Chapter Five. Catholic Cowra History by Fr Timothy Reen.


The Harvest of Fifty Years.


We have now arrived at the stage in Fr O’Kennedy’s career when we can place him as the leading character in the fourth epoch of ecclesiastica.l expansion and religious formation. His term of office as Administrator of Carcoar was terminated by the transference of Fr Kelly from Orange to Carcoar as Parish Priest. The district of Cowra was then separated from Carcoar and canonically created as a new parish. From the administratorship of Carcoar Fr O’Kennedy was appointed on 1st July, 1889, the first Parish Priest of Cowra and it cannot yet be said that “he was the last.” Down the long vista of fifty years we are invited to look, before this chapter draws to a close. When he has lived it through and lived it fully, we can at least bound over it mentally. He keeps no records of his deeds, only the massive registers of Church and state which duty obliges one to keep intact. These, now grown beyond their shelves, shout the laborious undertakings of long years. What a list of Baptisms, what a tally of Marriages! What graveside scenes has he been doomed to witness with their preliminary preparations and death agonies! They are all recorded here and you may go and count them if you wish. New Churches have arisen and old ones have come down until there is not left a centre within the confines of the parish which is not provided with a House of God worthy of the work that is worked within it. Before taking charge of the parish of Cowra, Fr. O’Kennedy had caused a church to be built In the extreme end of the district, Vittoria, now an outpost of the Cathedral parish. Nearer home he provided the mining town of Mt. McDonald with a church in 1881. Formerly Mass was celebrated at Miss (sic Mrs) Neville’s Public House. This church building served the needs of a whole generation and only passed out of existence when its congregation had moved on. To-day two pine trees mark its hallowed site. Forty-five years later, when six miles further on a new town sprang up around the foundations of the modern gigantic structure of Wyangala Dam, he was there again selecttng a buildlng site and erecting an altar to  offer the Holy Sacrifice for the faithful. This township has already vanished, and with it went its Catholic Church. Like most things of modern origin even the site is scarcely discernible, for Government ground cannot be hallowed. The reader will bear with us if here we retrace our steps to take a more orderly, if cursory, view of Cowra’s religious growth up to the arrival of Fr. O’Kennedy.



In the early thirties the faith in Cowra was nourished in its cradle stage by Fr. John Joseph Therry. Fr. Michael McGrath gave it articulation in the forties, and in the fifties Fr. Bernard Murphy brought it to youthful vigour building in 1858 the first Church to give it concrete expression. In the mid-sixties Fr. Murphy bequeathed to Fr. Phillip Ryan a flourishing field in which the harvest grew ever greater. In the early seventies the all important matter of Catholic education for the children was provided for. The first Catholic teacher, Miss Bridget Martin, taught school in the Church with the Sanctuary screened off. In later years, Miss Purcell continued the good work. In 1878, Fr Ryan brought the new St. Raphael’s to completion. This building was originally commenced under Fr Murphy. Its foundation was dug with the aid of five men from Darby’s Falls, but it was many years agrowing. The first Convent was also built and opened in 1878, and occupied by the Sisters of St. Joseph in Feb. 1879. An attic was also constructed over the old Church to which entrance was given from the top of the stairs in the newly constructed Convent. This attic, like every “up in the loft construction,” had only sky-lights for light and air. Only familiarity with the Cowra climate makes one notice the discomforts endured by these pioneering Sisters, who were necessarily compelled to sleep there. These were the bad old days when recalcitrant or lazy pupils were corrected by means of the peculiar construction of the buildings. The famous “Black Hole” which, by the way, was in existence, but not in use, up to quite recently, was a favourite place of punishment where some souls suffered for a time. It was formed by the enclosing of the narrow space that remained between the end of the old Church and the side of the new. The erection of the newest St. Raphael’s exploded its existence.

