1978 Parish History Ch. 9


The passing of Father Hickey after a span of a third of a century (1895 to 1928) as pastor of the parish of Corowa literally brought to an end an era in the life of the Parish and District.

Catholics and non-Catholics alike had grown accustomed to the ways and manners of their late pastor who had been with them for so long that the majority of the parishioners had little or no knowledge of any other priest.

Father Hickey had been appointed to Corowa by the Bishop of Goulburn, Dr Lanigan, the first Bishop Goulburn had; both he and the parish were part of that diocese for the next twenty-three years. A change was brought about in 1918 when the Diocese of Wagga was formed and Corowa and its priests were incorporated in the new Diocese.

Father Hickey had lived under three bishops during his time in Corowa – the first two, Most Rev William Lanigan and Most rev John Gallagher, bishops of Goulburn, and the Most rev Joseph Dwyer, first bishop of Wagga.

Fr Jn Bonnar

Father John Bonner PP (June 1928 – Dec 1930)

Father John Bonnar, who replaced Father Hickey, was born in Belfast on March 25, 1883, and educated at Maynooth at the time when the President of that famous college was the man who was later the celebrated Archbishop of Melbourne for a record number of forty=six years, the Most Rev Daniel Mannix, DD.

Father Bonnar was ordained at Newry in Ireland on June 29, 1907 and arrived in Goulburn the same year. Twenty-one years later he was appointed to Corowa after ten years at Henty and previously at Urana, Berrigan, Tocumwal, Balldale, Temora and Albury.

He had a glorious singing voice, coupled with a caustic wit, which he used often with telling effect. He was at one time official accompanist for John McCormack, the world-famous tenor. He was also an accomplished organist.


It was six weeks before Father Bonnar arrived in Corowa and during that period the following visiting priests celebrated the Sunday Masses:

Father Whelan, CSsR (Redemptorist) who accompanied a large number of parishioners to the cemetery to visit the grave of Father Hickey; Father Percy of Balldale; Father Lawless of Rutherglen, and Father Cunningham of Wagga.


A “month’s mind” (a ritual commemoration of the deceased one month after death) was also observed before the arrival of the new pastor. Bishop Dwyer presided and Father Hartigan preached. The parishioners discussed a memorial for Father Hickey. The options discussed were a monument over his grave, a pulpit in the new church, or a commemorative mural tablet in the new church.


When Father Bonnar arrived on July 26, 1928, he immediately stepped into all parish activities as though nothing at all had been altered:

– Within three months the convent ball, with Misses M Barnard, M Connors and P Kelly joint secretaries, was a record success.

– A Queen Competition for the new convent – Molly Leapard, the country candidate and Stella Loveridge, town candidate, raised one thousand eight hundred pounds.

– There was a convent fete and a convent concert.

– Dr Hurley presented the prizes at the Annual Distribution of Prizes owing to the indisposition of Father Bonnar.


Father Bonnar’s short period at Corowa were years of activity; three examples might be given.

1. The Women’s Sacred Heart Sodality was flourishing, the prefects of the ten guilds being: Lily Burke, Mrs Teresa Quinn, Mrs Regan, Theresa Kelly, Marjorie Parkin, Mrs P Gavin, Mrs O’Leary, Patty Kelly, Mary Rogers and Cecilia McDonald.

2. Prompted by Father Bonnar, a Branch of the St Vincent De Paul Society was formed. The first meeting was held on September 22, 1929, after 10.00am Mass. The first office-bearers were: President, Mr P Ford, commission Agent; Vice-president, J P Leahy, Storekeeper; Secretary, F Baker, School Teacher; Treasurer, J O’Connor, Traveller (i.e. Travelling Salesman).

The members of the first branch were:

T Kelly, Retired; E Lawby, Storekeeper; E J Byrne, Farmer; J Conroy, Farmer; M Ryan, Manager; L Buggy, Manager; W Skehan, Farmer; T Flannagan, Farmer; J Nolan, Farmer; T Tenney, Farmer; W Doyle, Farmer; J A Naughtin, Farmer; J Seymour, Agent; Thos Kelly, Hotelkeeper; W Conroy, Farmer; A Kingston, Farmer; H H Cavanagh, Builder; G Leapord, Farmer; J Knight, Farmer; J Phibbs, Cordial Manufacturer; J P Hurley, Doctor; J Squires, Undertaker; J Blake, Business Manager; T Howell, Postal Official; W Conroy, Farmer.

