Catholic Diocese of Wagga Silver Jubilee Celebrated

6 March 1942 Narandera Argus and Riverina Advertiser

As briefly mentioned in last Friday's 'Argus,' the silver Jubilee of thee Catholic Diocese of Wagga was celebrated on Sunday and Monday last, and at a Solemn Pontificial High Mass in St. Michael's Cathedral on Sunday morning, the occasional sermon was delivered by the Very Rev. Fafher P. T. Hartigan, of Narandera, who paid a great tribute to the work ot the Irish secular clergy in the building of the Roman Catholic Church in Australia.

He also dealt fully with the early history of Wagga and of the growth of the Catholic Church in the Wagga Diocese.

Below we print Father Hatigan's address, abridged from the Wagga 'Dally Advertiser's report.

Father Hartigan's Stirring Address

The address for the occasion was delivered by the Very Rev. Father, Hartigan, parish priest at Narrandera, whose text was 'Let us now praise men of renown and our fathers in their generation.' (Eccdesiasticus.44,1)

'Father Hartigan said he proposed, as they were celebrating the silver jubilee of the Diocese of Wagga, to tell the story of its early days, to glance at the great achievements of the past, and to recall some splendid names so seldom spoken of.

'The history of the Diocese of Wagga reads very much the same as that of every country diocese in Australia. Change but the names, and what is told of one might be told of all,' he said.

'In practically every case you will find a handful of Irish priests belonging to no religious order ministering to the exiles of their race scattered throughout a sparsely settled continent.

Sturt's Voyage

'In 1829 Charles Sturt started from Jugiong to trace the course ot the Murrumbidgee. On December 7 or 8 he passed by where the town of Wagga stands to-day.

He does not mention it; but so much can be inferred from his diary.

In 1832, that is about 3 years afterwards. Robert Holt Best took up the first land here and called his property Wagga Wagga Station.

Other areas were quickly taken up along the river, and this locality became a meeting place for the people ot the neighbouring settlements.

Fourteen years later there was about half a dozen bouses of a kind, and it was proclaimed a 'town' by notice in the Government Gazette in 1846.

'At this time Wagga was in the Parish of Yass, which, by the way, once included Melbourne.

The Parish of Yass dates back to 1838 ten years after Hamilton Hume settled there on a grant of land given in reward for his work as an explorer.

You may still see the house he lived in, near the Canberra turn-off, beside the highway that bears his name.

At the time I speak of the Parish of Yass extended from five miles the Goulburn side of Gunning to the junction of the Lachlan and Murrumbidgee rivers.

It embraced part of the pre-sent Diocese of Goulburn, part of the present Diocese of Wilcannia-Forbes, and the whole of what is now the Diocese of Wagga.

The pastoral charge of this immense area was in 1857 entrusted to two priests whose names will ever be associated with the advancement of the Church and its glories in this part of the country.

They were Father Michael McAlroy, afterwards known as Dr. McAlroy, 'The Apostle of the South,' and his scarcely less distinguished assistant.

Father Patrick Birmingham, afterwards known - as Doctor Birmingham.

There were at that time 5000 Catholics scattered through that region, where to-day 60.000 would be a conservative estimate.

'The task set these two priests was to find out and minister to those 5000 people in the mining camps, in the tiny hamlets on the big runs fur-her down; in the little holdings tucked away in the densely timbered hills.

How they accomplished it I leave to your imagination to explain.

There were no motor cars, no railways, no roads beyond a length or two of the blue metal where the convicts cut the stone, and no bridges.

They went their way on horseback with their Mass kit packed on the pommel of the saddle - past the dogleg fences, past the chock and block till they picked up the bridle track which led to the slab dwelling where Irish eyes grew misted at their coming.

Almost immediately they set out to follow the settlement down the river.

Always down the river went the seekers of good land - Jugiong, Gundagai, Mundarlo,. Wagga Wagga,. Buckinbong; Bundldjartie?, where Rolf Boldrewood was at that time raising sheep before he took up the pen which gave us 'Robbery Uender Arms';

Narandera, where in (he old station cemetery is buried Dr. Trollope, the son of the English novelist, and so on to Gogeldrie, Hay. Balranald.

First Catholic Church

'One year after his arrival at Yass - that is September 27, 1857 - Father McAlroy blessed the foundations of the first Catholic Church in Wagga.

Mass had been said on a few occas-ions previously by Father Thomas O'Neil, who afterwards founded the Parish of Boorowa in 1865.

On December 4, 1859, the Church was opened and dedicated to St. Michael in the presence of 250 people, some of whom had come 100 miles to witness the ceremony.

After more than three quarters of a century of chance and change and progress old St. Michael's is still standing with its little square tower and cupola.

