2016 – Short History of St Mary’s Corowa – for inclusion in Wagga Diocese Centenary 2017-18 book

As of 6th September 2016, this text is undergoing final revision – soon to be completed. Enjoy your visit and return to visit again.




The opening sentence of The Men of ’38 by John O’Brien (1975) refers to the Wagga diocese silver jubilee, and this short account of St Mary’s parish Corowa, has early references to Fr Hartigan’s work, as well as to the centenary booklet of Corowa parish, The Church by the Rocky River by A.T. Roddy (1978). [H = Hartigan; R = Roddy; n = page number].

[Ambrose Roddy’s account, now on this website, can be viewed here: 1878-1978 St Mary’s First 100 Years]

In 1840, English Jesuit Fr Charles Joseph Lovat, headed to Yass as its first resident priest. There he set about the challenge of covering what was a vast area on horseback, endeavouring to find Catholics, say Mass for them and provide them with the sacraments.

It was 1845 when Fr Lovat first crossed the Murray River: “Past Huons at Wodonga, Fr Lovat went through the old Barnawartha Run and on to the ovens about Wangaratta, and said the first Mass in the North East of Victoria – now part of the Diocese of Sandhurst. From the Ovens he made back by Rutherglen, Corowa, Morebringer to Oolong (Howlong), ‘a Crossing Place’, thence to Albury. He baptised a child there and two days afterwards another at Yass – 190 miles away” (H. 34). Fr Lovat achieved all that “riding one horse and leading another with his pack and Mass-kit” (H. 33), with virtually no roads other than bush tracks to follow!

It is more than 170 years since that ‘gentle, scholarly, and saintly’ (cf. H. 35) priest celebrated the first Mass at Corowa, and since then many committed Parish Priests and Assistant Priests have provided the town with spiritual nourishment.

Moreover, throughout most of those years, 1887 until 2013, the priests were assisted by more than seventy dedicated Mercy Sisters who taught at St Mary’s School and visited Corowa’s families, their sick and elderly. The first 100 years of the Sisters’ work is told in their booklet: Sisters of Mercy Corowa 1887 – 1987. This is accessible here on the parish website.

Because many early priests, Sisters, and parishioners were from Ireland, Corowa has been blessed with a committed faith. One of the fruits of such faith is that this small parish has provided more than twenty priestly and religious vocations to the Church.

The late 1800s

When Albury parish was formally established in 1856, the Catholic community at Corowa was served from that parish centre. Names on the centenary plaque at the entrance to St Mary’s Corowa include Frs Lovat SJ, Slattery and Kiely. However, others too from Albury, served Corowa’s parishioners. In the 1870s these were Frs Michael McAlroy, Patrick Bermingham, Joseph Dowling, and Richard Butler. They rode “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.” (R. 17).

Bishop William Lanigan (H 177)Bp Lanigan - fr Men of 38 p.177In June 1867, Dr Lanigan was appointed bishop of Goulburn diocese which included all lands south to the Murray and west even to the South Australian border. It was vast. [Wilcannia-Forbes was not established as a diocese until 1886.] The bishop first visited Corowa in 1872.

Dr Michael McAlroy had arrived as parish priest in Albury in 1868 and, having provided priests to Corowa for several years, knew Corowa should have its own church. “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… The people employed Mr Squires to build it” (R. p.16).

1st St Ms church & presbytery - 1890s.docx

St Mary’s Star of the Sea, Corowa – Church and Presbytery (photo 1890s)

St Mary’s first church was officially opened by Rev Dr McAlroy on Sunday 2nd May 1875. “The church measured fifty-three feet by twenty-eight feet and was thirty-six feet high, the cost a little below £600” (R. 16). The church is under the patronage of “St Mary’s Star of the Sea”; but how an inland parish earned the title “St Mary’s Star of the Sea” remains a mystery. The occasional sermon at the opening was delivered by Fr Patrick Bermingham “a priest with singular gifts of oratory who was called upon to speak at the opening of churches in all parts of the diocese” (R. 16).

The bishop arrived from Goulburn and celebrated Mass in the new Corowa church on Sunday 14th November 1875, and declared himself well pleased with the “attractive external appearance and the ample accommodation afforded worshippers within” (R. 18). At the invitation of parishioners, and “witnessed by a large number of Catholic residents of the town” (R. 18), the bishop consecrated the Catholic portion of the [Pioneer] cemetery at Corowa the following day.


 “Corowa Missionary District” 1878

“On January 31, 1878, the Bishop (Lanigan) wrote in his diary, ‘Corowa a new District’” (R. 21). It is from that year Corowa marks its status as a parish. It was a large portion of the western section of the Albury parish that bishop Lanigan nominated with Corowa at its centre.

“The district extended to a point eight miles on the Deniliquin side of Jerilderie; it included Urana, Jerilderie, Berrigan, Oaklands, Goombargana; the district extended to a point fifteen miles on the Wagga side of Urana, and thence down to Quat Quatta on the Murray River and taking in Mulwala and Tocumwal on the river” (R. 21). Those original borders of the parish today encompass five parishes, highlighting the size and challenges the distances would have posed for the pioneer priests of Corowa.

Bishop Lanigan then appointed the Maynooth educated parish priest of Crookwell, Fr Michael Slattery – then stationed in Albury to Corowa in 1878; he arrived promptly and celebrated his first Mass as parish priest on Sunday 10th February.

Within a week, Fr Richard Kiely, also stationed at Albury, arrived as the assistant and was present for the first meeting to discuss the building of a presbytery on 17th February. The list of those at the meeting reads is perhaps the earliest “Who’s Who” of Corowa Catholic community – with some families still active 140 years later. “Mr R Brown [Catholic entrepreneur and dignitary of the town] was in the chair and the following were present: Father Slattery, Father Kiely, Messrs M Kennedy, J Donnely, G Sedgwick, Denis Hallahan, James Nagle, Eugene McSwiney, Thomas Coffey, P Sandral, J Cronin and J Nolan” (R. 22). Within a year, the priests had their residence.

In 1881, after just three years, Fr Slattery was appointed to open the new parish of Temora. In a farewell speech he said that “he had enjoyed his three years at Corowa, but there was much travelling, long and fatiguing” (R. 23). His comment was unsurprising, because the outer limits of the parish were: Jerilderie (112km), Tocumwal (86.5km), Finley (96.5km), Berrigan (75km) and Urana (80km). All were certainly a full day’s ride in the saddle along barely defined roads. Attending distant emergency ‘sick calls’ in the days of horseback ministry demanded endurance and stamina of the priests.

FR PATRICK BERMINGHAM – Second Parish Priest (1882)

In December 1882, Bishop Lanigan appointed Fr Patrick Bermingham to Corowa, whose health unfortunately was by now not strong; he decided to return to Ireland for a recuperative break. However, he died in England in September 1883. Ironically, then, the town’s second parish priest lies buried in Kensal Green, London, without his ever having taken up his post in Corowa. Access a short biography in the ADB (Australian Dictionary of Biography) here.

