Chapter Four. Catholic Cowra History by Fr Timothy Reen.


Cowra Parish and Its Parish Priest.



With this reflection we pass into the fourth and last epoch of our sketchy eccelsiastical survey, and although the ground to cover is far less extensive than when we began, yet the activity of the chief character is by no means less intensive. He was never known to-“stand and wait.” It is the modern belief of pseudo-psychologists that our lives are wholly as environment fashions them. There·is no more forcible answer to give the lie to this modern falsehood than the person, life and work of the grand old veteran Parish Priest of Cowra, Archdeacon O’Kennedy. Before we consider him on such an elevated pinnacle within the ranks of the Catholic Priesthood. we will return as wise men always do, to explore the sources from which his character blossomed.

Denis O’Kennedy was born on the Feast of St. Joseph, 19th March, 1857, at Burren, County Clare, Ireland. Date, time and place combine in happy harmony to shower honour on his birth. For Irishmen. St. Joseph takes precedence even to St. Patrick, because the keen sight of the true faith is never blind. The time of his birth was the tenth year after the historic famine. Great indeed were they and powerful in spirit who survived this dreadful infliction of a muddling alien government. Great also were the children who sensed hardship, bravely endured, on the faces by their cradles. Countv Clare plumbed the depths of the misery of that famine, but O’Connell had got spirit there and their Dawn brought forth our Day.

Denis O’Kennedy, Senior. and his wife Jane Cooper, knew nothing of the principles of modern eugenists and they cared less, and again because their minds were free from all such blind philosophy, there grew up in their humble home. eight sturdy little O’Kennedys – James, Daniel, Denis, Kate, Margaret, Mary, Elena, and Jane. Of these only one died young and five have passed the eighties. Daniel still does business in the capital city ‘of Dublin. Elena is a Sister in the Order  of the Faithful Companions in the town of Paisley, Scotland. Mary is the well-known Mother Joseph, Windsor, Melbourne. Margaret is Sister Gabriel of the Mercy Convent, Kokitika, New Zealand, whilst Denis is Archdeacon in his adopted home of Cowra. Of the dead are James, who died at a young age; Kate who was married and reared a family, and Jane, who was a Governess for many years in France. What an army of light and learning from this humble home in Clare. Denis O’Kennedy began his education at the National School of Ballinacally, some miles distant, and he needed no bus for the journey.


Thence he graduated to the Diocesan College of the County of Limerick. Here in their early teens he and Michael MacNamara, from. Shelbourne, Circular Road., Limerick, began their lifelong friendship. Living with his Uncle, Fr Daniel O’Kennedy. Parish Priest of Saint Munchins, which place treasures the Treaty Stone, for six years, 1868-1875, he pursued his classical studies at the above college. There he had the immense privilege of sitting under the rostrum of the famous classical scholar, who afterwards became the well-known Dublin Barrister, Kelly from the Kingdom of Kerry. Whilst in college, Dr Quinn, the first Bishop of Bathurst, accompanied by Dr Canni, Vicar General of Queensland, called to get candidates volunteering for the priesthood on the Australian Mission. As a result of his visit, Denis O’Kennedy and Michael MacNamara were shortly on board ship at Dublin and together with Messrs William Byrne, Brown, Terlin, Crowe and Locke bound for the far distant Mission Fields of Australia. If. to-day, the youth facing Australia expects hardships to try his mettle, what must have been the expectations of this group half a century or more removed, and what fine ardour took their spirits by the forelock. Travelling to London, they sailed from Gravesend in the “John Duffy.” leaving July 1st, they arrived in Sydney Harbour in December. If Denis O’Kennedy lost anything on the way he never returned to pick it up, for here he abides in the land of his adoption for evermore. They landed in Sydney to be greeted by the great Archbishop Polding himself, and most. of them were entertained by Mrs. Casey of Arnott House. The group travelled over the Blue Mountains by train, which then ran as far as Kelso, and they were taken in buggies from there to Bathurst to a little rented cottage where the Railway Works now stand. Later they moved to “Redruth Villa,” George Street, where they remained until necessary additions were made to St. Stanislaus College.

     These additions became Saint Charles Seminary, and this group with John Milne Curran, lately arrived, became the nucleus of ecclesiastical students within its walls. At this time. there were 70 or 80 boarders at Saint Stanislaus College doing a full secondary school course, amongst whom J. J. Curran, the Postmaster already mentioned, was a small boy, and over whom Patrick V. Dwyer, the late illustrious and pious Bishop of Maitland was Prefect. A few years later. Edward Flanagan, now Monsignor at Mudgee; P. J. Doran, late Archdeacon at Canowindra, and Thomas Doran, who laboured as Priest in many places in this diocese. joined the candidates for the priesthood.