It served for many years as a boys' school and in now a technical school under the care of the Christian Brothers.

Eighty-three years ago it was looked upon as a fine example of modern architecture.

It has grown old fashioned, but It has watched Wagga grow into the fine city that it is.

When it was built, the site, which is crowned to-day by a splendid cluster of buildings - the Cathedral, Bishop's House.

Brothers' residence and spacious schools - was virgin bush.

'The cost of old St. Michael's was 1500 and they had in hand after the opening 1487.

The population of Wagga must have been less than 600. The Australia Almanac of 1865, that is 6 years after it was blessed, gives the population of the township as 627.

It is not stated where they put all that money for safe keeping. T

he Commercial Bank, which opened up about that time, closed its doors almost immediately through fear of bushrangers.

A police sergeant was shot by Morgan, most bloodthirsty of the whole of them, and Henry Baylis, the first police magistrate, was wounded by the same outlaw.

Captain Moonlight and Blue Cap were two other marauders who showed a liking for Wagga.

Return To Ireland

'Soon after the opening of St. Michael's, Father Birmingham suffered a break down in health and was ordered by Iris medical adviser, Dr. Morgan O'Connor, to return to Ireland to recuperate.

He was appointed a Professor at Carlow College, later becoming Vice Rector.

He appears again in this story, and the building of Mt. Erin is associated with his name.

After his departure, Father McAlroy carried on his immense parish alone until help could be found for him.

An extraordinary combination of the deeply spiritual man and the shrewd man of business, be was at the beck and call of his flock in their eternal as well as their temporal difficulties.

Even to many who were not of his faith he was a counsellor.

Irish Evictions

'What money he raised I cannot say, but it is on record that in four years - from 1867 to 1861 - he raised for church buildings in the Parish of Yass with its 5000 people the sum of 14,000.

Besides this he sent to the Donegal Relief Committee in Melbourne a handsome sum to provide passage money for the Irish farmers evicted from their homes by the un-scrupulous John George Adair at Glenveigh in 1861.

Another large contribution went to the fund for establishing St. John's College.

When the estates of Pius IX were attacked by the despoiler, he sent along 172. 'His working day was a comparatively brief span of twenty-three years.

He was taken in his prime, for he was not more than fifty when he died.

His valiant dust is sepulchred behind the high altar in the fine church he built at Albury 72 years ago.

About 7 or 8 years after the opening of old St. Michael's Church, a bishop was appointed to Goulburn. Dr. Lenigan took over the Diocese of Goulburn.

He had five priests.

In 1871 the Bishop, accompanied by a young arrival from Ireland, who was known as Father Gallagher, drove n pair of horses from Goulburn to Wagga in the good time of four days, and the Catholics petitioned His Lordship to appoint a resident priest to the district. Father William Birmingham was the first priest stationed at Wagga.

The parish embraced Wyalong, Temora, Cootamundra. Junee, Coolamon, Ganmain, Narrandera, the Irrigation Area, Lockhart and Urana.

The railway had not then come to Wagga, and Cobb and Co's. coaches reigned supreme.

'In 1874 there happened an event which perhaps more than anything achieved the solidify and stability of the Catholic faith in Wagga.

Dr. Birmingham came back to Australia bringing with him five Sisters of the Presentation Order of whom the late Mother Stanislaus of saintly memory was the last survivor.

The old presbytery was turned into a convent, the stables into a school; and Dr. Birmingham, who replaced his brother (Father William Birmingham) in charge of the parish, set about the beginning of that splendid pile of buildings which crowns the hill above the town, and which is known far and wide as Mt. Erin.

Here is a co-incidence which I think is note worthy. When Doctor Birmingham gave over the Presbytery to the Sisters, he and his assistant found accommodation at one of the hotels for a time.

Then a generous lady, Mrs. Jackson, of Boree Creek, who was not a Catholic, gave him the use, free of debt, of a dwelling called 'Fox-borough Hall.'

In the great flood of 1870, that is four years previously, Foxborough Hall in a great act of charity and mercy had thrown its doors open to those who had been rendered destitute by the visitation.

Fifty years afterwards, the Wagga church committee, under the late Bishop Dwyer secured 'Foxborough' as a hospital for the little Company of Mary - the Lewisham Sisters - who are renowned and loved for acts of charity and mercy wherever the blue veil goes.

The assistant priest, who lived with Dr. Birmingham at 'Fox-borough Hall' was Father Tom Long, who was afterwards parish priest of Lewisham. Sydney.

Mt. Erin Opened

'Mt. Erin was opened in 1876 in the presence of Archbishop Vaughan, of Sydney, and the Bishops of Goulburn, Maitland and Bathurst.

The Archbishop is said to have been one of the greatest speakers the Church in this country has known.