 Bp Lanigan - fr Men of 38 p.177

Fr Patrick Bermingham (H 177)


Sisters of Mercy

The 1887 arrival of the Sisters of Mercy in Corowa was cause for celebration. It is recounted in the Sisters’ centenary booklet:

“On 17th January 1887, Mother Camillus and Sisters Angela, Evangelista and Celestine stepped from the train at Wahgunyah terminus on their way to take charge of St Mary’s School in Corowa. It will be recalled that the presbytery, built by Father Slattery in 1878, became the Convent when the Sisters of Mercy arrived in 1887” (p.6).

W Bermingham P Hickey - Early students at St Marys Sch - Roddy 36

[Photo (R 36) taken at east end – then the main door of the 1893 school. The building, although more than 120 years old, remains in use as the Parish Hall.]

The four Sisters carried on the outstanding work of the original lay teachers, Miss A Burns and Miss Stewart. The four classes soon expanded, and St Mary’s Catholic School established its name firmly in the history of the parish. By 1893, a new school was opened by Fr Timothy O’Shaughnessy to accommodate the increasing numbers. The building – 124 years on – still serves as the parish hall hosting CWL meetings, Wrap with Love fortnightly sewing of blankets for the world’s poor, monthly Anointing Masses, and a weekly Children’s Play Group.

The Sisters’ centenary booklet (pp.8-9) includes the names of the children enrolled for 1887 – 82 girls and 71 boys, some of whose descendants are still on the 2016 local electoral roll; their families were a significant cross section of the population in Corowa at the end of the 19th century, in the Riverina town that was soon to be the focal point for the Australian Federation movement.

Today, St Mary’s school is situated opposite in Federation Avenue, in much larger quarters that include the former Mercy Convent.

Of the more than 70 Sisters who laboured in St Mary’s School and parish, the final residents at Corowa were Srs Jean Murray (RIP), Elizabeth Clancy (RIP), Mavis Hanlon and Maureen Hummerston. Increasing age, declining vocations, and recruitment of many lay teachers, meant they gradually relinquished the school to lay staff.

The Sisters of Mercy had laboured in Corowa parish for 124 years and were formally farewelled on 25th October 2011; they were represented by the two remaining members of the community, Sisters Maureen Hummerston and Mavis Hanlon. Both Sisters retired to their community at Young, NSW, by the end of 2011. The Free Press of 3rd November 2011 dedicated page 5 to the Sisters’ Farewell. (View the article here.)

However a new chapter began to be written in March 2016, when two Mercy Sisters commenced counselling and support services with Catholic Centacare in the “Along the Murray” project. It meant two Sisters were again appointed to Corowa to assist the project, furnishing the parish with a weekly presence of the Sisters of Mercy.

This short account fails to do justice to the commitment and faith that the Sisters of Mercy brought to the parish during their 124 years and now continue to bring the Corowa  community. Numerous families, schoolchildren and individuals have received their help and support and remain grateful for their contribution. For more detail, access the link to their booklet on the first 100 years 1887-1987 here.

Corowa – Birthplace of Federation

In July 1893, Corowa hosted the conference that led to the 1898 convention that finalised the constitution for the Commonwealth. Corowa was the meeting place because of the serious “dissatisfaction generated by the imposition of customs duties which were levied on goods between the States and naturally the area along the Murray was the most acutely affected” [Corowa 1977, Free Press 2nd ed., Rotary Club of Corowa, p.3].

Early that decade, a series of “Border Federation Leagues” had sprung up to canvass unified action on the issue of the tariffs that border traders faced. Ultimately, these grass roots organisations called the conference. “Invitations were extended to the New South Wales and Victorian Governments to be represented… In all, 70 delegates were invited to take part in the discussions, the Parliamentary representatives travelling by special trains from Sydney and Melbourne”              (Ibid. 3-4).

At the Conference, many subjects were discussed including Australian “defence, postal facilities, immigration and, of course, the question of customs duties between States” (Ibid. p.4). Ultimately, a motion was proposed by Dr Quick – a Bendigo delegate – that called on the Parliaments of all States to pass an act providing for a convention aimed at a Federal Constitution. It was passed unanimously and, with further agitation by the border leagues and other interested bodies, the 1898 convention delivered the final constitution that was successfully submitted to a nationwide referendum. On January 1st 1901, the Federation of the Commonwealth of Australia came into being. Corowa is proud to have been part of the initiative that finalised “an ideal which had been talked about for almost 30 years” (Ibid. p.4).

Were Corowa Catholics active in the Federation League? No Catholic personages appear among the seven Corowa delegates at the 1893 Conference, however, because of the number of Catholic business men living in the district, there is little doubt they joined the Federation movement to remove the border tariffs.

1880s and 1890s

Baptismal records, marriage records and the increasing number of children at St Mary’s school provide clear evidence of a vibrant St Mary’s parish in the final decades of the 19th century.

First Baptism and Marriage Register

It is a source of awe to turn the now tattered pages of the first Baptismal Register 1878-1895, which was no more than a 19th century accounting book. The priests had to rule up the pages and write the headings at the top of every page: Date, Name of the baptised, Parents, Residence, Priest baptising and Godparents. The same book turned upside down and opened at the back served as the very first Marriage Register. The document is a precious, irreplaceable record of St Mary’s early years.

The very first page of the Baptismal Register hints at the early characters involved in St Mary’s, with names such as George Carns, William King, Catherine Kelly, Prosper & Mrs Sandral, James Nagle and Honora Nolan featuring. These and many others are recorded in 1878, the year the parish was established. Interesting also to note are names given for the ‘Residence’ of various candidates: Corowa, Gumbargana, Boomanomara, Lowesdale, Mulwala, and Jerilderie.

Even the name of the first child recorded hints quaintly of an era very different from our own: “Violet Edmundina Carns”. She was baptised on 12th March 1878 by Fr Richard Kiely, the priest who would, within a year, say the 9th February 1879 Sunday Mass in Jerilderie Court House across the street from the Police Station – the week-end Ned Kelly and his gang were simultaneously holding the police in the gaol and the town at gunpoint!  “Father Kiely holding service that morning saved the situation for the outlaws (only his second visit to the town and not knowing many parishioners), and as he left same (sic) afternoon for Corowa, he was probably not aware of the outlaws’ visit till after his return home” – The Kelly Raid on Jerilderie (1913) by ‘One who was there’ Ch.6. – Cf. Jerilderie 100 Years (1858-1958) by Rev. H.C. Lundy (1949) p.73.

Fr Timothy O’Shaughnessy

Born in Limerick, Maynooth-trained, and arriving in Australia in the late 1880s, Fr Tim O’Shaughnessy   was posted to Corowa by Bishop Lanigan in 1889. In his very first year he oversaw the building of a new presbytery. With his talent for building and raising funds, in his seven years as Parish Priest, Fr O’Shaughnessy initiated funds for a convent for the Sisters of St Joseph at Howlong, and ‘built the presbytery and churches at Urangeline Creek and Tocumwal and had £150 in hand for the Berrigan church” (R 32).

