Featured Image (above): St Joseph’s Catholic Church Jerilderie July 2014
CHAPTER 6 EARLY PASTORS AND A BRUSH WITH BUSHRANGERS
The Missionary District of Corowa, which covered such a large area, was in the care of two priests during the early years; Father Michael Slattery was assisted by Father Richard Kiely. During the period of almost five years, up to October, 1882, there were two parish priests, Fathers Slattery and Dunne, and three curates.
Corowa’s early parish priests were:
1878 Father Michael Slattery came from Crookwell and was moved to Temora in 1881.
1881 Father Patrick Dunne came from Gundagai and was transferred to Wagga in 1882.
1882 Father William Bermingham came from Wagga in December, and was appointed to Burrowa in March, 1885.
1885 Father John Curley arrived from Temora in April, and was transferred to Cootamundra in February, 1889.
1889 Father Walsh came in a temporary capacity from Young pending a permanent appointment.
1889 Father Timothy O’Shaughnessy from Goulburn arrived in April, and was transferred to Burrowa in January, 1895.
1892 Father J.J. Fogarty and Father J. O’Hanlon deputised for Father O’Shaughnessy when we was on a year’s holiday in Ireland.
The Early Years
It must be remembered that Corowa Missionary District was a very large one and the appointment of a second priest would have been fully justified.
During the earliest years, Mass was celebrated at the following centres; Mulwala, Urana, Jerilderie, Tocumwal, Finley and Berrigan as well as at Corowa.
By the time Father Curley had arrived in 1885, the following Mass centres had been added to the list: Clear Hills, Widgiewa, Savernake, Goombargana, Lowesdale, Unangeline, Mahonga, Colombo Plains, Long Plain, Bulgandra, Warmatta, Victoria Park, Daysdale, Myall Plain, Bull Plain, Quat Quatta, Nangunia and Collendina.
THE KELLY GANG ENCOUNTER
Let us look first at the three assistant priests who rode the lonely tracks to bring Catholicism to the settlers so long ago. Father Richard Kiely came in indirect contact with the Kelly Gang within a year of his taking up his new duties. There is a clear account of it in Monsignor Hartigan’s (alias John O’Brien) book The Men of ’38. Hartigan’s account is as follows:
A Meeting with Bushrangers
Corowa’s first curate had an experience that few priests have had, but father Kiely lived at a time when such encounters were more than a possibility.
When the Kelly Gang dashed across the Victorian border and stuck up Jerilderie in 1879, they arrived on a Saturday, February 9, and the next day was Mass Sunday. As a preliminary to the big business to be transacted on the following Monday, they made things safe for themselves by locking up the two local police, Sergeant Devine and Constable Richards, in the cells, imprisoning the household in the residence, donning uniforms, and allaying suspicion by posing as special officers sent up on investigations connected with the bushrangers.
Mass was said in Jerilderie in those days in the Court House – St Joseph’s church, the foundation stone of which had been laid on October 13, 1878, was unfinished.
Mrs Devine, the Police Sergeant’s wife, used to prepare the altar, etc., and among her many protests against being locked up in her own house, she complained that there was no one else to make the preparations for the coming of the priest. “What priest is coming?” asked Ned Kelly, and on being told it would be Father Kiely, he sent his brother Dan along to help with the pious work and, of course, to escort the good woman back safely.
The bushranger worked with a will: he swept the room, arranged the forms (seats), and pushed into place the contraption that served as an altar, but Mrs Devine was forced to leave a note untruthfully informing Father Kiely that the family would be out of town on the Sunday, and would he be good enough to go to the Royal Hotel for his breakfast.
The blinds on the windows of the police station were kept down during the Sabbath. The doors were locked, giving the place a deserted appearance. Meanwhile the congregation attended Mass not fifty yards away and stood around after Mass, yarning about the new police who were sent up on a wild-goose chase after the Kellys who, they were certain, were no longer in the district.