Through the assistance of an extra priest at Carcoar, Cowra was now blessed with a fortnightly Sunday Mass celebrated at eleven o’clock, to allow for the many people coming long distances from the country. Devotions on Sunday night were also a feature of their religious life. Cowra proper consisted of a scattered string of houses which stretched up from Canowindra Road in serpentine fashion and terminated in the little street that runs between “the Lyric Hall” and Fitzroy Hotel, towards St. Raphael’s. New ground had been broken by the leading business men. Of stores, Peter Murray’s occupied the site of the present- Hotel Cowra, whilst Alford’s, the oldest store in town, stood near the present Imperial Hotel. Donnelly’s eventually owned the store where Pentlands’ Cafe now is, and Muirs’ was the furthest business establishment up Kendal Street. Mrs. Challacomb. who had formerly owned the “Old Green House,” the first Hotel in Cowra, later moved to the present Royal Hotel. The Police had been transferred from Canowindra Road to a more strategic position near the present Post Office, where the Commonwealth Bank now stands, and their former premises were converted into a Hospital. From the present Post Office to the railway end there were but four or five scattered buildings.

We have already chronicled the coming of the Sisters of St Joseph in February 1879. We were present in spirit at their first Concert. We will visit them again on December, 1882, for a repetition of the annual event. This time Fr. O’Kennedy is present with Fathers Horan and Hanley, all from Carcoar. The programme opens with scenes from “Marie Antoinette,” and continues through a series of items of a high classical standard. At intervals there is a display of school work;  fancy work, wool work and leatherwork are very much in evidence. The positions allotted at the recent examinations are published and the clever. ones are presented on the stage. Let the ghosts of their youth be conjured up whilst we proclaim their names and honours:-

Miss Matt Walsh wins first place for Good Conduct,

S. Fulton, Geography,

W. Reilly, Writing,

E. Neville. General Proficiency,

 A. Schofield, Christian Doctrine,

W. Guinan, Grammar,

J. Enright, for attendance to Studies,

William Markham, Arithmetic,

Reading goes to M. Flood and Grammar to J. McCormack.


The congregation attending the Cowra Church in those years had grown towards the hundred mark. The children could no longer be accommodated within the little Church. This circumstance gave occasion for the wooden structure, which was erected across the yard towards the right and in which the senior pupils were taught. It was also the rendezvous for bazaars, concerts, and minor Church functions, and this reminds us of the extraordinary antiquity of the Annual Show Bazaar which still flourishes. It goes back even to Fr. Ryan’s time. In such circumstances and by such methods the Church in Cowra pursued the even tenor of her way for the next ten years. Then a new star arose in its firmament whose light has not yet been extinguished, nor is there any likelihood.


Fr. Denis O’Kennedy rode into Cowra to take charge of this newly erected Parish-not as a stranger, but as a friend taken more closely into the bosom of its family. The esteem, respect and love which his acquaintance called forth, had grown to reverence, adoration and a crowning glory as the decades of his spiritual Fatherhood slipped by. All the conventional words used in eulogistic tributes for ordinary mortals have long since been found futile to express the sentiments of the people of Cowra towards their “Grand Old Man.” The abiding affection of his grateful people pervades the atmosphere like some sweet fragrance. But then he walked “Erect and natty; a smart man” as old Jim Martin describes him. He acquired the reputation of having been a wonderful horseman, but then he had ridden for forty years. At the age of 83 the only serious ailment from which he suffers is a stiff knee-relic of his last ride upon a horse wilder than all the previous wild ones he possessed. To him this “scar” is an honourable one. To a parish endowed with strong faith he came and made his abode at the Australian Hotel, as there was no Presbytery. Within eighteen months he had erected the Priest’s House, which to-day stands guard over his beautiful Church property. This building was opened by Dr Byrne on the Fifteenth of February, 1891. Here every man, woman and child were, and are, made welcome, even to the last pair of “Happy children” who came to announce their engagement. But “didn’t he know his father as a small boy at St. Stanislaus, and had not he watched her on the tennis court for the past five years.  “A fine fellow,” he said, and “a good girl,” in his own precise way. Yes, he knew all about them beforehand, even as he would have fifty years ago. Then he knew everyone from Wyangala to Cudal and could trace their ancestry-wise old man, what wisdom guards his mind. But above all such places this Presbytery has remained the home of hospitality for his brother Priests through all the vicissitudes of his lengthy years. His hospitality is as proverbial throughout the Church in the Commonwealth, as his generosity is among the people of the State. 

