1978 Parish History Ch. 7 – incl. Catholic ‘Queen’ of Corowa


The departure of Father O’Shaughnessy for Borowa brought to Corowa a priest who was to spend here a period of thirty-three years, almost one third of the twentieth century.

Fr HickeyReverend Patrick Hickey, an Irish writer of note, was born in the main town of Thurles, Tipperary, on September 25, 1857. He was educated at the National School in Thurles and at St Patrick’s Seminary Carlow, and ordained there on June 21 1885.

Bishop Phelan, who was stationed in Melbourne before being appointed Bishop of Sale, and who maintained a life-long friendship with father Hickey, was ordained at Carlow three years later than Corowa’s priest.

Father Hickey first thought of a San Francisco appointment, but changed his mind and arrived in Australia on the “Cuzeo” on October 17, 1885. For a short time, he was stationed at Balmain and then at Queanbeyan during 1886 and 1887.

He was President of St Patrick’s College, Goulburn. After a few years in Albury, and one at Gundagai, he came to Corowa in late January, 1895.

On Monday evening, February 24, 1896, within months of his arrival in the parish, a very interesting little ceremony was held in the presbytery when, to the surprise of Father Hickey, a dozen of his leading parishioners gathered for the purpose of testifying the esteem in which he was held by them. This they did in a most substantial manner by the presentation of a buggy, manufactured by Messrs S J Greer & Co, Sydney, at the cost of fifty-five guineas, a magnificent specimen of the builder’s art.

Mr J P Buggy was deputed to make the presentation and he did so in a well-worded speech, stating that he represented the Catholics of the whole parish in offering this token of respect and appreciation, the most pleasing feature being the ready response they had all made when appealed to for contributions.

He spoke of the harmonious manner in which Fr Hickey had worked in with them all and his immediate popularity throughout the district. Other speakers spoke of the good-will that already existed and the many fine qualities of their priest.

Father Hickey thanked the men and all the parishioners for the valuable gift of which he felt unworthy. He accepted it most gratefully and said that it was not through any expectations of reward that he had always done his best for the church and he would continue to do so.

From the outset, he endeared himself to everybody; he was often seen about the town and people were glad to meet him and talk to him. perhaps the thoughts of all were best expressed by one who was not a Catholic: “He was really a wonderful man, an Irish nature’s gentleman, humble, with an outstanding devotion to his religion and his church; very strict on his parishioners observing all the church rules regarding Mass and fasting. He loved children and went out of his way to talk to them.”

He preached very often holding his folded glasses, and he used them to emphasise and punctuate his homily with sweeps of the hand. He always preserved his Tipperary accent and had a habit of saying “That’s my conviction; that’s the truth.”

There was no pulpit in the church at the time and Father Hickey spoke from the altar steps.

Although he did not tolerate Catholic children going to the public school, he was rather lenient towards any family that taught religion at home. In 1908, he spoke of the number of children not enrolled at St Mary’s School. At the same time, with an air of satisfaction, he mentioned that there were thirty-seven non-Catholic children at the Catholic school.

The first third of the twentieth century were days when sodalities were strong; the men’s Sacred Heart Sodality and the Women’s Sacred Heart Sodality enrolled practically every adult in the parish, while the devotion of the Children of Mary to their rule was so great that it was most unusual for a member to be absent from one exercise during the year. These bodies were a gentle stimulus to the practice of a living faith and reminder of monthly obligations.

When the Men’s Sacred Heart Sodality was later on replaced by the Holy Name Society, and members wore badges, nothing at all was lost; indeed there could have been an increase in fervour. An annual Communion Breakfast, addressed by a competent guest speaker, helped to mould the men into a unified body and develop them as Catholics.

Missions were a regular part Catholic life and practice.  Father Hickey believed in them firmly, and regularly invited missionary priests to St Mary’s. The records show that missions were held in three successive years, 1899, 1900 and 1901, twice by Passionist Fathers, once by the Redemptorists.

The missioners were gifted and practised orators and the congregation listened for long periods to sermons that the modern Catholic knows very little about. Many of  them earned a reputation that extended into the secular world and their services were constantly sught.

