St Brigid’s, New Norfolk Ninetieth Anniversary

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The colourful Parish Priest of Moonah, Fr TJ O’Donnell, captured the spirit of the Catholic Church in Tasmania in its early days when he said to his congregation in the 1930s: “We started with nothing, with no land, no church, no convent. We will start slowly and with prayer, zeal and sacrifice to build a glorious work to promote the Kingdom of God.”

Catholic education began among the mainly Irish Catholics as an imperative to preserve and pass on their faith, which defined their identity. From 1825 the Church began a commitment to provide schooling for Catholic children.|

The beginnings of Catholic education saw enormous effort and sacrifice. It witnessed in a particular way the dedication of religious women, firstly the Sisters of Charity – the first religious women to come to Van Diemen’s Land. The Presentation Sisters, who followed a little later, were a significant presence in education from the 1866, being established originally in the Cathedral precinct.

Both these orders would be instrumental in the development of St Brigid’s, New Norfolk. Though this area was settled very early – in 1807 – the first Mass was not celebrated until 1821 by Fr Phillip Connolly. In 1850 Rockhampton House in High Street (now Norfolk Lodge) was purchased as a presbytery and chapel. It was not until 1885 that the beautiful St Peter’s Church was built on land obtained by Bishop Willson back in 1864.

A parish community operated in New Norfolk for many years before the beautiful property on the river, Corumbine, was bought in 1925 as a convent. The school began very soon after.

The Australian experience is that parish communities are established and then the parishioners work to build a parish school. Schools come out of the parish. They are an extension of the parish and always relate back to the parish. They are simply “parish schools”. Thus is the case for St Brigid’s.

In celebrating this 90th anniversary we remember those who pioneered the school. All the subsequent developments were established on the foundations laid at the beginning.

The story of Catholic Education in Tasmania, as in the rest of Australia, is an inspiring story. It is the story of great faith, dedication and at times extraordinary heroism, particularly by the religious sisters.

The commitment to Catholic Education was fuelled by the desire of Catholic parents to provide their children not only with a good education but with solid foundations in the Catholic faith. This faith they knew would provide the best grounding for a healthy human life and provide the path to heavenly glory.

The Catholic faith offered not only a set of beliefs and high moral ideals, it was the means for a person to link their life with God. Catholic life was marked by attendance at Mass and participation in the sacramental life. It was coloured by devotions like the Rosary and Benediction. It was populated with a range of distinctive practices like abstaining from meat on Fridays and participating in the Lenten fast. It was often said that Catholicism was a tough religion to live in but a great religion to die in.

Parents were convinced that the Catholic religion was the best grounding for their children in life. They wanted their children to know the faith and live the faith. For this reason they supported the establishing of Catholic schools and often made great personal sacrifices to ensure that their children received a Catholic education.

We have the system of Catholic schools across Tasmania because of earlier generations who were often poor. And while parents today still make sacrifices to enable their children to benefit from Catholic schooling they are the beneficiaries of the faith and generous support of previous generations who pioneered Catholic schools.

St Paul in the first reading today spoke of his personal anguish that his own people, the Jewish people – “my own flesh and blood’ as he said - did not embrace Christianity. He longed for them to know Jesus Christ the way he had come to know Him. St Paul felt deep sorrow that so many of his own people did not realise what God had done in sending his own Son as Saviour of humanity. He wished he could somehow help them to realise who Jesus was and what faith in him could mean for their lives.

St Paul said in another place, describing his own faith, “all I want is to know Christ and be given a place in him”. For St Paul nothing else mattered in life: Christ was the beginning and the end. Christ was everything to St Paul.
The Catholic faith has at its heart the person of Jesus Christ. Every aspect of the faith finds in meaning and purpose in Christ. Thus, this school only has meaning and purpose because of Christ. This school will continue to live out its meaning and purpose as all involved in the school focus on its heart – Jesus Christ.

Today as we celebrate this fitting anniversary, let us recall the dedicated faith of our forebears who brought this school into being and be resolved ourselves to hand on a school to future generations because we too love our faith and know and deeply believe that Jesus Christ alone is the way, the truth and the life.

Let us ensure that Christ lives in this school in the hearts of parents, teachers and students.
May Jesus Christ be glorified forever!

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Wednesday, 28 October 2015