Thus he rode in and kept on riding to Darby’s, Woodstock, Mt McDonald, Canowindra, Cargo, Cudal, Eugowra. These three last places were added to his charge when he got an assistant. Formerly Cargo and Cudal, both of which had Churches, belonged to Molong, and Eugowra was a no-man’s land. On Bishop Byrne’s informing him that the people of Eugowra were not acquainted with a priest, led by Augustenelli, he made a visitation of every house in that district and knows them thoroughly to this day. From the time he received a regular assistant in 1894, the order of Masses throughout the parish was as follows:-


                  COWRA-Mass every Sunday at nine and eleven o’clock.

                     Devotions at 7.30 p.m.

                    Mass on weeks days-7.30 a.m.

                 Mt McDONALD-:First Sunday of month-Mass eleven o’clock.

                CANOWINDRA-Second and Fourth Sundays of month, Mass 11 o’clock

                WOODSTOCK-Third Sunday of the month, Mass eleven o’clock.

                EUGOWRA-:Fifth Sunday (when occurring), Mass eleven o’clock.

                 Mass on ‘Tuesdays after second and fourth Sundays at 10 o’clock

Orderly, precise and sufficient was the arrangement for those days, but the outstanding lncrease in the numbers of the faithful has brought forth new flock and new shepherds.


Canowindra has grown into the ranks of the Senior Parishes, with ample work for two priests. Its oldest Church, built by Fr. Ryan, was taken down by Fr. O’Kennedy and, buying a new site within the confines of the town, he erected the present Church of St. Edward, thus retaining the name of the donor of the original site. Its foundation stone had been put in place by Dr Dunne in 1902. The present beautiful group of buildings-the Convent, School, and Presbytery, have since grown up in line with it. There was a time when Fr O’Kennedy lent his cottage, the present residence of Dr Leake, as a home for the Good Sisters of St. Joseph, awaiting the completion of their present convent.

Eugowra he also raised in stature, although a fully equipped property came only during its life under the reign of Canowindra. Now, even Eugowra boasts a permanent Parish Priest. The “Sheet 0′ Bark” Station soon gave way with the advent of the railway line to an iron Church on a two acre paddock in the present Woodstock area. Previous to the Line, which only in the 90s was constructed from Blayney, through Carcoar and Cowra to Harden, the little township of Woodstock was, where the relics of mining activities still speak loudly, a mile out on the road to the Mount. Had it survived, the Main street Crossing would have led to Hill Top and O’Briens and to there as by instinct the priests still go. The present site of Woodstock, before this line, toasted but of a shepherd’s hut standing where the Royal Hotel now stands. At an early date Larry Purcell from the Curragh of Kildare wandered alone into this locality as a boy of eighteen. So great was his love for learning that between the hours on his varied occupations he went to a little school taught by Mrs. Cassidy. The “Hedge School” spirit of his ancestors was in his blood, and his spirit, mingled with that of Eviston, lends eternal tone to the faith and cuIture of Woodstock. When Old Man Begley and Andrew Lynch had reared their virile progeny round “the Islands,’ the Woodstock Catholic community was a growing force to be reckoned with. These facts gave rise to the Iron Church already mentioned. Milburn Creek was another location for an early station. A mile up the Creek from the present properties of Paul and Sam Finn, Father O’Kennedy celebrated Mass at the home of Bill Bright. This was when Mr. Cusack still held forth in his flourishing school, where Hailstones now reside.

It is at Darby’s that the memory of the Archdeacon is like an eternal “Now” There old men are gathered who remember him on various stations, remember him as well as they did last Sunday. It may have been at Old Ryan’s at “Northwood” or at Ned Whitty’s of the “Whistle Waugh.” He rode to a station in the original Darby’s, six miles up the river at Mrs Jordan’s. After this, the Post Office moved down to Darby’s  Springs or Golgogoran and, receiving a present of two acres from Tom Neville, the saggart erected a little Church. The dead are buried within this Churchyard and await their children in the years to come.

Fourteen miles out from Lyndhurst on the road to Bigga, was the flourishing station of Kinghorn’s, which vanished with the various ways. So, too, did the station at Martin’s and afterwards at Reilly’s of Glen Logan. But the town grew and the faith waxed strong and wisely. Old debts on older properties were cleared off and Fr. O’Kennedy began to build anew.

Previous to this, a notable change took place.


On June 29th, 1894, the Sisters of Saint Brigid arrived in Cowra from Coonamble to take the place of the Sisters of St Joseph. These had departed to other fields of labour on the previous Easter, after fifteen full years of pioneering work.