Father Francis Clune was one such priest. He was a missioner who was in Corowa in 1922 after having been with the A.I.F. during the First World War. As late as the 1960s he was giving the sermon at the annual ANZAC Day Mass in St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney.


A very close relationship developed between Father Phelan of St Francis, Melbourne, and Fr Hickey, due no doubt to the fact that both were trained at the same college in Ireland.

Father Phelan found his way to Corowa at regular intervals. he was here in November, 1910, as Dean Phelan, Vicar-general of the Archdiocese of Melbourne, when he blessed the new Infants School and delivered an impressive sermon to an immense congregation. The building was blessed before the 9.00am Mass following a procession of the Children of Mary, Hibernians and school children from the church to the new infants’ school.

Father Hartigan, who was in Corowa inspecting the school, offered the 10.00am Mass; the Dean gave the sermon, in which he paid high tribute to the excellent work of the teaching Sisters and he hoped and trusted their efforts would be fully appreciated.

The Dean had a special word of praise for the work of the builder, Mr Mills.

On the same visit Dean Phelan blessed the foundation stone of the Balldale church which was to be completed within fifteen weeks, the contract price being 750 pounds.

The Dean and Fr Hickey were driven to Balldale after dinner when they successfully negotiated several bad patches in the road. There was an immense congregation to witness the blessing and to repair to the hall afterwards to attend Mass celebrated by Fr Hickey.

There were many sad hearts in Corowa when advice was received of the death of Bishop Phelan in Ireland on January 5, 1925. When he first arrived from Ireland he had been stationed in Goulburn before he transferred to Melbourne.


Fr Hickey visited the outstations – Lowesdale, Daysdale, Coreen, Ringwood, Balldale – in his buggy, usually with an altar boy from the town to serve his Mass. When making local calls it was Father’s custom to call at the school and ask if one of the boys could be excused; his task was to hold the horse while Father made the call. Mr Harold Squires recalled being one of those boys and holding the horse while news of a son’s death on active service was conveyed to a mother.

It was a very common practice for Fr Hickey to go to the convent school at recess time and get the children out into Deniliquin Road running for small coins. After Mass at the country centres children were treated in the same manner.


On other occasions his call at the school had an entirely different purpose; he wanted the assistance of a couple of boys to give his greyhounds a training run. Cyril Skehan and Mick Warton can recall the anticipation of Father’s request when he came to the classroom – the drive out of town, coupled with the much more interesting prospect of handling the greyhounds rather than of poring over school books.

Fr Hickey was well-known throughout Victoria and the Riverina for the success he had with breeding and racing. His first dogs were imported from Ireland and all had the prefix “Knock”, two being Knockmore and Knockagain. some of his better known and more successful dogs were Knocknagow, Lochmore, Killoran and Irish Freedom.

His parishioners were very much involved and he would have pups being raised at “Plentyana”, ‘Pine Grove” and other properties in the parish.

Although he had a very real and enthusiastic interest in greyhounds, it is said that his introduction to dog racing was accidental. He was threatened with a limited life expectancy, so it was said, from what in those days was called consumption (tuberculosis), and his doctor recommended plenty of walking. As walking with a greyhound meant compulsive and fairly brisk walking, this was suggested as both recreational and physically stimulating.

From being medically prescriptive, it became a sport in which he participated most enthusiastically. The irreverent went so far as to say that the length of the Sermon at Mass was determined by the demands of hound and hare. (The sermon in those days was delivered just before the last Gospel.)


At the turn of the century, Catholics throughout the world learned of the death of Pope Leo XIII in 1903; three more popes were to reign over the world of Catholicism during Father Hickey’s years at Corowa – Pius X (1903-1914), Benedict XV (19134-1922), who was Pope during the years of the First World War, and Pius XI (1922-1939).


Much closer to home, in 1918, the diocese of Wagga Wagga was formed from the original Diocese of Goulburn with the appointment of the Most Reverend Joseph Dwyer, DD, as its first Bishop on March 14, and his consecration in the Wagga Cathedral on October 13 in the same year.

The new bishop made his first official visit to Corowa in June of the following year when he administered the Sacrament of Confirmation and was entertained at a concert by the school children.