On the following morning the strange police took possession of the Royal and made prisoners of everyone who happened in for the Monday morning reviver. Others likely to be dangerous were gathered in and guarded, and then the business was transacted at the bank. 2,400 pounds were taken, also a thoroughbred mare from the stables of the hotel.
Joe Byrne was sent ahead with the booty, while the rest of the gang galloped up and down the main street shooting the insulators from the telegraph poles with their revolvers. They thereby interrupted the service and treated the natives to a most nerve-racking display of fireworks. Then the Kellys left town for the hills.
The point in the enquiry made by Ned Kelly as to what priest was coming on that Sunday was this: Jerilderie was attended from Corowa, which had been made a separate mission only the year before, and the priest in charge, to whom Father Kiely was assistant, was Father Michael Slattery who was known far and wide as the greatest talker of his time.
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Dan Kelly explained to Mrs Devine while cleaning out the Court House that had it been Father Slattery who was coming on that Sunday he would have to be put in with the rest for his own protection and everybody’s well-being. Despite the verbosity, Father Michael Slattery left behind him a fine record of work done in the seventies, eighties and nineties. He was called upon no less than four times to organize newly-formed parishes: Crookwell, 1876, Corowa 1878, Temora 1881, and Narrandera 1884.
Later, as parish priest of Wagga Wagga, he was Vicar-General of the Diocese of Goulburn. He and Dr Gallagher were the first to volunteer for the new diocese when Dr Lanigan was appointed to it and, in fact, had been ordained by him at Maynooth on November 1, 1869.
Father Dick (Richard) Kiely, though his discreetness appeared to the Kellys, came in for his share of bother through indiscretion. He was a noted mimic and, like many another so gifted among the clergy, debased his talents by what is known as ‘taking off’ the Bishop – which indeed, if well done, is a turn with a high entertainment value, and is always sure of a good reception by the inferior clergy.
Usually, your wide-awake artist is always meticulously careful of the time and place of the show. Father Kiely erred in this and Dr Lanigan, who was the easiest man in the world to mimic, but didn’t think so, paid an unconscious tribute to the excellence of the performance by promoting the playboy to the backblocks.
Kiely had a brother in an influential position in the Church in Salt Lake City, USA, and thither he transferred himself. But that was when the bushrangers were sleeping in unhonoured graves and their daring deeds only a memory. (End of Hartigan account).
Father Kiely became the first parish priest of Hay and laid the foundation stone of the new church. He was later at Yass, Broken Hill and Deniliquin before he moved to Salt Lake City.
Father Timothy O’Connell was born in Effin, diocese of Limerick in Ireland on December 28, 1851. He was educated at Carlow College and ordained there on May 31, 1874, and came to Goulburn the same year. He was in Goulburn for several years and administrator at Wagga when Wagga’s first Bishop, Most Reverend Joseph Dwyer, was appointed to the diocese in 1918. Fr O’Connell was appointed Vicar-General for the diocese in June, 1924.
Two years later, Fr O’Connell was appointed to Junee where he remained for 16 years, tying there on September 28, 1936, at the age of eighty-five. He celebrated his Diamond Jubilee in 1934.
Father Jerome Hennessy was born on April 2, 1856 in Bandon, County Cork; he was educated at Bandon and Carlow where he was ordained. He was appointed to Corowa in 1882, to Wagga in the same year, Gundagai 1886, Young 1889, and Albury 1895. He remained in Young until his death on April 30, 1941, at the age of 85. He built up a wonderful reputation in Young where he established a Catholic Hospital and made parish visitation the feature of his work.
A plaque in St Mary’s church at Young has this inscription: “Erected by the citizens of Young – In grateful memory of Rt Rev Mons J Hennessy, PP, VF, Public Benefactor of Young for 50 years, who died on 30th April 1941, Age 86, ‘And their works shall follow them.'”
Father Michael Slattery was educated in Maynooth and ordained on November 1, 1869, by Bishop W Lanigan. He came to this country with Fathers Patrick Heard and John Gallagher. He was an assistant priest at Goulburn before his appointment to Crookwell in 1876. He died on February 14, 1907 at the age of 64 and was buried in Wagga.