Father P. J. Doran, who had come in 1891 to bury Fr O’Kennedy, when he was expected to succumb to his low state of health, had taken his departure without interring him. Fr Stanislaus McGee, born in India, by later choice a Franciscan in New York, was then appointed as assistant. The first group of Brigidine Nuns consisted of Mother Aloysius Shanahan, Superior; M. Francis Humphries, Assistant; Mother Alacoque Miller, Mistress of Two Novices; Sister Stanislaus Noian, Sister Brigid Kelly, and one postulant-Sr Alphonsus Barry. The last three names will be readily recognised by our present generation. With these there was one lay sister-Sr Catherine. On the month after their arrival, Fr O’Kennedy removed the sky-lit roof of the old Church and demolished the attic. Raising the original walls, he produced the two- storey building that is used to-day as Community Room and Music Rooms with Sisters’ Cells overhead. He thus raised the old church to equal stature with the new Convent built by Fr Ryan, and later when he extended the building on the other side of this centrepiece, he harmonised the whole in symmetrical proportions. Dressed last year in its new facade of brick and arching colonnades, it makes a most imposing structure. With the former improvements and the extension and enclosing of the wooden shed the Sisters were able to conduct a High School, as well as a Primary, from the inception.  Infants up to Sixth Class inclusive-69 in all-were accommodated in the Ironbark Shed, while the High School consisted of one pupil, Matt Walsh.

From the front balcony around this new top storey, Fr O’Kennedy constructed a stairway leading into the Gallery which he had recently erected in the Church. This Gallery became, and continued to be, the enclosure for the Sisters’ use, down to the demolition of the second St Raphael’s in November, 1937.

The first boarder admitted to the convent on the September after the Nuns’ arrival was Grace Fox from Mount McDonald. She is now a nun at Rose Bay. The little room which served for so many years as a Chapel for the Sisters, namely, the front room upstairs in the centre block, served her as dormitory.

Florence McNiven, of Grenfell, was the first companion of Grace Fox. Then came the two O’Loughlins from Eugowra, followed by the sisters Finn from Canowindra, and their long line of relations which has not yet been broken. From every Catholic home students came to learn wisdom and virtue from the daughters ‘of St Brigid. It is not the Sisters’ fault if our countryside does not abound with women who live bravely and gently as St Brigid did. There are indeed a goodly number who rear children pure and pious with the light of faith enkindled in their innocent eyes. There are also many who have chosen the better part destined by God to be living exemplars of their Holy Mother’s purity, chastity and obedience. From amongst these children of the Cowra Brigidine Convent have come Nuns to hold the highest offices in their own order, viz. :-Mother Cecilia Carey, who lately terminated her six years as Mother Superior of Cowra, and Mother Anthony Finn who, after years in charge of the Randwick Convent, has been chosen as Mother Provincial. There is a long and honourable roll of these holy Nuns who abandoned happy homes and wealth and all the world holds dear, to devote their lives and talents to the Sacred Cause of Catholic Education.

But to return. Very soon the increase of pupils and the burden of work entailed required an increase in the number of Sisters. On the 24th of October, 1894, Mother M. Patrick O’Flynn arrived, a professed Sister, from Ireland, and with her were the two first postulants to enter at Cowra, Mary Ann Kenny, from Wicklow, and Nora Cook, from Leix. The former will be remembered as Mother Xavier, Superior for so many years, and distinguished alike for her wide culture and unfailing geniality. The second postulant became Mother Claver, who having ruled. the order of St. Brigid well and wisely for many years, died during her second term of office as Mother Provincial. The next postulant was Catherine Coady, of Maitland. who, as Mother Frances, still abides serenely at the branch-house of Woodstock. When these three were professed, the novitiate was moved back to Coonamble whence it had come. The loyalty of their past students to the Brigidines is contagious, for through their influence, comparative new-comers readily approach the Convent, to feel immediately that they are at home.

St. Brigid has been blessed in her children at Cowra, and her spirit is woven into the warp and woof of their lives. Their children’s children of the present day are forever blossoming forth from the same soil. It was a happy thought of the poetic mind that compared them to-

“The spendthrift Crocus bursting from the mould,

Naked and shivering, with his cup of Gold.”