On the Friday evening the parishioners entertained the Bishop at a social evening, when an Illuminated Address was presented to him. This was read by Mr TJ Gorman who was supported by Messrs J Coughlan and P Ford. At the conclusion of the evening Mr JJ Knight moved a vote of thanks to the ladies, to which Mr P Ford replied on their behalf. A vote of thanks to the press was responded to by Mr G Leslie.

The Illuminated Address was signed by Patrick Hickey, PP, Pat Ford, John Coughlan, Thomas Coughlan, William Skehan, James A Regan, SJ Kelly, Francis T Leonard.


In October, 1920, the Bishop was sued by Miss Partridge the former Sister Liguori, who claimed 6,000 pounds for malicious arrest. When Archbishop was in Corowa the following year for the opening and blessing of the new church, he told the huge gathering that he cam in response to the invitation of the Bishop of Wagga “Who has very winning ways which followed him even into the law courts.”

Catholics in New South Wales presented the bishop with more than 9,000 pounds to meet the legal costs in the case.


Prior to the formation of the Diocese of Wagga Wagga in 1918, Corowa was part of the Diocese of Goulburn, later the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn, whose first Bishop was Most Rev William Lanigan, DD, who was consecrated on June 9, 1867.

[Most Rev Bonaventure Geoghegan, DD, was moved to Goulburn from Adelaide in 1864, but died in Ireland before taking possession of the See.]

It was Bishop Lanigan who created the Missionary District of Corowa in 1878. He died in 1900 and was succeeded by Most Rev John Gallagher, DD, who was still the Bishop when Dr Dwyer was appointed first Bishop of the new Diocese of Wagga Wagga.

Dr Gallagher preciously co-adjutor to Dr Lanigan, was in Corowa in 1898 when he administered the Sacrament of Confirmation at Daysdale, preached in St Mary’s and gave a public lecture: “Columbus and the Discovery of America”.

Once he was Bishop he continued his practice of visiting the parishes at least at three yearly intervals. He laid the foundation stone of the new Infants’ School in 1908 and blessed and opened the Balldale church in 1911.

Just three months prior to the arrival of Bishop Dwyer on his first official visit in 1919, Bishop Gallagher, who that year completed fifty years since his ordination (he was educated at Maynooth) was presented with an Address and a Testimonial at a happy social evening by the Corowa parishioners.

At that time money had to be borrowed from the bank for the building purposes and that money was made available on some parishioners signing personal guarantees at the bank to cover the money lent. Fr Hickey was not keen on building the new church and he delayed the project as long as he possibly could; he hated asking people for money and running the parish into debt.


He really had no need to worry; he had the support of men of substance who willingly and quickly came forward when guarantees had to be signed. John Nolan of “Lilydale” was always the first to sign the guarantee and it would be difficult to find his equal in generosity when finance was sought.

Mr TJ Gorman of “Plentyana” was another who was never slow to act. These men were supported by Mr Fred Knight of “Bolinda Glen”, Mr Leapord of “One Tree”, Tom Regan of Ringwood, William Skehan and William Keenan “Broadmeadows). Father Hickey never lacked support.

These men also played their part when work had to be done on committees. Here there was a wealth of talent and energy – Tim Kelly, Joseph Knight, Jack Leahy, the O’Brien Brothers of “Woodlawn”, Mr Conroy “Erigle”, Jack and Bill Conroy and, in later years, Me Leo Buggy and Reg Reid.

It might be said that Mr Tim Kelly was the driving force behind all church activities from the 1920s for many years. He handled the collection plates at practically all Masses; drove Fr Hickey to country Masses; acted as overseer in the building of the church and convent; constantly suggested to parishioners that they should give liberally; did all the carving at the Catholic Balls and church functions; dressed and cooked quite a lot of the poultry and hams.

Church finances did not depend solely on guarantees and donations. Annual or regular functions raised money for essential works; a bazaar during Show Week; a ball to aid the bazaar; a picnic and concert; St Patrick’s Day functions; Christmas fete and concert; St Patrick’s Race Meeting.