3. It must be said, however, that the most outstanding event of Father Bonnar’s time at Corowa was the second visit to the parish of the great Archbishop of Melbourne, the Most reverend Dr Mannix.


A very severe storm in December, 1926, had rendered part of the convent unsafe, and the nuns leased Ramsay Piggins’ commodious residence at the corner of John and Airlie Streets. It was clear to all parishioners that a new convent was essential.

A meeting of the parish Building Committee in October, 1927, with Mr J P Leahy in the chair, referred the question of a new convent to a separate committee. At the Building committee meeting Mr J H Blake was appointed secretary in place of Mr T J Kelly who had resigned.

Two months later the old convent (which was the presbytery prior to the coming of the nuns in 1887) was demolished and a decision made that the new convent would be erected in Albury Road in the position previously occupied by the home of Dr W H Lang. In October, 1928, Mr A A Fritsch, architect, had completed his drawings and tenders were called.

It was decided that the foundation stone would be laid in April, 1929, at the same time as the church was consecrated. The whole debt on a church must be liquidated before it can be consecrated, hence the delay since the opening in 1921.


Dr Mannix had promised Fr Hickey that he would return for the consecration of the church, but Father was now dead and Father Bonnar had the responsibility of completing the interior furnishings and finalising accounts.

It was also now the duty and privilege of father Bonnar to issue the invitation, but he considered the Archbishop’s promise was a personal matter between the Archbishop and the priest. However, he said he would send the invitation but “there is no way in the world he will attend.”


Father Bonnar misjudged the Archbishop who, for the second time, alighted at Springhurst to be greeted by many parishioners. Bishop Dwyer of Wagga was present and it was he who consecrated the church in a ceremony that lasted from 6.15am to 9.15am on the Saturday morning.

At 9.15am, he celebrated Mass, Deacon Rev Dr Harper (Albury), Subdeacon, Fr McVeigh (Urana), Chanters, Fr Percy (Balldale) and Fr O’Looney (Culcairn), Assistant Deacon, Fr Bonnar (Corowa).

On Sunday April 23, 1929, Dr Dwyer celebrated High Mass at 11.00am, Deacon Rev Dr Harper (Albury), Subdeacon, Fr McVeigh (Urana), Masters of Ceremony, Frs Bonnar (Corowa) and Lawless (Rutherglen), Dr Mannix presided and Prior Hogan, O.P. (Melbourne) preached. The choirs of St Mary’s Corowa and St Patrick’s Albury sang St Cecilia’s Mass.

Among the visiting clergy were Rev Dr Flynn (Wodonga), Fr McManus, CSsR (Galong), Rev J gibbons (Gisborne), Fr Heffernan, (Rutherglen), Fr Percy (Balldale), Fr Norrack (Wangaratta).


The ceremony of the laying of the foundation stone (of the convent) was carried out at 2.30pm. There was a procession of altar boys, Children of Mary and Hibernians, while the men of the parish formed a guard of honour from the church to the convent. The Border Brass Band played “Faith of our Fathers” during the walk.

After Dr Dwyer had laid the foundation stone, guests assembled on a platform in front of the new convent before an assemblage of 2,000 people.

Fr Bonnar, who presided, welcomed Dr Mannix, Dr Dwyer and the other prelates. He said that the size and enthusiasm of the gathering were due to the presence of the Archbishop. He said further that Corowa’s church was the second church in the Diocese of Wagga, next to the Wagga cathedral, to be consecrated.

Mr T J Gorman, “Plentyana”, thanked Dr Mannix and Bishop Dwyer on behalf of the Corowa people, for attending. He had been in the Corowa district for over forty years and learned that the convent school turned out good and loyal citizens.

The Mayor of Corowa, Alderman Chivell, on behalf of the Municipal council, welcomed Dr Mannix. Catholics had provided the town with its finest building and he knew the present building (the convent) would be an outstanding edifice. Much of the success was due to the wonderful co-operation between Father Hickey and the laity. He hoped Dr Mannix and Bishop Dwyer would go away with a knowledge of the good which Catholic people were doing.

Bishop Dwyer said he always liked coming to Corowa and wished he would be given more opportunities for doing so. He hoped the convent would give the Sisters more comfort than they had in the past. The Sisters were the backbone of every parish, but they received no reward. Corowa people had everything they wanted; he had never seen a bad season in Corowa, although all farmers “wanted more than they got.”