Round them the old School Church has grown quietly and unostentatiously until it has reached the dimensions of an illustrious seat of learning and culture, well entitled to rest on its laurels. St. Raphael’s College of our day has about it the atmosphere of an ancient University. Like Mediaeval schools of abiding fame, its Chapel is the centre of life and beauty. Its class-rooms, study-halls, music-rooms, commercial and technical departments are veritable hives of industry. In the work of Primary and Secondary education, the two well separated Houses, under distinct staffs, acquit themselves with a thoroughness efficiency and finesse, second to none of City celebritv. A distinguished son of his Alma Mater, speaking at the opening of the new Chapel in August, 1938, aptly attributed this success to the personal contact created and the individual attention bestowed by the Sisters.

In 1905 Father O’Kennedy erected the slngle-storied part of the present Primary schoot. This also served as an entertainment Hall for parish functions. Next in chronological order came the additional wing at right angles to the main convent in 1912. Here are contained the boarders’ and Sisters’ dining rooms and kitchens, together with dormitories overhead. The Primary School grew to such vast numbers within two decades, that to cope with them a whole new structure, containing six class-rooms was erected on the main street frontage. This construction seemed a gigantic expansion in 1924, but to-day every class-room is crowded, and the original number (fifty) has grown to four hundred in the course of fifty years.

Keeping in mind the ever present anxiety of the Church for the Catholic education of her children, Father O’Kennedy put this principle into practice before all others. The expenses incurred to provide suitable accommodation for the rising generations of Catholic Cowra retarded the growth of other works, notably that of Church building. Having enlarged St. Raphael’s by the addition of a Sanctuary, donated by Mrs. Sam Brown, in 1902, the Church accommodation remained, necessarily, at a stand-still, whilst such expansion was being made in educational facilities. This foresight has reaped its God-given reward. The phenomenal success of the school engendering the faith in the hearts of children was to be the measure of the new Church. One of our most enlightened Catholic men showed his appreciation of this fact when speaking from the platform at the laying of the foundation stone of the new St. Raphael’s on the 13th of January, 1938. “It was really providential,” he said. “that we had not, undertaken the building of this new Church as early as we intended, for now we can build a Church in keeping with our numbers, a spacious and noble building to be proud of in years to come.” Such is the Church of st. Raphael the Archangel, which has just been completed.




Before We come to dwell in the happy present, we must needs review the husbandman and his willing labourers of the past who worked so faithfully in this rich vineyard. Like a general at the head of his Officers, Father O’Kennedy is here, there and everywhere in their midst whilst engaged in his long battle for the salvation of souls. The future American Franciscan, Father Stanislaus McGee, whom we have already mentioned, was Curate in Cowra until June 1896. Then Father Doran came back and a combination in parish work, broken only by the occasional call of a visitor, was begun. It continued until 1907. The visitors were chiefly members of Religious Orders (Friars), for whom the Archdeacon always professes peculiar love. From the Vincentians came Fathers Lynch, McCarthy, Gannon, McEnroe and Joseph Lowe. Fathers Tierney and Henry Chetail represent the Sacred Heart Order; Fathers Chistopher McDermott and P. P. Muray, the Redemptorists, and Bernard Robertson and Patrick Fagan, the Passionists. From their grouping, we gather they were giving Missions, save perhaps Father Lowe, C.M., a life-long friend. Bishop Dunne was a distinguished workman in Cowra for some months in 1905 and the faithful remember him with reverence. Father Doyle also is listed and Father Casev, who was then stationed at Forbes. ‘The next regular assistant to help the combination was Father M Kiely, a young and delicate priest who died in the Sacred Heart Hospice, Sydney, a few years later. Then came Father James O’Brien, in 1908, to leave an indelible memory on the mind of Cowra. For many years now he has been the popular Pastor of Condobolin. He remained until 1910, when he was succeeded by Father Nicholas Cooney, the late and much esteemed parish Priest of Canowindra.




During that year Father Doran became Priest in Charge of the newly erected parish of Canowindra with its outside Churches – Cargo, Cudal and Eugowra. We will here digress to outline the growth of this new charge and its separate parts. Of the latter, Cargo has by far the oldest claim to interest. Both Cargo and Cudal had Churches built whilst they still belonged to Orange.

