to Yass in 1875, so that when Corowa was established as a missionary district there were in the diocese of Goulburn three Mercy convents (at Goulburn, Albury and yass) and the presentation nuns at Wagga.

At the same time there were 21, 000 Irish Catholics in the diocese with small numbers of English, Scottish, German, French and others.


The bishop had a very strict schedule as he travelled through his diocese; he was usually in clerical dress, gloved and silk-hatted. He inspected the church and everything in it, he noted the debt. He personally examined candidates for confirmation, not restricting himself in any way in order to do it thoroughly. If the children did not meet his requirements he passed them over. He would often give further lessons to those not satisfactory and then say Mass. He confirmed 15,664 children by 1892.


The bishop was in Corowa in June 1872, as he made a quiet tour of his diocese for the ostensible purpose of collecting money towards the erection of the cathedral in Goulburn. He was back in Albury in November that year for the opening of St Patrick’s Church along with the Bishop of Bathurst and priests from Goulburn, Wagga, Tumut, Boorowa and Melbourne.


The population of Corowa and the surrounding district was growing gradually, and soon it became apparent to the parish priest of Albury, Dr McAlroy, VG, that there was justification for the building of a church. The people supported him in this. It was but natural that Dr McAlroy would add churches at Corowa and Howlong to the his wonderful list of church buildings.

During 1874, the Catholics stimulated by their pastor, made a thorough canvas of the district and obtained sufficient contributions to justify the erection of the church. Indeed, the contributions were so satisfactory that there were hopes the church would be opened and blessed free of debt. The people employed Mr Squires to build it.


The building was completed early in 1875 and on Sunday, May 2, Very Reverend Dr McAlroy VG, carried out the formal ceremony of the opening and blessing of St Mary’s Star of the Sea in Corowa.

1st Ch & Presby

Photo of the 1875 Corowa church and presbytery. Priest & parishioner chatting. Bell tower at left.

The celebrant of the High Mass was Father Richard Butler, an assistant priest at Albury, who was assisted by Dr McAlroy. Father Patrick Bermingham preached the inaugural sermon. He spoke on the principles of faith and Christian charity; he stressed the importance of a religious education and said he admired the energy and liberality of the people of Corowa.


The church measured fifty-three feet by twenty-eight feet and was thirty-six feet high, and the cost was a little below 600 pounds. Eighty pounds was contributed at the Mass that morning and this, along with 50 pounds from a bazaar at Easter time, resulted in a credit balance of 10 pounds when all accounts were paid. This was handed over to the church committee.

The building and opening of our first church in 1875 brought to Corowa two priests whose names had become household words throughout southern New South Wales for the manner in which they built and financed churches. Father Michael McAlroy and Father Patrick Bermingham.


Aust. Dict. of Biog. on Fr Bermingham

Father Patrick Bermingham, who spoke so beautifully and convincingly when Corowa’s first church was opened, was a priest with singular gifts of oratory who was called upon to speak at the opening of churches in all parts of the diocese. He came from a well-to-do family in King’s County, Ireland and was born in 1828. After education at Carlow and Maynooth, he was ordained in 1852 and immediately appointed Professor of Humanities at Carlow and Dean of the Lay House.


Both Dr McAlroy and Fr Bermingham were influenced by Dr Goold to come from Ireland  to Melbourne and, in company with Fr Dunne, they arrived in that city in February, 1855 and were appointed to Geelong. They did not remain in Victoria very long: Fathers McAlroy and Bermingham reported to the Bishop in Sydney who appointed both of them to Yass. Father Dunne returned to Ireland where he remained till 1861 when he returned to Australia, this time to Queensland.


Yass was one of the first three country parishes to be established, the other two being Bathurst and Maitland.

The two priests traversed the large parish, following the tracks of Father Lovat who did so much to open up southern New South Wales, a territory referred to in Sydney as “the new country”.


Father McAlroy was particularly active in building churches for the bishop to bless, Father Bermingham preaching the sermons. They travelled long distances just as Father Lovat had done, well exemplified by their journeys on Christmas Day, when three Masses were permitted – the first at Gunning, the second at Yass, twenty-five miles distant, the third at Binalong, a trip of a further twenty-two miles.

Within a year, the Bishop was called from Sydney to lay foundation stones at Jugiong, Gundagai, Tumut and Albury. Father McAlroy laid similar foundation stones at Wagga, Binalong and Gunning, all opened practically free of debt.


When Father Bermingham went overseas in 1861, Father McAlroy was moved to Goulburn to build a convent for the Sisters. Thirteen years were to pass before Father Bermingham was to return to Australia.


In the meantime, Father McAlroy was moved to Albury in 1868 as parish priest, to permit the newly-appointed Bishop, William Lanigan, to move to Goulburn. He was appointed Vicar-General of the diocese and granted the title of Doctor of Divinity.

The Albury parish was established in 1856 with Father John Maher its first priest. The parish territory extended west past Deniliquin, north to Wagga and east to the high country.


From this date, Catholics in Corowa received regular visits from the parish priest of Albury, especially when Father Con Twomey replaced Father Maher in 1857. He was a big man, referred to as the Apostle of the Murray, a man who learned German in four months so that he could preach to the Germans of Albury in their own tongue. “He was one of the most exemplary priests ever to come to Australia”, is the verdict of Father Hartigan.