Mr Gorman presented Dr Mannix with an enlarged photo of the church in remembrance of Father Hickey.


Dr Mannix said he came as a matter of plain duty. He came as the adopted son of the late Father Hickey who was one of the pioneer Irish priests who left a monument to his generosity and the Corowa people would be ungrateful if they every forgot him. Corowa people had known Father Bonnar long enough to know they had “a real live wire.”

Dr Mannix delivered a powerful address on Catholic Emancipation, the centenary of which was then being celebrated. Over two thousand pound was donated during the afternoon and the list of donors was read.

Archbp Mannix & Bp Dwyer - Corowa ch consecrn 1929 2014-02-25 001

Archbishop Mannix & Bishop Dwyer attend St Mary’s consecration 1929

Prior Hogan and Dr J P Hurley gave short addresses, following which afternoon tea was served on the lawns of the Misses freeman next door.

Dr Mannix was the guest of Dr Hurley during his stay in the town.


Archbishop’s Letter of thanks to Dr Hurley


After an illness that lasted a fortnight, Father Bonnar passed away at the age of forty-six after two and a half years at Corowa.

Requiem Mass for the repose of the soul of Fr Bonnar was presided over by father Barry (Wagga) in the absence of the Bishop. The celebrant was Fr Condon (Tumbarumba); Master of Ceremonies was Father Lawless (Rutherglen); Deacon – Dr Harper (Albury); Sub-deacon, Father McVeigh (Henty). Fr Slattery (Albury) spoke.

The Pall Bearers were Dr Hurley, Messrs T J Gorman, J P Leahy, J H Blake, J F Conroy and W Skehan. He was laid to rest alongside Father Hickey in the (old) Corowa cemetery.

Father Bonnar had a busy few years in Corowa and he did not spare himself which might have contributed to the cerebral haemorrhage. He had the new church furnished, paid for and concreted; he was involved with the new convent building; he mad much needed repairs to the presbytery – long overdue.

Father Bonnar played a significant role in the community. He was President of the Corowa and District Tennis Association; President of the Football Club; President of the Ovens and Murray Football League in 1929; he put lights on St Mary’s Tennis courts [where St Mary’s Court Retirement Units now stand]. He knew everybody and was identified with Catholics and the town generally.


Father Patrick Joseph O’Reilly was appointed to follow Fr Bonnar and arrived in Corowa on Thursday, January 29, 1931 and remained until his death in 1945, except for a period in 1935-1936 when he was on holidays overseas.

Fr O’Reilly was born at Strabane in County Derry, Ireland, on May 12, 1884. He was educated at All Hallows Seminary and ordained there on June 24, 1910. He arrived in Goulburn in November that year and as a curate served at Narrandera, Junee, Young and Albury.

Fr O’Reilly was parish priest of Balldale for six months, Tocumwal, Jerilderie and Finley before coming to Corowa. He was a lovable Irish character with a kindly and jovial disposition who was a great friend of the young people and was often to be found in their company.


Father Francis Hubert Gallagher was the relieving priest during Father Reilly’s trip overseas during 1935-36, when he went home for his Silver Jubilee. Father Gallagher was born at Krambach in the Maitland diocese on August 16, 1900 and was educated at St Stanislaus College, Bathurst, at Springwood and Manly and ordained in Sydney on November 30, 1929. He died on November 23, 1957.

Fr O’Reilly was a true man of god with a love of the Mass and a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin. He repeatedly found opportunities in his sermons to introduce the phrase “our tainted nature’s solitary boast”, referring to the Mother of God.


He gained great support from his parishioners in all that he did as he continued the activities that enabled the Catholics of Corowa to liquidate their debts. He introduced something new within a year of his arrival, a Flower show, that was to be an annual event for the next twenty-four years. The first secretary was Mrs Millie Williams, she was still secretary in 1955, when the last Flower show was held. She was assisted by Mrs T M Alston and Mrs L M Buggy.

Judges at the first Flower Show were A E Parry, Mrs W McDonald, Mrs W Keenan and Mrs Frank Johnson, The mother of Mrs Williams, who was secretary for so long, was Louisa Kelsey, born in 1875 and one of the first children to attend the Catholic school.