To Cargo the good Sisters of St. Joseph had already come in 1880 -Sister Stanislaus Fitzgerald, Superior, Sister Michael Pedder and Sister Pius Breen. At first they lived in a three-roomed cottage, a bark hut, until the Convent was built. Cargo at this time was a renowned mining centre which later yielded place to a farming community. The Careys. Middletons. Fitzgeralds. Fishers, and a host of others. received their education at the little Church-school on the hill overlooking the township. From Orange, Cargo and Cudal passed to the care of Molong and Father Michael Hanley, in 1884. It was from Molong in 1892 Father Jeremiah Moylan came on his fatal sick call to Cargo. Rising from his sick bed in the middle of the night to administer the Last Sacraments to one in danger of death. he himself contracted double pneumonia and died within a few days. Cargo Cemetery contains his mortal remains.

On the death of Father Hanley. the twin churches of Cargo and Cudal were transferred to the circumspection of Cowra and later to Canowindra when this became an integral part of the Bathurst diocese. Father O’Kennedy had a new Church built at. Cargo in 1907 and the old Church was then used exclusively for a school. The Sisters teach within its hallowed precincts to this day.

Canowindra was of mushroom growth, increasing in population as its lucerne fields expanded. But the Church kept step with every advance. When Belmore had lost the race with Canowindra and capricious business had chosen more elegant quarters, right to its front line pressed the Catholic Church. We have already chronicled the erection of its House of God and mentioned the presence of St Joseph’s Sisters. Sister Fabian Baker, Sister Francis Morrissey, Sister Assisium O’Dwver, Sister Rose Healy and Sister Marcellus Hanney founded the Convent in 1908. which has now grown to such magnitude. while “Belmore.” re- named “Moorbel,” has a flourishing outside school.

Father Doran, who had received the title of Archdeacon, was Parish Priest of the district from 1910 until his death in August, 1925. The parish was administered until November 1926, when it received the unexpected distinction of having Dr Norton, co-adjutor to Bishop O’FarreIl, as Parish Priest. Dr Norton becoming Chief Pastor of the diocese on the death of Dr O’Farrell in May, 192’8, Father Nicholas Cooney took charge of Canowindra. Whilst still a comparatively young man he was called to his reward on the 28th April, 1931, and Father Cecil Loneragan became Parish Priest.



Eugowra originally belonged to Forbes. This latter district was separated from Parkes and placed under the care of Father McAuliffe in 1878. The Sisters of St Joseph had begun a foundation in Forbes in 1879 which has long since given way to the Order of the Sisters of Mercy. Father John McAuIiffe, D.D., a native of Cork, had formerly been President of St Stanislaus College. He later became Dean of the diocese of Bathurst. Having care of Eugowra the previous years, he brought Sisters from Perthville to there on 12th March, 1882. The original group were Sister Francis Haddock, Sister Gabriel Gunn, and Sister Joseph Caffrey. The first residence was a produce store which had recently fallen into disuse. For months after the Sisters had occupied it, coach-drivers knocked at all hours, expecting to be served with bags of chaff. Eugowra, then a happy hunting ground for gold had a special attraction for the wandering bushrangers, whilst the Blacks still gathered for prolonged corroborees which lent some doubtful colour to the place. Father McAuliffe had built a Church there which is still a substantial building. He is depicted as an outstanding representative of the old school, reserved, dignified and renowned for learning. It is worthy of note that the housekeeper who served him faithfully for many years before his death in November, 1911, has spent the other twenty-seven in a capable discharge of the same duties for Father O’Kennedy. This is an epic worthy to be ranked in verse with the glowing stanzas of “My Faithful Josephine.”




Although Father Doran. as we have said, had care of Canowindra from 1910 he did not come to reside there until June 1912, when he occupied the historic cottage already mentioned here. It was some years afterwards before he undertook the building of the present presbytery, which was erected in sections and which completes the beautiful group of Catholic buildings. Up to 1912 he remained at Cowra. Both Parish Priests resided at the Presbytery and the Curate was Assistant to both of them-a rare situation in the annals of Church History. After Father Nicholas Cooney. Father J. A. Dunne was Curate in this dual capacity, whilst Father GiImartin. C.M., the famous wit and orator. visited Cowra at intervals. In 1911, Father Dan O’Reilly. afterwards Parish Priest of Oberon. and Father Ceci! Loneragan, present Parish Priest of Canowindra, were assisting at Cowra. In Mav. 1912, Father Patrick Casey came to Cowra from Forbes. Father O’Kennedy. with Father Casey as Assistant. began an association in the work of the Lord which continued up to August 1916. This gave birth to a friendship which has been mutually cherished and is now easily fostered. For Father Casey has inherited the historic seat of Carcoar, with all its horticultural traditions. Next on the list in 1917 came Fr John P. Kelly, now the zealous and pious