Father Slattery was stationed at Wagga from 1895 to 1901 when he was Vicar General of the diocese. From Wagga he took the Presentation Sisters to Longreach, Queensland, in 1900.
Father Slattery paid an official visit to Corowa in 1903 when he was administrator of the diocese during the absence of Bishop Gallagher, the occasion being the blessing of additions to St Mary’s convent. During his address he said a very significant thing: “It is twenty four years since I was among you and I do not know many; the ones I do know can be counted on the fingers of one hand.” The collection that day was 109 pounds.
If that was the situation after twenty-four years, it could well explain the situation today (1978) after one hundred years – there remain relatively few families that are descended from ancestors who were in Corowa one hundred years ago.
Father Patrick Dunne was born in 1818 in Philipstown, King’s County, Ireland, son of Patrick Dunne, a farmer, and his wife, Mary, nee Rigney. He was trained at Carlow Seminary and ordained there on March 8, 1846.
After four years in his native diocese of Kildare, Father Dunne volunteered for the newly-formed Melbourne diocese in Australia. He arrived in that city on board the “Digby” on September 7, 1850 and was appointed to Geelong, then to Coburg – a northern suburb of Melbourne and to Pentridge Prison. In October 1851, he journeyed to Ballarat on horseback and was the first priest to celebrate Mass on the goldfields for the miners. Later he performed many baptisms in the lower Wimmera.
From 1853 to 1856, Father Dunne established twelve schools in Geelong under the Denominational School Board, as well as the first Catholic secondary school. He ultimately came to Goulburn where his zeal was directed by Bishop Lanigan into constructive (sic) work.
He was first appointed President of St Patrick’s College and administrator at the Cathedral, then to Gundagai. He followed Father Michael Slattery at Corowa and was transferred to Wagga in 1882, where he planned and built most of the present St Michael’s Cathedral – when Wagga was a village of not more than a thousand people.
Fr Dunne became Vicar-General of the Diocese on the death of Dr McAlroy in 1880. It was in that capacity he laid and blessed the foundation stone of the church in Urana on September 10, 1882; Urana was at that time part of the missionary district of Corowa. He retired in the 1890s and died at Albury on July 19th, 1900, at the age of 81. He was buried at Newtown cemetery.
On the departure of Fathers Dunne and Hennessy from Corowa for Wagga in 1882, a presentation was made to each of them at a meeting in the presbytery. Present at that meeting were Father William Bermingham, the new parish priest, Dr Carroll, Messrs E McSwiney, J Carns, D Hallahan, J Jopson, J F Donnelly and John O’Brien.
Father William Bermingham, who some say came to Corowa in place of his brother Father Patrick Bermingham who preached at the opening of Corowa’s first church in 1875, followed Father Dunne as parish priest in 1882; he was born in King’s County, Ireland, and was educated at Carlow and Maynooth.
Before coming to Corowa, Father Bermingham had been the first resident priest of Wagga, appointed there in 1871. He was replaced there in 1874 by his brother, Dr Patrick Bermingham, who had only recently returned to Australia after an absence of many years.
Shortly after his arrival in Corowa, Father Bermingham called a meeting to make arrangements for the payment of the organ which had been purchased some time before. Father Bermingham was in the chair when the following committee was formed – Messrs, Carns, McSwiney, Nagle and O’Sullivan. It was decided to hold an entertainment on St Patrick’s Day – a concert plus a dramatic performance. Vocalists would come from Wagga, Junee and Benalla, while the drama would be “Kathleen Mavourneen”. 300 pounds was raised as a result of their efforts.
In December, 1884, Father J.J. Fogarty, Diocesan Inspector of Catholic Schools, presided at the Annual Distribution of Prizes at St Mary’s School Corowa. Father Bermingham and Miss Burns, the teacher, were present.