New Diocese of Wagga Wagga

Bishop Lanigan had created the Missionary District of Corowa in 1878 and at his death in 1900, Bishop John Gallagher, educated at Maynooth College, Dublin, succeeded him and was still bishop of Goulburn in 1917 when the diocese of Wagga Wagga was established with Dr Dwyer its first bishop.

Bishop Gallagher made three-yearly visits to all parishes in the diocese and administered Confirmation to the children.  In 1908, he laid the foundation stone for the new Infants School in Corowa – the exact site is unclear – and the building was blessed on 13th November 1910 by Dean Phelan of Melbourne. In 1911, Bishop Gallagher blessed and opened the Balldale church which was then part of Corowa parish.

Fr Patrick Hickey PP (1885-1928)

P Hickey - Roddy 36

(Roddy p.36)

When Fr O’Shaughnessy was posted to Boorowa in 1895, he was replaced by Fr Patrick Hickey “an Irish writer of note, (who) was born in the main town of Thurles, Tipperary on September 25, 1857” (R 33). After his arrival in Australia in 1885, he was President of St Patrick’s College, Goulburn, then assistant in Albury, and had a year in Gundagai before arriving in Corowa late in January 1895. He was to spend the next thirty-three years of his priestly life in Corowa, and remains its second longest serving pastor.

Father Hickey’s popularity in Corowa and throughout the district is best summarised by a resident 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” (R 33).

Catholic Sodalities

His time in St Mary’s Corowa was very different from 21st century practice of faith and religion. Roddy notes: “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” (R 34).

Parish Missions were also a regular feature of the era and Fr Hickey believed firmly in them, with records showing that they “were held in three successive years, 1899, 1900 and 1901, twice by Passionist Fathers, once by the Redemptorists” (R 34). The missioners were well trained and highly skilled in public oratory, enabling them to entertain and captivate a congregation for long periods on subjects of faith and morals.

Fr Hickey was a devoted pastor, however ill-health was a problem and his doctor insisted on exercise. This led to his purchasing a couple of greyhounds which he enjoyed walking each day. Not long thereafter, he was entering them in local races. To give the dogs extra training he sought the help of parish boys: “Cyril Skehan and Mick Warton can recall the anticipation of Father’s request when he came to the classroom – the drive out of town (in Father’s buggy), coupled with a much more interesting prospect of handling the greyhounds rather than of poring over school books” (R 35).

World War I

Australia went to war in 1915 and the sad tales of Gallipoli and the Western Front were seared into its history. Corowa has its ANZACs and St Mary’s first baptismal register includes, on 9th June 1887, the baptismal record of William H Crisfield who was wounded during the landing at Gallipoli and died of his wounds two weeks later at Alexandria, Egypt; relatives of William are still members of the parish in 2016.

Mention of World War I in Roddy’s short history of the parish is confined to two short notes – the first, exemplified Fr Hickey’s priestly ministry: “Mr Harold Squires recalled being one of those boys (called out of class to assist Fr Hickey) and holding the horse while news of a son’s death on active service was conveyed to a mother” (R 35). The second note is: “the First World War delayed the building of the new church for many years” (R 38).

Corowa’s new church

Although Fr Hickey delayed as long as he could the building of a new church for Corowa on the grounds of insufficient funds, when the task was finally undertaken and completed by 1921; it was his pride and joy.

Naturally, all stops were pulled out for the raising of funds from customary church avenues: men of substance among parishioners were called upon to be guarantors; Catholic Balls were organized; bazaars during Show Week, picnics and concerts, St Patrick’s Day functions, a Christmas fete and a St Patrick’s Day race meeting were all used to defray the cost of the new church.

Corowa had a Catholic community that worked hard to bring the vision of a beautiful church to a reality. It is clear from the records of committees just how many people were involved and what a strong statement it makes on involvement of the laity. Unfortunately, an historical account of the diocese that aims to include short sections on each of its parishes, is forced to exclude the vast numbers of names of the faithful who have been – and remain – the soul of the diocese.

Roddy wrote: “Without a doubt the highlight of Father 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” (R 41).

The new church, which had cost £9,000, was blessed and opened by Bishop Dwyer on 20th November 1921 (R 43).

The church is approaching its centenary in 2021, and it remains a monument to the faith of that early 20th century generation of Catholics. Built in a Romanesque style, it can seat 400 – the architect, A.A. Fritsch of Melbourne, suggested 800 (R. 43), but the pews have since been reduced in number. The sanctuary west window is a stunning, German-fired, stained glass scene of the Crucifixion. Sicilian-white marble altars, and Italian three-dimensional Stations of the Cross are other notable features.

Knights of the Southern Cross (KSC) Corowa

The first meeting of the Commercial Professional Men’s Association was held in Sydney, but soon after, on July 9th 1919, the members changed the name to its present name, the Knights of the Southern Cross.

The first meeting in Corowa was held on 4th May 1926, with Dr J. Hurley as President and Mr J Freeman as Secretary. Mr Freeman was succeeded for this position by Mr J. Phibbs when Mr Freeman moved to Melbourne. The Corowa Branch was number 39 formed in New South Wales.

Meetings of the Knights were held monthly and discussion usually revolved around how to help one’s fellow man, the Parish Priest and the local Parish. One of the reasons the Order was formed in 1919, was because of the prevailing sectarian bitterness and the way Catholics were treated in that era regarding professional positions. Advertisements in papers often read: “Catholics need not apply.” Consequently, in those early years “knights needed to concentrate on economic matters, educating themselves in their Faith and in matters related to improving their employment prospects” (Knightscope Vol. 53 No. 1, p.12). The Corowa members of the Knights – now with small numbers – no longer meet in the parish.

Fr Hickey remained Parish Priest in Corowa until his death in 1928. “Father’s death caused gloom over the town and district. He was seventy years of age when he died, forty-four of those spent in religion almost all of them at Corowa. Bishop Dwyer presided at the Requiem Mass attended by priests and nuns and people in high positions from the whole of the Diocese of Wagga and from neighbouring towns well into Victoria. Hundreds had to stand outside the church” (R 41). 

Fr John Bonnar PP (1928-1930)

Fr John Bonnar

Fr John Bonnar was ordained in Ireland in 1907 and came to Goulburn the same year. He was in Urana, Berrigan, Tocumwal, Balldale, Temora and Albury before serving in Henty for ten years; from there he came to Corowa in 1928. “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 (and) was an accomplished organist” (R 50).

Fr Bonnar completed the furnishings of the new church and arranged for its consecration on April 23rd 1929. In fulfilment of a promise to Fr Hickey, Archbishop Mannix again attended.

The pace of life in Corowa was extremely busy and, as Roddy says, “(Fr Bonnar) did not spare himself which might have contributed to (his) cerebral haemorrhage” (R 53). As well as work on the church, he was involved with the new convent building and made long overdue repairs to the presbytery.