When assistant priests were added to Albury to help Dr McAlroy cover his big parish, visits to Corowa became more frequent still. The Albury Registers tell of Fathers Bermingham, Joseph Dowling, Richard Butler and Richard Kiely riding through the territory west from Albury baptising, marrying and consoling the dying on their frequent visits to say Mass at Corowa and in such centres as Howlong, Mulwala, Quat Quatta and Collendina.


In December 1882, Bishop Lanigan appointed Fr Patrick Bermingham to Corowa. Unfortunately, he suffered from asthma and from chest troubles, as did his great friend, Dr McAlroy. He decided to return to Ireland which he reached after short periods in Rome and France.

Later, Fr Bermingham journeyed to England to visit his old friend, Rev Joseph Geary of Halifax, and it was while he was in England that his illness proved fatal; he died peacefully in London on September 9th, 1883, and was buried near the spot where rests the remains of the illustrious Cardinal Wiseman.


His Lordship, Dr Lanigan, celebrated Mass in the new church in Corowa on November 14, 1875. He arrived on the Saturday from Deniliquin accompanied by Fathers Bermingham, Butler and O’Dwyer as part of his regular visitation of his diocese. Shortly after their arrival, the party, escorted by a number of influential residents, proceeded to the newly-erected church and made a thorough inspection.

His Lordship expressed himself as both surprised and gratified at the attractive external appearance and the ample accommodation afforded worshippers within.

On Sunday morning, Mass was celebrated by Father O’Dwyer, assisted by Fathers Butler and Bermingham. The church was crowded with visitors from all the adjacent parts of the country.


At the conclusion of Mass the Bishop preached a most eloquent sermon, but, before commencing his subject, he complimented the committee of management on the efficient manner in which they had superintended the erection of the church and trusted that a favourable commencement would have an equally favourable termination.

The Bishop then drew the attention of the congregation to the solemnity of the Sacrament of Confirmation which he was about to administer and exhorted all who were to participate in it to be fully prepared to receive the Sacrament.


On Tuesday November 16, 1875, the Bishop consecrated the Catholic portion of the cemetery at Corowa, witnessed by a large number of the Catholic residents of the town.

[The text is here refers to the Catholic section in the what is known as the Pioneer Cemetery on Federation Avenue. However,  when the Catholic plots were filled up, the Church needed to buy land for a new cemetery in Cemetery Road; it is known as the “Catholic Monumental Cemetery” and is beside the Council Lawn cemetery.]


From Sunday until Wednesday, instruction was given to a number of persons who were to be confirmed and they were examined as to their fitness (i.e. appropriate understanding of the Faith). About 80 people presented themselves for Confirmation on the Wednesday before a very large congregation.

Dr Lanigan, together with Fathers Bermingham, Butler and O’Dwyer left for Albury at midday, after having expressed themselves as delighted with the state of the religious and social progress throughout the district.


During the next two years, Mass was celebrated monthly by priests from Albury in Corowa’s new church as well as at Howlong, Mulwala, Goombargana, Daysdale, Lowesdale and Quat Quatta during the week.

In the latter part of 1876, Dr McAlroy encouraged the people of Howlong to do what had been done in Corowa, build themselves a church.

Their first efforts were rewarded, because on Sunday, August 5, 1877, about two hundred people, including visitors from all parts of the district, were present when Dr McAlroy, VG, parish priest of Albury, blessed and opened St Brigid’s church, Howlong. Dr McAlroy was accompanied by Father Richard Kiely (Albury) and Fr W Kelly St (Melbourne) who preached the inaugural sermon.

At the conclusion of the sermon, Dr McAlroy said that the church and furnishings cost 560 pounds. He exhorted those present  to help reduce the debt still outstanding and of 100 pounds was contributed that day.

Dr McAlroy congratulated the people of Howlong, a small place, for the exertion expended in collecting so much money. This would not have been possible without the support of members of other denominations and he thanked them for the liberality and unsectarianism displayed.

Fr W Kelly, SJ, delivered a lecture in the Mechanics Institute, Corowa, during the following week, his subject being “Constantinople”.

Dr McAlroy’s big building programme was coming to an end with the building of the church at Howlong. His last work was the building of the Convent chapel in Albury which was blessed in October, 1879.

Failing health due to bronchial trouble was the cause of his death on July 14, 1880. He was followed in Albury by Fr John Dunne who remained there until his appointment as the first Bishop of the newly-formed diocese of Wilcannia-Forbes in 1887.

Fr Hartigan, in The Men of ’38 pays a well earned tribute to Dr McAlroy, a priest who did so much and who is so little known. He lies buried behind the High Altar of the church in Albury where there is a tablet in elegant Latin composed by Fr William Kelly, SJ, who was with him in Howlong in 1877.

Fr Hartigan lists the churches and convents built by him and concludes with “There are hundreds going to Mass in churches he left behind him and scarcely one has heard of him”.

Corowa Catholics will not forget the priest who built their first church in 1875, and was still their parish priest when Bishop Lanigan decided to form the missionary district of Corowa in 1878.

ADB on Fr McAlroy

St Patrick’s Albury website – on Fr McAlroy

Bp Lanig Diary re Corowa 1

Bp Lanig Diary re Corowa 2

Extract fr Bishop Lanigan’s 1878 Diary on Corowa & District

[The extract is easier to read when enlarged – click on the image.

The right side of the text has unfortunately been cropped. Nevertheless, the author A.T. Roddy recorded the full content in paragraph four of Chapter 5.]

(End Chapter 4)