Advice was received in March, 1885, that Father Bermingham had been transferred to Burrowa. He returned to Corowa in July when a presentation was made to him – a presentation that expressed the esteem in which he was held.
Father John Curley came to Corowa from Temora in April, 1885. A few months earlier Bishop Lanigan, making his biennial visit to the parish, arrived at Wahgunyah railway station. He was received at the station by the parish priest, and by Fr Fogarty, the Inspector of Schools for the Goulburn diocese, by Fathers T O’Connell of Albury and P J Fallon of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne.
The bishop’s visit coincided with the closing of the jubilee mission conducted by Fr T O’Connell. Forty candidates were confirmed.
At the end that year, 1885, there was the Annual Distribution of Prizes at St Mary’s School. Father Curley conducted the examination of the four classes, the teachers being Miss Burns and Miss Stewart.
ARRIVAL OF THE MERCY SISTERS
At the end of 1886, the school break-up function was of more than ordinary importance. It was announced that the school would be taken over by the Sisters of Mercy from Albury after the Christmas vacation and that Miss Burns had resigned to join the State Education Department.
The presbytery built by Father Slattery in 1878 would become the convent and Father Curley would find new quarters. Miss Burns was presented with a valuable gold watch, Mr McSwiney responding on her behalf.
Four Sisters of Mercy arrived at Wahgunyah station on January 17, 1887, for the opening of the school year on that day and there was a formal reception at the station. Mother Camillus was in charge and she was accompanied by sisters Angela, Evangelista and Celestine.
There was sadness in the parish in January, 1888, when it was learned that Mrs Curley of Albury – mother of Father Curley – had died. Her maiden name was Fallon.
DEPARTURE OF FR CURLEY FROM COROWA
In January, 1889, Father Curley was transferred to Cootamundra and he was replaced temporarily by Father Walsh from Young.
Prior to his departure from Corowa, a presentation was made to Fr Curley of a handsome travelling bag, containing a dressing case filled with silver mounted toilet requisites, etc. His monogram was suitably engraved on the articles. The presentation was made at a meeting in the Royal Hotel when the following people were present: Messrs AK Beveridge, PM & FC Piggin, JP Synott, JC Leslie, CN Marr, HP Whitty, CW Bell, P Carr, ER Nicholson and Dr Loughrey.
Mr Beveridge concluded his address with these words: “We present a small token of our regard and esteem with deep regret at the loss we are about to sustain.”
Father Curley in his reply said that the kindness had come as a surprise to him. There was only one thing he could claim to have done and that was started before his arrival in Corowa. He had always fostered the seeds of good will and had striven to prevent any discrimination or ill will. On his travels, when he reached his resting place for the night, he knew a kindly and hospitable welcome awaited him, let the house be Catholic or non-Catholic.
Mr Beveridge said he would like it to be understood that the presentation was not on behalf of one denomination or another, but it was an expression of good will from the residents. He had known Father Curley for a long time and could safely say he had never known a more genial or more kindly nature. He was echoing the thoughts of all in the room when he wished that Father Curley might live long to use their gift.
Dr Loughrey endorsed these remarks. Father Curley had supported everything that was organized in the town without regard to denomination and they were losing a kindly gentleman and good townsman.
In December 1898, advice was received in Corowa that Father Curley was leaving the diocese to join the Redemptorist Fathers in Europe. In March of the following year he was the recipient of a purse of seventy sovereigns when the people of Cootamundra bade him farewell.
FATHER WALSH INITIATES NEW PRESBYTERY FOR COROWA
During February, 1889, Father Walsh came from Young to act in a temporary capacity pending the appointment of a successor to Father Curley. He remained until April.
Although he was in Corowa for a very short time, he called a meeting after Mass on Sunday, February 10, 1889, to consider the advisability of erecting a presbytery. It will be recalled that the presbytery built by Father Slattery in 1878 became the convent when the Sisters of Mercy arrived in 1887.
The meeting elected a building committee: Messrs Corcoran, Brennan, Bamber, Jepson, Nolan with James Mackins secretary.