“He 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 O. and M. Football League in 1929, (and) put lights on St Mary’s tennis courts. He knew everybody and was identified with Catholics and the town generally” (R 53). Fr Bonnar died at the age of 46, on 22nd December 1930, just two and a half years after his appointment to Corowa.

Fr Patrick Joseph O’Reilly PP (1931-1945)


Fr O’Reilly arrived in Corowa in January 1931. Born in 1884, in Derry, Ireland, and ordained at All Hallows College in 1910, he came to Goulburn that year. He was assistant priest in Narrandera, Junee and Young, before serving as Parish Priest in Balldale, Tocumwal, Jerilderie, Finley and Corowa, where he stayed until his death on 5th May 1945, aged 61.

One of the early initiatives of Fr O’Reilly was to have a parish mission in August 1931. The mission was conducted by Fr A.T. Herring of the Marist Fathers and must have had a strong emphasis on devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Eucharist. This is evident in one of the untitled parish registers of the day which contains a heading on page 16: “St Mary’s Star of the Sea Sacred Heart Confraternity and Eucharistic League established during Mission conducted by

One of the early initiatives of Fr O’Reilly was to have a parish mission in August 1931. The mission was conducted by Fr A.T. Herring of the Marist Fathers and must have had a strong emphasis on devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Eucharist. This is evident in one of the untitled parish registers of the day which contains a heading on page 16: “St Mary’s Star of the Sea Sacred Heart Confraternity and Eucharistic League established during Mission conducted by Rev A. T. Herring SM 9th- 20th August 1931.”

The register records 4 prefects for the men, 9 for the women and 2 children. The membership lists on the pages following include the names and addresses of 69 men and 177 women. Thereafter, the register records Saints’ Guilds that were formed, 4 for men and 13 for women, each with a maximum membership of 15. They appear to be subdivisions of the members of the Sacred Heart and Eucharistic League. In 1945, further entries of guild memberships are recorded with reduced numbers – only seven guilds are listed and members total just 99 – including 4 deceased!

During Fr O’Reilly’s time as Parish Priest, Balldale returned as part of Corowa parish, and thereafter he was given assistant priests. The following priests are listed by Roddy – as well as many of their achievements, in the 1930s and early 1940s: Fr Gilbey, born in South Melbourne, Fr Glover of Perth, Fr Norman Duck of Junee, Fr John Lane of Koroit; Fr Much, born in Germany, who arrived in Australia from New Guinea to be ‘interned’ during the war; and Fr Kunze from Austria who was also ‘interned’ during war-time. However, internment for these two priests meant they were allowed to participate in parish duties and they were simply to be accompanied by an Australian ‘mentor’ wherever they travelled throughout the parish.

The fourteen years of Fr O’Reilly’s ministry in Corowa, which included the WWII years, saw strong development of youth groups and leadership teams. “The youth of the parish organized 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” (R 59).

Bishop Henschke, in his panegyric at Fr O’Reilly’s funeral, summarised in a few words key aspects of Fr O’Reilly’s ministry: “He was a retiring man who 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” (R 60). The coffin bearers that day were significant figures in the parish: Messrs C.B. Lethbridge, J. Nolan, W. Keenan, P. Whitty, J. Dunn and Dr J.D. Hurley (cf. R 60).


Three country churches

Corowa did not rate a mention as a village before 1854 and when Fr Lovat SJ first passed by the area in 1845 and said Mass, there were very few residents. However, clusters of huts were to be found at different points on the “runs” (selected properties) at Brocklesby, Collendina, Quat Quatta and Mahonga. Among them three were in Catholic hands and when priests began visiting from Albury, they hosted the Catholics for Mass. Eventually, when numbers grew and finances justified the move, communities asked for churches to be built central to Catholic residents of each area.

St Patrick’s Balldale (1910), St Joseph’s Ringwood (1955), and St Pius X Coreen (1963), served the Catholics living nearby. Like St Mary’s Corowa, their construction was a witness to the faith and generosity of locals, and highlighted the constraints that distance placed on those trying to fulfil Sunday Mass obligations.

St Patricks Balldale - early

St Patrick’s Balldale – early photo with priest and teachers and children

Balldale was first settled by Charles Henry Knight in 1848 and the Doyle family. Then came the Browns, Kaines and Grenells. But it was not until 1902, when Quat Quatta was broken up and sold in smaller allotments, that a large influx of settlers from Victoria arrived and with them many Catholic families. In 1910 Fr Hickey called a meeting to discuss the building of a church and within eighteen months St Patrick’s was built. In 1938, after the establishment of Howlong as a parish, Balldale ceased being a parish and was again attached to Corowa.

Ringwood church, which replaced the very basic local public hall where Mass had been said since 1914, was served by the Corowa priests for fifty years.

St Josephs Ringwood

St Joseph’s Ringwood (R 65)

With smaller numbers of residents in country areas, better roads and cars, and fewer priests in the diocese, Balldale and Ringwood are no longer churches but private homes. Coreen continues to have a twice-monthly Mass.

St Pius X Coreen & Blessing

St Pius X, Coreen (R 69)


Monsignor Michael Lane, Corowa PP (1945-1982)


Father Michael Lane, born in Koroit, Victoria, was appointed to St Mary’s Corowa in 1945 and remained as Parish Priest for 37 years. These were important years in the history of the church. When Father Lane commenced his Corowa ministry, almost every aspect of Church worship was conducted in Latin, with churches filled with faithful listening attentively in the pews – or outside the back door having a cigarette during the sermon.

Liturgical changes were slowly gathering pace in Europe where intense studies of early church practice were under way, and questions were being raised about greater participation by the laity. However, it was not until Pope John XXIII summoned the Second Vatican Council that universal changes became the norm after the publication of the Council’s document on the Liturgy.

This led to rejoicing and enthusiasm in many parishes as Masses began to be celebrated in English – with the priest facing the people! Some dioceses were reluctant to embark on the changes, but eventually the dignity and ‘mystery’ of the Latin Rite was transferred to the Mass as it is celebrated today.

Fifty years after the changes it is difficult to grasp the interior struggles priests of Fr Lane’s era must have faced as they sought to come to terms with the new rites, struggles that were also faced by the laity, especially older members.

The June 1983 leading article of the diocesan paper Together records the 60th anniversary of Monsignor Lane’s ordination to the priesthood. It features some of his reminiscences and can be accessed here.

As this entry of the Corowa Parish History for the book marking the centenary of Wagga Wagga diocese was being compiled, page one of the Together of December 1987 was found to feature the centenary of the Cathedral. On that occasion it was Monsignor Lane who preached the occasional sermon for the children and clergy to mark St Michael’s Cathedral Centenary. It is accessible here. St Michael's Cathedral Wagga 1925[Men of '38 p. 51].png

During the time of Fr (later Monsignor) Lane, there were eight assistant priests and with their help the parish thrived. The assistant priests were Frs Roach, Andrew Quinn, Wright, Bartlett, Plunkett, Clark, Peter Quinn, and Douglas George.

