125th Centenary, St. Patrick’s Church

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125th Centenary, St. Patrick’s Church
Scottsdale, 20 February 2012

In recent months, I have read a book by David Hill “The Gold Rush” in which he covers the history of gold mining in Australia. It has clearly had a huge impact on the social history of this country, not just in places like Ballarat and Bendigo, but in fact, to a greater or lesser extent, all over the nation. Here in Tasmania, one of the areas which boomed at one stage because of the discovery of gold, and later of tin, was here in the north-east of Tasmania.

The first discovery of gold in this state was further to the south at Fingal, only four months after the original discovery of gold on mainland Australia by John Elphinstone Erskine, a 46 year old sea captain who went to the town of Ophir while his ship, the Havana, was in Sydney’s Port Jackson. He discovered the gold deposits there in 1851. Four months later, there was a report in the Hobart Colonial Times, saying that the precious metal had been discovered in Tasmania as well.

In the recently published history of Catholicism in North-East Tasmania, 1877-2011, it is clear that the discovery of gold was the catalyst for a number of towns springing up in the area, and also for their demise when circumstances changed and the gold ran out. Gold had been discovered locally in 1869 and tin was found a year later. In the period in question, there was a presence of the church in the form of a building at Ringarooma, Scottsdale, Branxholm Derby, Moorina and Gladstone, Lottah and Boobyalla, Pioneer, Pyengana and Bridport.

The construction of churches, and then in a number of instances, their demolition, is part of the rhythm of life. I have to say that one of the decisions which I have found hardest to make as a bishop, is related to the closure, and the disposal of churches. But when times change and people move, those decisions need to be made. The boom and bust of mining is somehow reflected in the story of the parish as well.

Significant in the story are also the priests who have been involved, particularly in the early years. One who was quite unique was Fr Martial Mary, a French priest whom the Archbishop of the time, Daniel Murphy, first met in Rome. They agreed that he would come to the Archdiocese, and he was assigned to the North-East. He was responsible for the construction of many of the early churches in the different towns and districts in the area.

I think it is also important to acknowledge the presence of the Missionary Sisters of Service in this area. They first made a visit to the area in 1948, and then in 1962, at the invitation of Fr. Kevin Manning, they established a residence here in Scottsdale. Their involvement in the Scottsdale Parish sadly came to an end in 1974.

However, it is clear that they were greatly loved during the 12 years of their presence in this town, and the Sisters also have happy memories of living here at their Scottsdale home while serving the many small surrounding communities. The Sisters and the priests were able to lead the adults and the children of the time to a greater appreciation of who Jesus is, so that they too could answer the question: “Who do you say I am?”

The encounter between Jesus and Simon Peter in the Gospel is of central significance in what we believe about the Church.  Jesus shows himself as being the wisest of teachers. He leads his disciples forward in faith, questioning them, allowing them to grow in understanding. He moves quickly from enquiring about what others think and say about him, to wanting to know what the disciples believe. There is no place for a second-hand opinion. Only a personal response would do.

Perhaps there were other answers proffered on the day, answers which were never recorded in the Gospel – that is something we will never know. What we do know however is that the most important response came from Peter.

In the Gospel pages we learn just how complex a character Peter was. He combined absolute enthusiasm with complete unreliability. It is an encouragement for us all that someone so clearly flawed could become the rock on which Jesus would rely  and depend  to build the community of the Church.

Peter articulated the core belief of Christian faith – that Jesus is the Christ, the Holy One, the Son of the living God. Peter recognised Jesus for who he was, and in the presence of such faith, Jesus confirmed Peter as the foundation stone on which the Church would be established. Peter spoke that day for every disciple from that time till today, including those thousands of Catholic people who have lived and worshipped in the small rural communities which sprang up in the area which today we know as defining the Parish of Scottsdale.

Jesus invites us also to give a personal answer to his question: “Who do you say I am? Like the rocks of the earth all around us, we come in different shapes and sizes; we are different in age and in ethnic background. We have different qualities and strengths. Some of us a better suited for one task, others for another, but all can make a contribution. The common identity that we share is belonging to the Church founded on Peter, and the apostles.

In these elements, we identify with the priests, the sisters, and the people in the different communities which grew up in and around this location. Fr John and the parishioners are to be commended for ensuring that the 125th anniversary of the establishment of a church in Scottsdale has been celebrated in a very fitting manner.

I acknowledge in particular, the presence of priests who have served here in the past. Fr Terry Rush has a special place in that history as the one priest who celebrated Mass in the original church, who built the famous “log cabin” church, and who is here today in what is the third building where the Catholic community has gathered.

It is not very likely that we will see a repetition of the 35 males and 21 females who were confirmed by Archbishop Delany in 1909 in Derby or the 70 who made their 1st Communion in the church in 1934. But the future is not about numbers, or about buildings, but about those understand that they themselves are “God’s building.” If they do, then there will be more pages to write, and more achievements to celebrate.