Father Timothy O’Shaughnessy replaced Father Walsh in April 1889. He came from Limerick and had been trained at Maynooth for the home mission, but chose foreign service. After his arrival in the diocese he was appointed by Bishop Lanigan Professor of Mathematics at the Goulburn College. It was not long before he was appointed to Burrowa and Goulburn prior to his arrival in Corowa as the new parish priest.
PRESBYTERY FOUNDATION STONE LAID
Father Walsh’s building committee made good progress with their assignment, and, within a few months of the arrival of Father O’Shaughnessy, the foundation stone of the presbytery was laid on Sunday, June 30, 1889, in the presence of a very large gathering.
The outside proceedings were not of very long duration. The corner stone was solemnly blessed by Father Phelan, President of St Patrick’s College, Goulburn, who was assisted by Father O’Shaughnessy, and lowered into place by the contractor, Mr Jepson. The assembly then moved to the church where Father Phelan preached and a collection was taken up in aid of the presbytery building fund.
On the following Wednesday, Father Phelan gave a lecture in the Corowa School of Arts, the subject being, “The two Romes, from Augustine to Constantinople”. Mr CA Piggins was in the chair. The Reverend lecturer described the imperial city of the pagans and the more enlightened and moral state of society after a three hundred years struggle by the early Christians.
Mr O’Brien of Bull Plain contributed two songs during the evening. Mr JP Buggy moved a vote of thanks to the lecturer which was seconded by Mr Nicholson; Mr J Rankin moved a vote of thanks to the Chairman.
BISHOP LANIGAN ADMINISTERS CONFIRMATION
On Sunday 1, December 1889, Right Reverend Dr Lanigan, Bishop of Goulburn, visited Corowa for the purpose of administering the Sacrament of Confirmation and other Sacraments. His Lordship arrived on Saturday and was conducted to the newly erected presbytery.
On Sunday more than seventy candidates presented themselves for the Sacrament of Confirmation. Bishop Lanigan addressed the children before and after Confirmation, pointing out their obligations to the Church and their duties as Catholics. All the young people, at the earnest solicitation of his Lordship, took the pledge of total abstinence from intoxicating drink until they were twenty-one years old.
Father Gallagher of Goulburn preached the sermon which held the attention of the large congregation for nearly an hour and a half. Father Carolan of Chiltern was also present.
His Lordship and Fathers Gallagher and O’Shaughnessy thanked the congregation at the close for their great generosity in contributing to the cost of the newly erected presbytery. In particular they paid tribute to the friends from other denominations for their unparalleled generosity.
Before Mass the presbytery was solemnly blessed by the Bishop and the collection was 600 pounds. That evening Father O’Shaughnessy entertained the bishop and the members of the committee at dinner.
In July, 1891, a meeting was held in Howlong to arrange for the building of a convent for the sisters of St Joseph. The estimate of the cost was 600 pounds – of which 200 pound was promised that night. Father O’Shaughnessy made a donation of 50 pounds.
Father O’Shaughnessy left Corowa in January, 1892, for a year’s holiday in Ireland. During his three years in Corowa he had collected 1,700 pounds for church purposes, built the presbytery and churches at Urangeline Creek and Tocumwal, and had 150 pound in hand for the Berrigan church. He travelled an average of 4,000 miles a year.
During his absence overseas the Parish Priest was replaced first by Father J J Fogarty and then by Father J O’Hanlon. The St Patrick’s Day Sports Meeting was held as usual with Dr Kelly (in the chair) heading a committee consisting of Messrs R King, J Thompson, A Ritchie, J Chivell, PG Corcoran and Dr Shortt, the last two being joint secretaries.
After the return of Father O’Shaughnessy from Ireland the new Catholic School was blessed and opened. (The account is covered in Chapter 11 of this history.)
In January, 1895, Father O’Shaughnessy received word of his transfer to Burrowa. This transfer brought Father Patrick Hickey to Corowa.
(End of Chapter 6)