The parish centenary book captures the spirit of those years with noticeable nostalgia:

“In the 1940s the influence of the war years lingered on. Wages were low, money was scarce and there was restriction on spending. People were disciplined – with the result that large sodalities continued to flourish, in particular the Holy Name Society, the Sacred Heart Sodality, and the Children of Mary.

“Children obeyed and respected their parents and youth organizations were successful. The Campion Society drew young men who were anxious to learn more about their faith and defend it if the need arose.

“Catholics still worked hard at bazaars, flower shows, school picnics, fetes, euchre parties and dances to raise needed finance.


“The 1950s brought a period of comparative affluence; these were more prosperous years with higher prices for wool, sheep, wheat and cattle. But prosperity need not always have beneficial results; an increasing worldliness, softness and religious indifference began to show itself. A dearth of vocations and the Wyndham Report were to lead to the termination of secondary education in the parish.



“Direct giving replaced the previous methods of raising money and this enabled the construction of the new St Mary’s school. On the other hand, the parish community spirit began to disappear as parishioners were deprived of opportunities for meeting together.


“The 1960s and the aftermath of the 2nd Vatican Council brought a period of turbulence when many, particularly young people, drifted away from the practice of the faith. Older parishioners were confused by rapid liturgical changes, many of which they found difficult to accept. Sodalities, as they had been known for many years, began to disappear. In the community at large the pill, pornography and television led to a materialistic age where the search for pleasure became all important” (R 85).

Fr Wilf Plunkett, acting at Administrator of the parish during Monsignor Lane’s extended sick leave, began the major liturgical changes. A new free-standing marble altar was placed closer to the congregation thereby enabling the priest to celebrate Mass facing the people. The gates of the Communion Rails were later removed by Fr McGrath and now are in service in North Albury parish church. Fr Plunkett also altered the Confessionals, removing one and refurbishing the other to allow face-to-face Reconciliation if the penitent wished. All this was done in consultation with Bishop William Brennan of Wagga who was keen that parishes in the diocese adopt the changes discussed at Vatican II.


“The years after Vatican II saw many Catholics apparently lose their faith, but this was counterbalanced by the greater number who became fervent and generous. There were many encouraging signs – a revival of prayer and an enormous growth of prayer groups; a greater interest in the Catholic School and in the work of Catechetics, parents beginning to play their rightful part in the religious education of their children and not leaving everything to teachers” (R 85).


On 29th November 1953, Bishop Henschke DD, of Wagga, blessed and opened the new presbytery for the parish. Monsignor Lane had overseen its construction, replacing the earlier one built and opened in 1889 by Fr Tim O’Shaughnessy.


It is a false assumption to think that with Vatican II the Church lost the vitality of its societies and sodalities. From 1948 new life was already being engendered through different organisations and others flourished after the Council; the following are mentioned by Roddy:

  1. Catholic Women’s Social Guild – now the Catholic Women’s League; 2. The Campion Society; 3. Planned Giving; 4. St Joseph’s Club; 5. Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament Praesidium; 6. Young Christian Workers; 7. Majellan Groups; 8. Parents and Friends’ Association; 9. Young Christian Students – YCS; 10. Choirs.

“Not only have different opportunities been provided to enable Catholics to adapt to the newer religious life-style pictured by the Vatican Council, but significant advances have been made in two areas that are as old as the church itself – the singing of hymns and prayer.

Mr Baron Lethbridge, in charge of the music, has continued the good work of former conductors and organists. He has the interest, competence and energy necessary to make religious singing a live subject. He merits the support of all, even the young with their more modern musical modes” (R 89-93).

Hibernians & B Lethbridge w Choir Roddy 88

Baron Lethbridge front right,  with Choir (R 88)


Monsignor Lane was parish priest when St Mary’s reached the milestone of 100 years as a parish and major celebrations were organized for the parish and town during the first week of May, 1978.

Papal Greetings

A letter from Cardinal Villot, Vatican Secretary of State, conveying the greetings and best wishes of Pope Paul VI on the occasion of the Centenary, was sent to Monsignor Lane. It can be accessed here.

Parish Centenary Book Launch

[A full online version of the book The Church by the Rocky River can be accessed here.]

To coincide with the Centenary, and to footnote it in a most significant way, former teacher and head of the Catholic Education Office of Sydney who had come to reside in Corowa, Ambrose T. Roddy, was invited to write St. Mary’s parish history. It was done with maximum care and attention to detail.

Of course, letters seeking assistance with the history were sent out by Monsignor Lane and among the responses is an extended letter from Fr Tom Linane, historian of the Ballarat diocese. His reply is here.

The title of the work is The Church by the Rocky River, and was an important feature of the celebrations with its launch on Sunday 23rd April, just one week prior to Centenary week. The Committee invitation to the launch, sent to surrounding parishes, can be seen here.

From the ‘Regan Collection’ of Centenary Committee Minutes preserved in the parish, it is clear big plans were envisaged. Thirty-two parishioners, including the pastor and his assistant Fr George – along with Mercy Sisters Angela and Paulinus – made up the ‘Centenary Committee’. These very representative members of St Mary’s were then subdivided into the following sub-committees: Historical, Liturgical, Publications, Finance, and Entertainment.  The Executive with ten members were to oversee and promote the work of the sub-committees. The best summary of the importance and nature of the celebration is captured in a circular letter signed by both the Committee President T.J. Regan and the Secretary M.T. Kelly; it was distributed to every Catholic family in the parish:

“Dear Parishioner,

“The pioneers of the Corowa Parish were in many cases also the pioneers of the district. Along with their desire to settle and develop the area, their enduring faith led the Bishop of Goulburn to establish the parish of Corowa in January 1878. As a practical display of their faith and generosity a Church and Presbytery were immediately built. The ensuing years have brought many changes – parish area, buildings etc., and many parishioners felt that 100 years establishment of the Parish could not pass without some form of remembrance and celebration.

“From meetings held, five subcommittees have been formed to organise various facets of the proposed Centenary Celebrations, to be held over a one week period from Sunday, April 30th, 1978 to Sunday, May 7, 1978. To ensure the success of this very important historical occasion, the committees are seeking a total parish involvement.”

Thereafter, the letter outlines the tasks of the committees with the hope that parishioners would support the efforts being made and “enable these celebrations to be carried out in a manner worthy of our parish and pioneers.”

The Minutes of the Executive meeting of April 2nd 1978 gives some details of each day’s plan during the week of celebrations: “Sunday April 30 Mos. Lane to preach at Mass for deceased parishioners and relatives… Monday May 1 Fr George to be preacher at Mass for Elderly… Tuesday May 2 (Mass for Clergy and Religious) B. Lethbridge advised that the Sisters of Mercy had offered to form a choir at Mass… Wednesday May 3 (‘Rock’ Mass for Youth – preacher Fr O’Keefe; Evening): ‘Edge of Sound’ orchestra had been engaged from 8pm – 12 midnight at a fee of $200… Thursday May 4 (Mass for Children) Fr Burgess to be preacher… Friday May 5 (Centenary Ball) Mrs P Scott to co-ordinate supper arrangements… Saturday May 6 (Mass of Consecration of the Altar and Ambo) Preacher to be a Canberra bishop (Cahill)… Sunday May 7 (Centenary Mass and barbecue at Racecourse) Bishop Carroll to be preacher.” [Note: Archbishop Cahill was unavailable and Bishop Morgan celebrated the Saturday Mass of Consecration.]