The building or rather that part of it that was erected at the time cost over 9262 and thanks to those generous people like the Coxs, the Donnellys, the Hallidays, and many others, whose names it would obviously take too long to numerate, only 475 debt remained on the building.

Dr. Birmingham's name was for years a house-hold word throughout Riverina.

He survived his fellow worker, Doctor McAlroy by three years, and died in London in 1883.

'Another achievement which stands to the credit of the pioneer priests and people is this Cathedral.

It was built as a parish church by old Father Dunne more than half n century ago.

Father Dunne built the nave. It was completed as it is to-day - the Cathedral of the Diocese - by Bishop Dwyer in 1925 in the presence of the Apostolic Delegate, 7 Archbishops, 10 Bishops, and a gathering of people estimated to be 10,000.

Father Dunne preached the land in season and out of season besides which he played other parts.

He was the first President of St. Patrick's College, Goulburn.

He founded the Parish of Gundagai in 1876.

In 1883 he came here.

Later he was parish priest of Albury and Vicar-General.

First Parish Priest

'In 1887 Father Dunne was succeeded in Wagga by one who in some respects was the noblest Roman of them all - the Very Rev. John Gallagher, D.D., PP.

He was the first parish priest at Wagga and the first Irremovable Rector appointed in the southern world.

At the first plenary synod held in Sydney in 1885, Cardinal Moran presiding, it was resolved to submit to Rome a recommendation that some of the senior clergy should have a title to share to some extent that permanency of position which hitherto had been possessed by Bishops only, in Australia.

Wagga was the first parish in Australia so constituted. Dr. Gallagher came to this town with academic honors thick upon him.

He had brought St. Patrick's College, Goulburn, to the front among the educational establishments of the country.

He was its second and its greatest president.

After he had spent eight happy years in Wagga lie returned to Goulburn, and In 1895 he resumed the presidency of St. Patrick's College and became a schoolmaster again.

Then in the middle of the same year, they made him Co-adjutor Bishop of Goulburn.

Even with all the duties his new position brought: with it, he continued the presidency and the teaching until 1898, when he was instrumental in having the institution handed over to the Christian Brothers.

This, after his own brilliant services, was the greatest benefit be ever conferred on St. Patrick's College.

Great Organiser

'Dr. Gallagher was succeeded in Wagga by the Rev. Michael Slattery, who was the Father O'Flynn of the company.

Although a man of "infinite Jest" he was a great organiser and a Parish builder.

After being Administrator in Goulburn he was appointed first resident priest of Crookwell in 1876.

In 1878 he founded the parish of Corowa.

He was the first in Temora after the gold rush in 1880. He began the parish of Narrandera in 1884.

St. Michael's Presbytery was built by him in 1902 at a cost of 2000.

The population of Wagga at the time was 5108, and the Catholics 1720.

He was Vicar-General when he died in 1907.

Father Buckley, after-wards Monsignor and V.G., was the last P.P. in Wagga.

His great achievement was to bring the Christian Brothers here.

No better service had been rendered to the cause of Catholic education since Dr. Birmingham brought the Presentation Sisters in 1874.

'In 1918 Riverina was formed into a diocese with Wagga as the episcopal city.

Dr. Joseph Wilfred Dwyer was consecrated its first Bishop.

He was in fact the third priest who had at one time or other been stationed at Wagga to be so honored. Dr. Dunne, first Bishop of Wilcannia, had been assistant here to Father Birmingham in 1871.

Doctor Gallagher 1897-95. Dr. Dwyer was curate in 1898.

It Is noteworthy that the successors of all three Bishops are here this morning taking active parts in this Jubilee.

If we include Dr. Phelan, late Bishop of Sale, and Dr. Clune, late Archbishop of Perth, there have been in all five priests of the Diocese of Goulburn when Wagga was a part of it to have been crowned with episcopal honors.

'Besides what he did in this town Bishop Dwyer had to disperse his attention through the country parishes.

He had to do what might be called the spade work, and he did it nobly and passed an extremely well equipped diocese into the capable hands which wield the Shepherd's Staff to-day.

The fine school which will be blessed this afternoon will keep his memory green for many years to come.

Rising Figures

'In 1918 the diocese had 11 parishes, to-day there are 21. There were 20 priests, where now we have 36; teaching brothers have increased from 7 to 12; and the Nuns from 142 to 204.

The children in the schools have grown from 2000 to 4000.

The Catholic population is much the same as it was in 1918.

Of the 20 priests who began with Dr. Dwyer in 1918 only 10 of us remain.

Of the 60 to whom we bade farewell on leaving the old Mother Church of Goulburn only 17 are there to-day.

Among the congregations we served the Bearded Reaper has been very very busy.

Such is the retrospect of five and twenty years.

And so I end my story.'