Parish Priest of Wellington. and he was succeeded by Father J. B. Howard, who bids us genial welcome at the place last mentioned. Father Howard’s term of curacy brings us to 1922, when Father Curran, present Parish Priest of Dunedoo, was changed to Cowra. He spent two years as Assistant there and his place was taken in May 1924, by Father Thomas Wisely, now of Rockley. This innings continued for two years and a half until the staff was increased to three, and Father John Ring, who now rules Kandos, arrived. Fathers Dowd, Cusack, Crowe and Searson did short terms of “supply work” during these latter years. Through all this line of various Curates, their appointments and his disappointments – “the Old Man” moves like a permanent thread, unchanging and unchangeable. How old he should seem to grow as we move along this lengthy list yet how young he is in reality. Father Wisely gives way to Father Mollaghan and Father Ring to Father Masterson, until Father McMahon and Father Rayes herald the final Golden Years. And do they seal the illustrious scroll?


“Though years have turned the rusted key,

And time is on the jog,

He’ll spend another night with ye,

Around the Boree Log.”

(With apologies to “John O’Brien).




We now come to consider the Parish of Cowra as it is at present constituted. It consists of the town of Cowra, situated on the banks of the River Lachlan, and the surrounding districts including Woodstock, Darby’s Falls, Mt McDonald and Wyangala Dam. Stations are still held at Warwick and Nargong. The parish is bounded on its western and southern side by the River Lachlan, on its northern by the parish of Canowindra, which comes in beyond Billimari, and to the ten mile peg on the Cowra-Canowindra Road; whilst on the east the old parent parish of Carcoar smiles on it from across historic Limestone Creek. The districts of Woodstock and Darby’s Falls have no desire to reach ecclesiastical maturity or to seek canonical elevation to the dignity of parishes.

There is something ancient and permanent like unto the parish priest himself, in these two places, but especially in Darby’s Falls. For these congregations he still celebrates Mass on alternate Sundays.

Woodstock got its Brigidine foundation from Cowra on St Brigid’s Day, 2nd February 1918, and six Sisters formed the community which then arrived with the same Rev. Mother who is in charge to-day. The original group were Mother Brigid Kelly, Superior, Mother Benignus Mackell, Mother Theresa McAlary, Sister Joseph Doherty. To-day the Sisters conduct a flourishing Primary and Intermediate School. The Iron Church which Father O’Kennedy had built he then pulled down and transferred to a site near the Convent. This latter building was the home of Larry Purcell, who had grown by now to a position of importance in the commercial life of Woodstock. At the rear of the building was a large billiard room which was converted into a schoolroom, and behind this the temporary church was erected which does duty to this day. Last year the plans for a new set of Church buildings on the original two-acre site were drawn by Mr Green, and in the near future, it will be said that Woodstock is the most up-to-date sector of the Church within the Bathurst diocese. Darby’s Falls like the land of Tire Na N’Og remains forever in the morning of its lifetime. The old Church which stood in what is now the Cemetery ground gave way to the new concrete building overlooking the township. Here the congregation gathers as it did of yore and watches for the arrival of its venerable saggart aroon, But it is within the town of Cowra proper that the faithful have grown to a mighty multitude. Here is a prosperous, wealthy people-6,OOO in round numbers and not yet too far removed from the spirit of the men of the land. May God keep them forever in this healthy, natural atmosphere-

“For a bold peasantry their country’s pride

When once destroyed can never be supplied.”