The Corowa Free Press of Thursday May 18 (p.5) summarised the many tributes of ‘thanks’ that were offered at the Racecourse Centenary Mass. The key speakers were Cr. Dave Lewis, president of Corowa Shire Council, Mr Jim Regan, president of the Centenary Committee and Monsignor Lane.

Councillor Lewis thanked visitors who had come from near and far, many returning to Corowa for the special celebrations; “Many of these people had, in their days, done a lot for their church and for the town. He thanked everybody connected with the centenary for a job well done…”

“Mr Jim Regan … said that the Catholics of Corowa had been honouring people who had shaped the church in Corowa and district, many of whom had been forgotten. … He was pleased and honoured to hand to Monsignor Lane from the parishioners a beautiful ciborium which carried the inscription: “Centenary St Mary’s Corowa, 1878-1978”, in grateful memory of those who went before.

Monsignor Lane “thanked God for the gifts of the past hundred years. He appreciated the letter from the Pope (now St John Paul II) in which he wrote that the secret of the Catholic Church is devotion to the Blessed Eucharist, the Mass and the Sacraments. … He thanked Bishop Carroll for his interest and prayers and for coming… and also Jim Regan, the executive and members of the sub-committees who had worked unceasingly for 12 months to ensure the success of the celebrations…”

St Mary’s parish community had marked the 100th milestone with appropriate solemnity and joy and, revitalised by the unity created by the organisation of so many activities, the parish moved on.

Catholic Women’s League – 70 years!

The Corowa branch of the Catholic Women’s League, formerly known as the Catholic Women’s Social Guild, was opened on March 7th 1947, and has functioned continuously until 2016. While many of the activities of the League have changed throughout these 70 years, the core value has always remained the same: “to uphold the dignity of womanhood and support the Parish Priests and the activities of the Parish” (Highlights of CWL Minutes – M Lethbridge)

The inaugural Spiritual Director was Monsignor Michael Lane, whose Golden Jubilee of priesthood was catered for by the League in 1979. This was typical of the League activities – supporting the pastors and strengthening the social and faith fabric of the parish.

Over the years, hospital and home visitations to the sick and elderly by League members have brought help to many families. In more recent times, League members have become Eucharistic Ministers and these bring Holy Communion each week to parishioners unable to attend Mass. At the ‘Karinya’ monthly Mass of Anointing of the Sick, some members attend and assist the Karinya Volunteers in bringing residents to the chapel for the Mass; at the parish monthly Anointing Mass they provide the morning tea.

As well as Prayer Days, Retreats, and dedicated attendance at special Masses and Rosaries being offered in the parish, the monthly meeting always includes a faith-filled discussion on one or several items in the Horizon, the League magazine. In these ways the spiritual life of each member is formed and deepened. Consequently, the life of the parish has been greatly enriched by the dedication of the very large number of CWL members across the years.

Balldale Majellan

In 1974, while Monsignor Lane was still parish priest, a Majellan Group began among the young mothers in the area of Balldale. It has continued among the same women for more than 40 years – now no longer ‘young’ mothers, but grandmothers.

The purpose of the Balldale Majellan Group – based on the spirituality of St Gerard Majella CSsR – was to offer spiritual, emotional, and social support to young mothers on properties with families large and small. In 2016, the remaining members continue to support each other and the spiritual life of the parish through prayer and monthly meetings. Although still called ‘Balldale Majellan’, most members now live in Corowa.

St Mary’s Tennis Courts – now St Mary’s Court

Opposite the old St Mary’s School (1893) building in Parade Place is a large plot of land that also belongs to St Mary’s parish. For many years it was the site of the parish tennis courts – four in all – and a vibrant parish tennis club that hosted many competitions. The local competition consisted of six teams, including one from St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church.

Highlights for Courts

One very big occasion for St Mary’s Tennis Club was the installation and turning-on of lights. Interestingly, the principal invited guest players that evening were Rod Laver (Grand Slam fame) and Rex Hardwick (Davis Cup & Wimbledon Doubles). Among local players were two keen members who were not unlike Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall, John O’Donoghue and Tim Boxall.

Chas ODonoghue & Tim Boxall - St Ms Tennis players

O’Donoghue-Boxall Team

The tennis courts were also an ample venue for the early St Mary’s School to conduct its end of year physical education displays.

In due course, however, during Fr McGrath’s time when the clay courts were long abandoned and overgrown with weeds, a meeting was called to discuss how the property could serve a better purpose. The original meeting of a large number of parishioners passed two motions – to formally discontinue use of the site as tennis courts, and to elect a committee who would deliver a proposal regarding the site. The members of the committee were Ian Brooks (President), Marj Regan (Sec), Elaine Clohessy, Bill Kaitler, and Jim Sandral. The proposal was to erect units for retirees, especially serving needs of senior members of the Catholic community.

Consequently, on 8th April 1984, Bishop William Brennan opened the nine Units of St Mary’s Court. The parish had invested in the construction of 9 units for independent living for retirees; several units are 2-bedroom and adequate to serve the needs of couples. St Mary’s Court Committee, all members of St Mary’s parish, manage the site and ensure maintenance of units and grounds. Residents with an interest in gardening are welcome to cultivate the small plots beside each unit. In 2015, a second carport was erected to accommodate residents’ cars.

In 2016, local Landcare members and volunteers turned the unused portion nearest the church – formerly known as ‘the triangle’ – into a native plants garden that includes a pathway and a sitting out area for residents and passers-by.

Father John Anthony McGrath PP 1982 – 1996

Fr John A McGrath

Fr John McGrath

Father John Anthony McGrath – “Mac” – was born 23rd May 1926 and died 18th May 2001; he is buried at Wagga. He was ordained to the priesthood on 25th July 1954. His favourite saying was: “The Lord is not dead, nor does he sleep.” His faith in the Holy Spirit was absolute, as witnessed by many in the parish, and even extended to his old and battered car. When a parishioner warned him to be careful driving to Melbourne, he retorted: “Don’t worry; the Lord is in the driving seat!”

Fr McGrath spent his early and teenage years in an orphanage in Ballarat. However, he never lost the sense of ‘family’; he and his brother and sisters remained very close throughout their lives. This translated into the fact that family always came first in his work in the parish – especially when any family was in crisis. He had a gift with languages and spoke Italian, German, and was – like most priests of his day – fluent in Latin. Canon Law was his hobby and always a favourite item for discussion.

After Monsignor Lane’s retirement in 1982, Fr John McGrath was appointed to Corowa and remained Parish Priest until his retirement in 1996.