Denis O’Kennedy continued his ecclesiastical studies from December, 1875, to the 30th May, 1880, at Saint Charles, when he was raised to the priesthood by Dr Quinn. The chief members of the professional staff were Fathers Horan, Huggard, Corcoran and Meade, all secular priests, who from time to time, had to go on the mission to relieve some overburdened or sick priest. They regularly did Parish work in

some parts of the diocese at week-ends. That is why we find these names entered at irregular intervals in nearly every ancient register in the diocese. Those were hard times for College Students, when food and clothing were scarce and money still more scarce. Notwithstanding these privations, discipline in the ordinary routine of the college life was extremely strict. As one would expect, cricket was as keenly followed in the College in those days as now, but the game was by no means novel to our pair of friends. They had developed this science in a real “hit and run” fashion in the fields of old Grandfather Hinchy, on the Clare side of the City of Limerick. The old man had a constant objection to this pract’ce, and more than once he stumped them on the run. Immediately on his ordination, which was out of due time, because of the shortage of priests, Fr. O’Kennedy was sent in charge of the Fish River District. That is how his Parish was designated. Of this world’s goods he possessed but five pounds which he got from Fr. Byrne. the Administrator at Bathurst. He left Bathurst on Saturday. 5th June, 1880. Oberon was but a part of the Fish River District and was then called Bullock Flat, and five miles out was Slippery Creek, with its historic Church. He worked in this district. for two years. A frequent Sunday bination was first Mass at Rydal at 6 o’clock and then a ride of 20 miles to Slippery Creek for second Mass at whatever hour he reached there. To this trip he once added the 20 mile ride to O’Connell for a third Mass on Christmas Day. In 1882 he suffered a serious sickness, and to help him recuperate, Dr Quinn gave him fifteen pounds and a letter of introduction to Dr Corbett, Parish Priest, of St. Kilda, to which place he went for a holiday. On his return, Father O’Kennedy was then sent to Wellington, and here he laboured, well beloved by his people, for eleven months. The Wellington people’s esteem for him is well-known to every priest who has lived there, and his regard for them he never attempts to conceal. Even the teacup that disfigures the breakfast table is cherished unreasonably because inscribed-“Wellington.”

From Wellington, he was recalled to the College to act as Bursar and relieve with class work. After some time, he was transferred to Parkes, and he humourously recalls that he distinguished himself by being the shortest trme on record in this charge. It was just a bare eight weeks. Returning to his former occupations at Bathurst, the next place the Mission demanded his services was at Carcoar. In February, 1883, he arrived at Carcoar as Assistant to Father Hanley in the absence of Father Horan. He was destined for perpetual Parish work ·from that day to this. Except for eleven months at Bourke, when he was relieving Fr Huggard, Father O’Kennedy was at Carcoar right on to 1889. He administered the place for two years after Fr Horan’s death, and during his time in Carcoar as assistant and administrator he helped to clear up a debt of more than £6,000. In the liquidation of this debt the following names figure frequently and predominantly from 1881 onwards:-Miss L. Pagan, Thos. Callinan, Nicholas Daly, Thos. Finn, Con Ginty, Miss Grlffiths, and Miss Hart, Mrs. Links, N. Connolly, Miss May Flynn, John Breen and Michael Reilly.

It must be recalled that in those days the Carcoar Parish comprised all the territory from Vittoria, through Blayney, Carcoar, Woodstock, Cowra, Canowindra and Eugowra. The arrangements for Mass in those days were:

Carcoar and Blayney once a week,

Cowra once a fortnight,

Canowindra and Vittoria.-once every month,

Mount McDonald and Brown’s Creek-once every three months.

All other places had “Stations” at which Mass was said on week days.

The places at which priests were doing fixed duty in those days were – Bathurst, Orange, Carcoar, Wellington, Dubbo, Forbes, Mudgee and Oberon. The staff from the College came out on Sundays to work in these parishes according as their movements were directed from Bathurst. Except for a short spell in the Maitland Diocese. Dr Byrne, who later on, 19th August, 1885, became the second Bishop, was Administrator of Bathurst, from the arrival of the first Bishop Dr Quinn. Father Phillip Ryan was then Parish Priest at Carcoar and Fr Thomas Walsh Administrator at Orange. The latter afterwards moved to Wellington and later to Queensland. He was succeeded at Orange by Fr James Kelly, a flowering theologian born to blush unseen, who later became Parish Priest at Carcoar. Before Father Walsh’s time in Wellington, “Fr McGwynn succeeded by “Archdeacon” Cook, who afterwards went to Rockley, had held charge there. After his time Fr Darcy worked and died there. Further on, Rev. John Dunne, who was destined to become the third Bishop of Bathurst, had charge of Dubbo. Bourke- the furthest outpost, claimed from the College Fr Huggard, the distinguished theologian and classical scholar. Archdeacon Darcy had been in Parkes, which included Forbes, before he went to Wellington. On the separation of these two places, Dean McAuliffe took charge of Forbes and Dr Brophy, late Parish Priest of Dubbo, went to Parkes. Many years before this the veteran Dean O’Donovan had pioneered Mudgee, built its beautiful Church and relinquished it only at his death. The present Parish Priest, Monsignor Flanagan, was his Immediate successor.


To go to Chapter Five – The Harvest of Fifty Years – click here.