The proportion of Catholics is in the ratio of one in three. Furthermore, and what is more important than their numbers or social prestige, strong in their Faith and proud of their ancestry – they jealously guard the spiritual heritage their fathers bequeathed to them. The Venerable Archdeacon O’Kennedy is the Spiritual Father, Doctor, Judge and Physician of these people. He is the Shepherd who vigilantly guards his flock and he can call them all by name. Of them it never could be said – “the hungry sheep looked up and were not fed.” He has prayed for all of them, baptised the vast majority of them, married the most of them, and alas! buried too many of them. In the homestead “stations” throughout, the length and breadth of the district of Cowra he has offered the Holy Sacrifice for the living and the dead as he continues to do to-day in their modern Churches. It is certainly an unique dlstinction for James Michael, son of James Croke and Winifred Maher, to be first on the long list of those whom their Parish Priest began to baptize on the seventh of July, 1889. On that day also, Rose, daughter of Patrick Hough and Margaret Collins. won the right to honour as first regenerated representative of the fair sex on his list. In the years to come Moyna Prances Fitzgerald should feel a grateful pride that she was last on that list of thousands spiritually born in the course of fifty years up to date. But great men can make and unmake history and who knows how many more he may yet baptize.

Equally honoured are those whose names lead off the roll as joined in Holy Matrimony. Where are John McLoughlin of Donegal; who married Mary Ann Abberton, of Goulburn. in the Catholic Church of Cowra on the 18th July, 1889? When Gerald William Hayes from far off Ungarie wished to wed Eva Kinghorne, of Goonenburrah, in 1938, she would have none to celebrate this but him who gave her the faith she guards. The venerable “Old Man” has continued to hallow the lives of his flock from their cradles to their graves.




The modern array of Catholic Church buildings which arrests the attention of even the most unobservant and casual passer-by, is the testimony of the living faith of this generation. “They are the answer,” said the chief citizen of the town, “which the Catholic people of Cowra and the district give to Communism or any other new-fangled theory.” There Is the delightful Oratory, the newly embellished Convent and the majestic towering Church, a credit to Mr Green, who designed them, and to Mr McGee, who raised them, doing justice to the highest subject their profession can undertake. They embody the life work of our Parish Priest like some ‘symbolic representation, setting a seal to his achievement of duty faithfully done.

During the early months of 1938 we were privileged to watch the chaste form of the oonvent Oratory take shape whilst the foundations of the new St Raphael’s were being laid wide, deep and lastingly. Then the oratory lent its texture to the Convent, shewing forth a new face to greet the coming day. Slowly and majestically, like the glory of the rising sun, the proportions of the New Church rose and Catholic Cowra was awaking from the dawning of its faith into full daylight. Delivering the occasional address at the opening of the Oratory, his Lordship, Dr Norton eloquently outlined its origin, its progress and its purpose. Towards the close of his discourse His Lordship said:-

“We have assembled to bless a memorial to the honour of those Sisters who brought that sapling to Australia, and whose prayers, labors and sacrifices dug around it and tended it till God gave the increase. This, their monument, as is fitting, is an Oratory and a school – an Oratory for prayer and a school for work, while forming one building, for to labour is to pray. The nature of the site made it necessary that we should use the ground floor as a school and the first. floor as an Oratory, but is there not something remarkably symbolical in the joint buildlng – religion and education thus inseparably united, education supporting religion, and religion crowning education? How much against man’s essential well-being do they act. who try to separate what should always he allied . . .          Such then is the monument which the hands of their friends have raised to the pioneer Sisters. These early Sisters, whose souls are with the Just and whose graves are among those of the faithful men and women whom as children they ‘instructed unto justice’ are now, please God, ‘shining as stars for all eternity.’ Let us speak their names once more for their names are dear to us- Mother Francls Humphreys, Mother Aloysius Shanahan, Mother Xavier Kenny, Mother Patrick O’Flynn, Sister Catherine Bergin and Sister Joseph Irwin.”


There stands to-day a massive fabric awaiting the hallowing of the Church’s ritual. In deference to our Bishop and to shower honour on our Venerable Parish Priest, His Grace the Archbishop of Brisbane, Most Rev. Dr. Duhig, will add distinction to the auspicious occasion of St. Raphael’s opening on the 19th April, 1939. This fraternising of brother bishops continues a grand tradition which sprang from no less a source than the love of two illustrious brothers, James and Matthew Quinn, who first occupied the sees of Brisbane and Bathurst, respectively.


 To go to Chapter Six – The Solemn Opening of the New St Raphael’s, Golden Jubilee of Cowra Parish and Pareish Priest – click here.