A special feature of during Fr McGrath’s time was THE CHIMES. This 16-page A-4 production was the bi-monthly parish newsletter funded by contributions to a page of advertisements from 9-10 local businesses. The items included the Parish Council Report, usually on page 2, CWL News, a short news report of St Mary’s School activities, Kids’ Clips, humorous stories, reflections, opinion pieces drawn from outside sources, and on the back page ‘Notices’ highlighting forthcoming events.

The spirit of THE CHIMES, is captured in the penultimate volume 42, December 1996. As Fr McGrath retired that month, the issue carried the article “Farewell Words from Father Mac”. Access the full issue of THE CHIMES here.

Music in the Liturgy

Fr McGrath’s love of music was legendary; he had an excellent singing voice. This was put to great use because of his deep appreciation of the aims of the Vatican Council in regard to lay participation in the liturgy, as well as its enhancement through music and hymns, both traditional and recent.

His love of music was firmly based on skill and professional knowledge. He belonged to that very rare breed of priests who was able to write music for the Responsorial Psalm for each Sunday of the year in a key that all could sing. He also wrote a ‘Gloria’ which remains in the present collection of music and was played long after he had retired from the parish.

The Easter Vigil was always a solemn event in the liturgical year. In Fr McGrath’s time it commenced with the faithful assembled beside the parish Hall for the kindling of the outdoor Easter Fire and the lighting of the Easter Candle. This was followed by the whole congregation singing during the procession from the hall across the carpark and into the darkened church – a most evocative experience. Father’s sung Masses remain well remembered in Corowa.

Antioch Youth

Full of enthusiasm and always available for a chat with young people, he enjoyed the then popular Youth Masses, with their guitars and youthful voices. He was a strong supporter of the Antioch youth movement when it was introduced into the diocese and the parish. It was and in some parishes still is a parish based youth movement for young people. It usually featured a weekend of religious experience and fellowship with a strong peer ministry.

Antioch fostered a sense of belonging to the Church and gave participants a valuable chance to engage in scriptural reflection and discussion and to renew their acquaintance with the sacraments. As one parishioner expressed it: there was “a sheer joy in watching the youth embrace their faith through Antioch.” Adult lay leaders assisting the young leaders who ran the parish weekends were Baron and Mary Lethbridge and Neale and Elizabeth Bathols.

Lent gathering of priests

It was Fr McGrath who began the “Priests Monday” on the last Monday before Lent each year. In the early years they were very big affairs – with marquees on the back lawn of the presbytery. On such occasions the highlight was often when, to the amusement of the assembled clergy, ‘Mac’ sang ‘Waltzing Matilda’ in German. Fr Hart continued the pre-Lenten Luncheon for priests in its 33rd year in 2016.

A lifelong hobby for ‘Mac’ had been stamp collecting and, after retirement, in order to pay for his overseas trip, he sold his very large collection.

“Fr McGrath became ill during March, while in Rome, and died 18th May 2001.” – recorded in St Mary’s Parish Bulletin 27th May 2001. Many parishioners of St Mary’s and from other parishes, as well as priests from across the diocese, joined the bishop for Fr ‘Mac’s’ Requiem and funeral in Wagga on 28th May 2001.


 1st Comm #13 Caleb Tilders

Fr Paul Hart distributes ‘First Communion’ 2014.


Fr Paul Hart PP (1997-2016)

Fr Bernard Paul Hart, was born 18th February 1941 at Junee Reefs, educated in Erin Vale Public School and Our Lady of Sacred Heart, Bowral, then at St Michael’s Agricultural College, Goulburn. After five years farming and banking, he felt called to the priesthood and completed his secondary education at Chevalier College, Bowral. Thereafter he entered the Springwood Seminary and St Patrick’s College, Manly, and was ordained to the priesthood at St Joseph’s, Junee, on 29th August 1970 by Bishop F. P. Carroll.



Fr Hart’s first appointment was to St Michael’s Cathedral in Wagga, thence to North Albury and Albury. Further appointments were once more to the Cathedral, then Narrandera, Lavington, and Tocumwal. Thereafter, he was appointed Parish Priest at Tumbarumba, and later, Finley. On January 1st 1997, Fr Hart was appointed to St Mary’s Star of the Sea, and served as Parish Priest until his retirement in December, 2016, a full twenty years of priestly ministry among the Catholics of Corowa and a total of 32 years in the role of Parish Priest.

Ministry to Sick

Priests who appreciate the issues that parishioners face in the final stages of life and who attentively visit and administer the sacraments in private homes, hospitals, or homes for the aged, are greatly appreciated; in this ministry Fr Hart proved most diligent.

In Corowa, where the majority of Mass attendees is 60-75 years old (cf. Mass Attendance in Australia: A critical moment – 2013, p.1), there is need for the priest to be readily available for the sick, elderly and dying. However, not only has Fr Hart always made himself available for those in their retirement years struggling with failing health, he commissioned Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist among lay members of the community to bring weekly Communion to those unable to attend Mass.

This ministry of compassionate service also included two Masses for the Sick with the Sacrament of Anointing celebrated each month – one celebrated in Corowa’s “Karinya” Southern Cross aged care facility, the other in the Parish Hall. At “Karinya”, 30 to 40 residents attend the Mass and receive anointing, and about 20 parishioners attend the monthly anointing Mass in the Parish Hall. This availability of the Sacrament of Anointing for those attending these Masses is highly valued.


While still a seminarian, in 1969, Fr Hart had a Cursillo experience in Wagga. The name “Cursillo” is Spanish, meaning ‘short course’. The international movement arrived in the Wagga diocese in 1968 and has conducted the 3-day intensive courses for men and women every year. After ordination to the priesthood in 1970, Fr Hart continued his involvement seeing it as an effective means of formation and evangelization for the laity.

Ecumenical Ministry

Since Vatican II, the word ‘Ecumenism’ became mainstream in the Catholic Church and has become an important element of Christian life in Corowa. The local Ministers’ Association – at least 40 years in the town – includes Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Riverlife and the Uniting Churches of Corowa. Association members – usually the ministers responsible for each church – meet bi-monthly for a meal together and discuss issues relevant to the churches and the wider community. Both Fr McGrath and Fr Hart have been active members, with Fr Hart Association secretary from 2011 to 2016.

Each year the Association organises a “Church Unity Service” that is held on rotation in the different churches. Another important parish ecumenical outreach is C.A.R.E. The Corowa Association of Religious Education is the direct outcome of the concerns raised by parents at the local High School to ensure effective Scripture classes are provided for students. The different churches support C.A.R.E. and provide funding for the Scripture teachers at the High School and other nearby schools.


Commitment to the Poor

Jesus told us “the poor you will always have with you”, and Corowa has its fair share. Since 1929 Corowa has had a large group of dedicated men and women in the St Vincent de Paul Society. They serve the poor in Corowa through home visits, counselling, collections, Christmas hampers and the large St Vinnie’s Centre in the main street that offers very modestly priced clothing, furniture and small household goods.