Because Balldale was added to Corowa, Fr O’Reilly was granted assistants, six of them over a period of years from 1938 – Fr William James Gilbey, Fr John Corbett Glover, Fr Norman Duck, Fr John Desmond Lane, Fr Much and Fr Kunze.


Fr Gilbey was born in South Melbourne, educated at Kilmore (Marist Brothers), springwood and Manly, and ordained in Melbourne on April 12, 1931. He was in Corowa from February 1938 to February, 1939 after serving at Junee. In 1940, he was appointed Bishop’s secretary and later chancellor of the diocese. He was moved to a sick bed in January, 1958, and died in 1973.


Fr Glover was born in Perth on July 4, 1903, educated at the Albury Brothers, Springwood and Manly and ordained in Albury on January 6, 1932. He was an assistant priest in Corowa, 1939, to February, 1940. He was then on loan to the New Guinea Missions at Alexishafen, Archdiocese of Madang and later a military chaplain. He was killed in an air crash in New Guinea on December 31, 1948.

News of his death was a great shock to his parents, Mr and Mrs Glover of the Royal Hotel, Townsend Street, Albury as he had been home only two weeks before on a brief visit.


Fr Glover had become almost a legendary figure to many of the residents of New Guinea, because of his gallant work in the rescue of civilians and soldiers stranded by the Japanese invasion.

His flight early in 1942 in an abandoned Fox Moth, has been described as “The craziest air journey in the history of New Guinea.” He later became a chaplain with the famous Sixth division with which he went through the drawn out Aitape campaign. After his discharge from the army at the end of the war he returned to his missionary work in New Guinea. He was buried at Alexishafen.

It had become apparent to parishioners of St Mary’s right from the outset that in Fr Glover they had gained a priest of remarkable character and personality.

Fr Glover quickly drew the young people of the parish round him, they began to realise their talents and put them to use. Debating and public-speaking were developed under the guidance of two young school teachers, Frank Hogan and Frank Taylor.

An old house, “Tenby”, once the home of Dr Lang, was made into a club house and the young people fashioned it with a meeting room, kitchen and large room for dancing. Music became the driving force for many activities, Monica Stoll being outstanding. A concert was such a success that it was repeated in Balldale and Yarrawonga.

The happy, noisy and musical home of James and Molly Kearney, who had eight daughters, became a centre for musical evenings where most of the rehearsals took place.

The work of Fr Glover was continued by Frs Duck, Much and Kunze – up to the end of the war and beyond – with music, the choir, football, basketball and debating being very strong.

CYMS F-ball Team

Fr Glover organised inter-town sport and social meetings and frequently went swimming, fishing and shooting with members. His companion on many outings was Clarrie Plunkett whom he called “Commander”.

Fr Glover learned to fly in Albury and he would come to Corowa and land in Gale’s paddock. Many Corowa residents had their first experience in the air as Fr Glover’s co-pilot in his Tiger Moth. His friends in Corowa maintained a lively correspondence with him when he became a missionary in New Guinea and one in particular came under scrutiny by the authorities.

She had made a practice of going to the aerodrome, then occupied by No. 7 Aircraft Depot during the war, and taking particulars of the planes as well as a lay person could. Knowing Fr glover’s love of planes the information was passed on to him as a cheery news item. The censors did not look at it in the same light, the local police were contacted and there was some explaining to be done. There were no further similar news items from the aero drome.


Fr Norman duck was born in Junee on February 18, 1913, educated at Wagga Brothers, Springwood and Manly and ordained in Junee on December 8, 1937. He was on loan to Hobart for a time and served in Corowa from May, 1940 to February, 1943.

Fr Duck continued the fine work with the Youth Club, whose members organised special efforts during the war. their entry, a submarine, (Father Duck’s car transformed) was the most discussed float in a parade down Sanger Street. He became a Padre (chaplain) in the Air Force in Narrandera in 1943 and he died in a Sydney hospital on August, 1975.


Fr Lane was born in Koroit on May 3, 1914, educated at Douglas Park and Corpus Christi college and ordained in Wagga on July 27, 1941. His period in Corowa from February to October, 1943, was his third appointment as a curate. Father is at present [1978] the highly respected Parish Priest of St Patrick’s Albury.


Fr Much, a missionary priest from New Guinea, arrived in Corowa in 1943, a German national who was interned in Australia during the war. He quickly made friends in spite of his inability to speak English clearly.