Here the ladies of the parish found opportunities to work well and efficiently, no one better than Mrs Leapord of “One Tree”. She had around her a competent band of workers who expended both time and energy to ensure success: Misses Emma Knight, Lil Burke, Lucy Whitty, Olive Knight, Cis Regan, Mrs Buras, Mrs J A Regan, Mrs Spencer and Mrs Hennessy. For the duration of the bazaar Mrs Leapord moved her residence from “One Tree” to the town just to be near the centre of things.

Father Hickey never seemed to lack capable parishioners who could take charge when work had to be done. Here is a list of office bearers (not exhaustive) of church bodies between 1895 and 1928.

AR Dixon, R Moras, JP Taylor, J Regan, T Byrne, P Walsh, J McDonald, Miss E Knight, F McLaren, GM Handasyde, H Squires, TJ Kelly, Frank Leonard, T Cummerford, TM Stackpool, W Hicks, Miss Lucy Whitty, Mrs MJ Dillon, Miss Mary Kingston, Miss C McDonald, SW Maliphant, JT Knight, J Freeman, J Phibbs, Miss Burke, JH Blake, JP Leahy, Mrs Leapord, Mrs M Barnard, Mrs M Connors, Mrs P Kelly, Miss Stella Loveridge.

Mr Nicholson was the founder of the legal firm Nicholson and Lethbridge; though not a Catholic, he, and later the partnership, did all the legal work for the parish free of charge for sixty years.


Father Hickey’s years at Corowa were marked by events of more than passing interest.

* Sister Angela (Miss Mary Gleeson), one of the original Sisters of 1887, died in December 1895.

* The parish celebrated the Golden Jubilee of the ordination of Bishop Lanigan in 1898, and the Silver Jubilee of the Sisters of Mercy in Corowa in 1912.

* Father Hickey was in demand as a lecturer in neighbouring towns, a popular subject being “Irish Wit and Humour”.

* The first World War delayed the building of the new church for many years.

* The influenza epidemic in 1919 led to the cancellation of all evening devotions.

* St Patrick’s Day was observed as a holiday in Corowa in 1901. There was a protest in the following year and the holiday was cancelled.

*The Governor came to Corowa in 1906 and visited St Mary’s School.

* A branch of the HACBS (Hibernians) was formed in 1900 when Corowa members transferred from the branch at Rutherglen. An annual ball became a feature of their activities.

* There was a record flood in the Murray in 1917.


[For full account from Corowa Free Press, click here.]

* Bishop Dwyer crowned the winning queen in a Queen competition organized in order to help clear the debt on the new church. The result was Mary Kingston, Queen of Erin, 14,148 votes; Mrs MJ Dillon Queen of sport, 10,402 votes; Lucy Whitty, Queen of St Mary’s 4,490 votes.


[Click on photos to enlarge; click again for close-up.]




Back L-R: Unkn. Unkn. Unkn. Julia Whitty (Kelly), Unkn Unkn Unkn Seated L-R: Mary Kearney (Hempenstall) Lucy Whitty (Regan) Pat Kearney (McDonald)

 Queen of St Mary’s – Lucy Whitty – with entourage

Church Fund-raiser November 1922.

[To help identify members of entourage – email: paulgomi@gmail.com]


* A branch of the Knights of the Southern Cross was formed in Corowa on May 4, 1926, when Dr Hurley was elected chairman and Mr J Freeman Secretary. When the latter moved to Melbourne, Mr J Phibbs became Secretary.

* A storm in 1926 made part of the convent unsafe and a new building became necessary.

* The Howlong bridge was officially opened in 1908 and it was named the Hume Bridge.

* Two books were presented to Father Hickey in 1904 in recognition of his work in teaching Latin to the pupils at the school. In 1912, he gave prizes to the children for the best essays on the silver Jubilee of the sisters.


Father Hickey has to his credit additions to the convent which were blessed by Fr Slattery in 1903; a new Infants’ School in 1908; a new church at Balldale in 1911-12; a new church in 1921; while preparations were in hand for a new convent in 1930.

Through it all, from being an intellectual and a School Inspector of earlier years, Fr Hickey became somewhat of an outdoor man. It could have been assumed that his book, Innisfail, Distant Days in Tipperary, printed in 1906, would have been the forefunner of many more; the recommended remedial treatment might have changed that.