Poor at the Door

In addition to the work of the St Vincent De Paul Society, a further service to the poor is rendered by the Ministers’ Association. The participating churches of the Ministers’ Association are concerned that those who come to the doors of church ministers looking for assistance should be met with Christ-like care and generosity, and by pooling their resources food hampers are distributed to those who seek help.

‘Wrap with Love’ – for the poor

A further activity with an ecumenical aspect in St Mary’s is the project ‘Wrap with Love’. This organisation reached Corowa in the mid-1990s and is strongly supported by the Catholic Women’s League and members of other churches. Zita Walsh was the original co-ordinator responsible for the collection of woollen knitted squares that were to be stitched together as rugs. After Zita, the work was continued by Marie Kaitler and Bernice Gale. In 2016, Carmel Moroney and Carmel Packer were the area contacts for the team that meets every alternate Monday in St Mary’s parish hall. On average, 300 rugs are sent to Sydney each year by the Corowa group. The squares are knitted by hundreds of volunteers – many in aged care facilities – and forwarded or collected to be stitched together.

Up to 5 rugs are completed each time the group meets and several times a year these are boxed and dispatched to the Alexandria headquarters in Sydney, for distribution to needy families worldwide. “Wrap with Love is a non-denominational, non-racial and non-political organisation” (cf. Wrap with Love website http://www.wrapwithlove.org), relying solely on volunteers across Australia. Since its 1992 inception, with the motto “Cold humanity is our concern, people caring about other people”, the organisation has sent more than 400,000 rugs to both Australian indigenous peoples and 75 countries abroad.

W.U.C.W.O. World Union of Catholic Women’s Organisations – Corowa

WUCWO’s aim is to promote the presence, participation and co-responsibility of Catholic women in society and the Church, in order to enable them to fulfil their mission of evangelisation and to work for human development. The Catholic Women’s League Australia is an active member organisation of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organisations (WUCWO). Catherine McGrath is the current WUCWO Board Member for Australia, and Marian Skehan the local Corowa representative.

Founded in 1910, WUCWO now represents 100 Catholic women’s organisations worldwide with a membership of more than 5 million women. The Board of WUCWO is currently made up of 27 members from the five WUCWO Regions – Africa, Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean and North America – each woman representing the Catholic women’s organisation(s) of her country.

WUCWO was the first international Catholic organisation to receive UN recognition as an NGO. WUCWO was also a force in the creation and adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. In 2006, WUCWO was erected by the Holy See as a Public International Association of the Faithful. In October 2010, WUCWO is celebrated a century of service by women for the Church and society at their Centenary Assembly in Jerusalem.                                        [Cf. http://www.cwla.org.au/index.php/ourwork/wucwo]

The Corowa branch of the Catholic Women’s League holds an annual Mass to celebrate the importance of WUCWO to Australian women, and notably the Corowa members. A photo of the 2011 Mass attendees includes the current Corowa WUCWO co-ordinator, Marian Skehan. [Click on link to view photo.]

WUCWO 2011 gathering at Corowa

Back L-R:     Nora Kingston, Lesley Hanrahan, Mary Carter, Joan Curry, Mary Lethbridge

Centre L-R: Fay Brooks, Pauline Kerr, Frances Hanrahan, Pat Whitty, Nancy Hughes, Marian Skehan,

Kathleen Winch, Sr Maureen Hummerston RSM

Front L-R:   Marie Carroll, Visitor, Frances Murphy, Nell Sheridan, Mavis Filliponi, Sr Mavis Hanlon RSM.             Absent:      Peg Hanrahan, Doris Robinson, Iris Drum.


WUCWO Day in Corowa 2011


Federation Day

Every Australia Day, on account of Corowa’s significance in the history of Federation, the churches ensure members are available for the Federation Service, to lead short prayers for the occasion, including the Catholic Parish Priest.

State School Catechetics

Australian parishes for a hundred and fifty years have faced the challenge of providing religious instruction for Catholic children attending state schools. From Corowa’s earliest days faith-filled laity were enlisted to teach and prepare children for First Communion, Reconciliation and Confirmation.

The 2016 situation in New South Wales is that accredited – usually retired – teachers form a small team to teach the government-approved ‘Scripture’ lesson to various classes once a week. Beyond this, schools provide the names of children belonging to Catholic families to the parish priest who then issues a letter to parents to register and enrol their children in sacramental programs. It is labour-intensive for the pastor as he follows up each lead and encourages children and parents to value the sacraments.

Secular Australia

Resources are limited in this era of diminishing faith when large numbers of Catholics are choosing to no longer ‘practise’. The 2011 median age for Mass attendance Australia-wide was 59.3 years whereas the median age of the Catholic population nationwide was just 44.8 years (Mass Att. In Aust., 2013, p.1); in Corowa it is 42 years (Parish Social Profile, 2013, p.2). This statistic is a dramatic statement about the absence of a generation of Catholics.

By implication, the statistics mean parishes are forced to rely on senior members to fulfil multiple roles in the parish. It is certainly the case in Corowa where the 65+ age group is the majority. Nevertheless, Fr Hart regularly visited St Mary’s Catholic Primary School to encourage teachers and pupils in the faith.

The teachers are rostered to bring their classes to the Thursday public Mass and to the monthly Friday Anointing Mass in the parish hall. This Mass attendance offers a sacramental highlight in the osmosis process at work in Catholic education where faith is both taught and caught. The children see adults – sometimes their own grandparents – praying at Mass, going to Communion, and being anointed with the Sacrament of the Sick. As Fr Hart reverently and carefully offered each Mass, the hope was always that the seed of faith was being nurtured in children whose parents rarely darkened the door of the church.

Thus January 1997 until December 2016 marked a further phase in St Mary’s parish Corowa – when Fr Paul Hart was Parish Priest. It is unfair that the history of dioceses are measured by the lives of bishops, and those of parishes by the length of stay of Parish Priests’ – in a manner that seems to overlook the faithful who, in many rural parishes, are parishioners from birth to burial.

Simply speaking, the tenures of bishops or parish priests offer a framework for measuring growth and development in a diocese or parish. But there is always more at work. The spirit of the pastor imbues the faith of his parishioners and this happened during the tenure of every Corowa Parish Priest. The parish has been blessed to have faith-filled, worthy men bridging heaven and earth with lives of generous service. There is no question that the faithful in the pews are the ‘soul of the parish’, but that ‘soul’ relies on the fire and faith of each pastor, and Corowa has been very well served for 139 years.

COROWA – Conclusion

Summary parish histories leave hosts of questions unanswered and crowds of ‘faith heroes’ unsaluted. However, if the spirit of St Mary’s parish has been identified here and a spotlight placed on at least some of the key parishioners, a small service has been rendered. The hope is that the reader finds cause to reflect on the faith of our pioneers and all who, by persevering in faith, have witnessed to Catholic life in the Corowa parish of Wagga Wagga diocese.