Fr Much enjoyed social occasions and music and laughter were sufficient to draw him to homes in the town . He made frequent applications for a driver’s licence until the sergeant finally relented; the licence was granted on condition that his mentor, Mr James Crisfield, always travelled with him.


Fr Kunze

Fr Kunze was an Austrian by birth who was ‘interned’ in Corowa during the war. He also had a great love of music and was a gifted violinist. He trained the choir which had great success in the local eisteddfod.

Fr Kunze had his own troubles with cars. Left to drive the Albury priest’s car from the railway station to the presbytery before he had really learned to drive, he managed to go through the back of the garage; he had never been instructed how to stop the car.

In the early 1930s the youth of the parish organised themselves to take advantage of sporting opportunities available to them. The Catholic Young Men’s Society had a very strong football team, many being members of Ovens and Murray sides. The girls played in a basketball competition and had the outstanding record of being unbeaten for seven years.

Here is a list of members of the CYMS during the 1930s: G Adriensen, G Brown, V Buggy, F Conroy, D Duddully, L Dick, J Dormer, G Dormer, K Dormer, J Dunlop, B Dunn, E Evans, L Ferguson, P Gale, G Gleeson, P Holt, (?) Kennedy, K King, N King, J Lee, P Loveridge, (?) Morrow, C O’Donoghue, W O’Donoghue, C O’Keefe, D Parkin, D Paul, M Pizzi, C Plunkett, G Plunkett, B Poustie, T Quinn, R Rippingale, J Ryan, M Shanahan, (?) Sheeky, J Sheridan, R Wilding and L Woods.

E Evans and C Plunkett were presidents during those years, F Adriensen was secretary.

The pressure of outside influences and a society determined to provide its own activities gradually saw the lessening of the influence of the Catholic Youth Club and its eventual demise.

It could be that the enthusiasm of the 1930s will in due course be recaptured by the youth of a new generation who will learn the value of initiative and leadership.

A Boys’ Camp at Howlong was another successful experiment. One hundred and two young retreatants from several parishes were given an opportunity to meet and play in a Catholic atmosphere. Mass on the first evening was explained by Father Lane (now [1978] Monsignor Lane of Corowa) as a prelude to the recreational programme, swimming, cricket, concerts, boxing, quizzes and the landing of the biggest fish for the day.

The organizers were Fr Crennan (Albury) and Fr Hanrahan(Howlong) assisted by Fr Lane (Urana), Fr Duck (Corowa), Fr Meagher (Rutherglen) and the ladies of Howlong. Laymen who assisted were Messrs T Kelly (Corowa), John Conway (Howlong), Bill Leahy (Howlong) and five members of Albury CYMS – J Curtis, J Mangan, J Nolan, P Carroll and Pat Esler.

Dean Slattery announced at the 8.00am Mass on Sunday, May 6, 1945: “Your prayers are requested for the repose of the soul of your parish priest, Fr O’Reilly.”

Father had taken ill at about 10.00am on the previous Saturday and he died soon after he had been admitted to hospital; a clot of blood was the cause of death.

Fr O’Reilly’s passing, after fourteen years at Corowa, was regretted by many sections of the community, for he had endeared himself to those with whom he had com in contact, because of his friendliness, sincerity and humanitarianism. He was a real father to his flock in both spiritual matters and in temporal affairs. His aim was to bring everybody to a better understanding of one’s fellow men and the goal of eternal happiness in heaven.

Fr O’Reilly was zealous, he organized missions, communion breakfasts and midnight Masses. He was concerned with the debt on the convent built in the time of Fr Bonnar.

Bishop Henschke, in a short panegyric on the day of his burial said, “He was a retiring man who had made himself better known. He had never built a school or a church or a convent, but he spent most of his life paying off the debts which others had contracted and he had been marvellous in this respect.” His greatest monument was the faith which he had implanted in the hearts of his people.

Bishop Henschke presided at the Requiem Mass, the celebrant being Rt Rev Monsignor T I Barry; Deacon, Fr J D Lane; Sub-deacon, Fr R O’Donovan, Master of Ceremonies, Fr M F Lane.

Thirty-nine priests were present at the Mass and the following bore the coffin to the cemetery; Messrs C B Lethbridge, J Nolan, W Keenan, P Whitty, J Dunn and Dr J D Hurley.

… (Ch 9 to be continued).