The book was dedicated to the “Past, Present and Future Orphans of St John’s Orphanage, Newtown, near Albury”, and Fr Hickey was well established in Corowa when the book was published.


There were periods when his health gave cause for concern. For nine months in 1901-1902, Fr Callistus of Goulburn and Fr Patrick Fagan relieved him when a tumour had to be removed.

On a second occasion, in 1907, he was moved to St Margaret’s Hospital when his condition was very low and prayers were asked for his recovery. Bishop Gallagher hastened to the town and moved Fr Griffin from Ganmain to look after the parish. Although Fr Hickey said later that he did not think he would recover, the lump on his neck was reduced and he was able to return to his parishioners.


Finally, in June, 1928, Corowa’s beloved pastor was called to his eternal reward. On Friday the 8th of the month, he sustained a minor injury to one of his hands and blood poisoning supervened. Every effort was made to stem the spread of the poison and, as a last resort, an operation was performed on the Monday night. His condition grew gradually worse and he failed to recover, although he retained consciousness to the last and sent farewell messages to his friends.

Father Percy of Balldale was with him, administered the last rites of the Church and received his last messages to the Bishop and those dear to him.


Father’s death caused gloom over the town and district, he was seventy years of age when he died, forty-four of those spend in religion and almost all of them at Corowa.

Bishop Dwyer presided at the Requiem Mass attended by priests and nuns and people in his positions from the whole of the Diocese of Wagga and from neighbouring towns well into Victoria. Hundreds had to stand outside the church.

The whole town closed on the morning of the funeral as a mark of respect for the priest who occupied such a high place in the estimation of all. The funeral procession wended its way down Gray Street, around the Globe Hotel corner and up Sanger Street to the cemetery. As the head of the procession of cars passed the monument, cars were still leaving the church, necessitating a delay of some time at the graveside. Fr Hickey was remembered and talked about for many years to come.


The Month’s Mind for the revered parish priest took place in St Mary’s on July 11th. The bishop of Wagga presided and Fr Hartigan (“John O’Brien”) of Narrandera preached the panegyric.

He said that the late Fr Hickey belonged to that band of pioneer missionaries, the story of whose life fills the finest chapter of the short history of Australia; that chapter was written by the Irish secular (diocesan) clergy.

However, those days are past. Their work is done and their ranks are thinning year by year. Father Hickey was one of them, a true priest.

Though sometimes ill, he never shirked his duty and he gained a place of affection in the hearts of all who knew him.

His chief characteristic had been charity, a friend of the orphan and needy. The people of Corowa would miss that “bent old form” from their daily lives; he was a man whose memory would live forever.


Without a doubt the highlight of Fr Hickey’s years at Corowa was the blessing and the opening of the church he lived for, St Mary’s Star of the Sea, an occasion graced by the presence of the great Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr Daniel Mannix, DD.

As far back as 1914, preliminary sketches were prepared by the architect for a new church although, at that time, a much less ambitious building was contemplated. Owing to the war intervening, matters were let drop and, although the project was revived many times during the next five years, no definite move was made until late in 1919 when plans were again prepared and tenders called.

An important decision was made in June, 1919, that a sub-committee should visit Melbourne and inspect churches; the sub-committee consisted of Fr Hickey and Messrs TJ Kelly and W Hicks.

A meeting was held in May with Mr TJ Gorman in the chair. Six tenders had been received, but they were all considered too high. It was therefore decided that work should commence with day-labour for the brick work.

A sub-committee consisting of Messrs W Hicks, JT Knight and TJ Kelly was appointed to dismantle and dispose of the old church building. A further decision was made that the foundation stone would be laid on November 21, 1920, when the Bishop, Dr Dwyer, would be available.

A year later, in October, 1921, parishioners were informed that Archbishop Mannix would be present at the opening of their new church, that Bishops Dwyer and Gallagher would also be present, and that Father Slattery, diocesan Inspector of Schools, would deliver the inaugural sermon.

The opening and blessing of the new church in the presence of Archbishop Mannix, the highlight in the period of one hundred years, demand a new chapter.


Cor Eistedd 1921 - Shield award

[Click on image to enlarge. Click ‘back’ arrow to return.]

(Ch. 7 completed)