Chapter One. Catholic Cowra History by Fr Timothy Reen.


The Birth of the Inland Mission.


It is only meet that we should treasure the threads of religious history that bind us with Sydney, for they prove our claim to be in truth the spiritual children’ of the greatest of Australia’s really great Apostles, Father John Joseph Therry. Cardinal Moran’s-“History of the Catholic Church in Australasia,’ and Dr. O’Brien’s “Foundation of Catholicism in Australia” should be read for a full account of this zealous, intrepid and pious priest, For those who may not have access to such information, the following facts must suffice,

JOHN JOSEPH THERRY was born of pious parents in the City of Cork in 1790, He was educated at St. Patrick’s College, Carlow, At the suggestion of Fr. O’Flynn, a native of the neighbouring County of Kerry, whom the Government had expelled from Missionary work in Australia, the newly ordained Father Therry volunteered for this Mission, and together with Father Phillip Conolly, arrived at Sydney on 3rd May, 1820. It. would be difficult to trace the dates of Father Therrys numerous visits to Bathurst, that distant inland settlement for convicts, but in the 1820s we find him complaining to the Government about the treatment of Catholics detained there. As official chaplain he did this journey to Bathurst on horseback as often as he was able, to administer the Last Sacraments to the Catholic convicts condemned to death. During these visits he attended to the spiritual needs of the Catholic community in the settlement, and when possible, he reached even those who were scattered throughout the district. He broke the Bread of Life to them in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist. Through his priestly powers, their marriage unions were sanctified, their children regenerated and their souls shriven, and many a weary-hearted one poured forth his burden of sin and sorrow into his sympathetic ears. As a lonely horseman he traversed the course of every river in New South Wales. Goulburn, Wollondilly, Nepean, Cox or Grose, all were known to him, and his memory is fondly cherished along the banks of the Macquarie and throughout the Lachlan Valley. He can be traced from Sydney to Campbelltown, thence to Goulburn, through the deep valleys of the upper Lachlan past Burrowa and its warm-hearted homes of Ryans, Dwyers, Donoghues and Casses, on to Cowra through the rich Lachlan and Belubula lands. Here he would be made welcome by the historic family of Grant, who made a home for pioneering Bishop and Priest. Even the non-Catholic W. H. Watt, the inheritor of Bumbaldry and Iandra, would receive him hospitably, for was not Watt a nephew and heir of that Dr. Redfern, who gave his name to the Sydney suburb, and who as a boy of 18 had sympathised with the mutineers of the Nore or the Spithead and was transported for life to Botany Bay.

In 1825 Fr Therry was suspended from his office as Chaplain by the Government because of his strong insistence on the rights of Catholics to liberty of conscience, and particularly because of his protests, so forcibly made, against proselytising of Catholic children in State Orphanages. This ban of Government left Father Therry more freedom to attend to the needs of those in the most distant parts of the territory, and up to 1837, when he departed to Tasmania, we find him frequentlv labouring, at his own expense, in the Bathurst district. The convicts of Bathurst were his special care. It is important to know who these convicts were and for what crimes they were condemned. Records show us that, between 1795 and 1820, the number of convicts deported from Ireland to the Colony of New South Wales reached 6,440. !n what crime wave were they washed up? That is a question which yields an astonishing answer. They were political prisoners sweeping In successive waves on the ocean of a nation’s eternal surge for freedom. To those who could measure such aspirations, they were martyrs to their country’s cause –

“Although they sleep in dungeons deep, or flee outlawed and banned,

 We love them yet, we won’t forget, the ‘felons’ of Our Land.”

25,000 political prisoners of this noble strain were transported to N. S. Wales between the years 1795-1841, and no pains were spared to reduce them to the level of criminals of the lowest class. The vast majority of these were Catholics, and they, with some small number from other European countries, and after the American War of Independence, from Canada, constituted for the most part the Catholic Community of N. S. Wales. One of the largest settlements for such so-called convicts was created at Bathurst.

Such was the ancestry from which we have inherited the faith in these parts, and Fr. Therry was their one and only spiritual friend for many weary years. From this flock he even sends donations of money to Sydney to help towards the building of the first St. Mary’s. But as early as 1833, these people of Bathurst demand that Fr. Therry build them a church in their own centre, and in 1839 Dr. Polding, the first Bishop of Australia, expresses his intention of erecting a church to cater for the needs of these wonderful people. By this time Father Therry had been called to other spheres of labour but we can feel sure that on his return to Sydney, many years later, he would have visited the flock which he loved so dearly. The years have witnessed to the marvellous growth of the mustard seed he had planted before his death in 1864, and the good he wrought is not interred with his bones.


To retain some order in the hierarchy of historic events, it is fitting that we should next recall the spirit of Australia’s first Bishop, the Apostolic and saintly Dr Polding. JOHN BEDE POLDING was born in Liverpool, England, on 18th October, 1794. In 1810 he entered the Benedictine Order. In 1834 he was appointed Vicar Apostolic of New Holland and was consecrated Bishop in London on June 29th of that year. He set sail in the “Oriental” and arrived in Port Jackson on 13th September, 1835. His evangelical labours are suitably enshrined in the worthy histories of the early days of the Church in Australia. A man of extraordinary faith, with the zeal of the early apostles, he manifested more than once their miraculous powers of healing the sick and uplifting the fallen. He toured this vast diocese over which he had been placed by Pope Gregory XVI, and there was not a hamlet on the face of the continent which was not familiar with his name On the upper slopes of the River Lachlan his name is coupled with that of Fr. Therry, and as the two first Apostles they are still held in veneration. Were not venerable ancestors christened and married by them? And do not their cherished letters still lie in Family Bibles? A man baptised by Fr. Therry never lost faith, it was said; and did not Dr. Polding climb to the top of Mt Macquarie, and like St. Patrick of old, hallow the countryside round about him with an eternal benediction? Yes, he did, for N. B. Connolly, now arrived at the ripe age of 84 years can testify to it. It was about the year 1862 and Dr. Polding, then Archbishop, had come to administer Confirmation in the district. He was staying for some weeks with N. Connolly Snr., at his home “Werigal” near Carcoar. He visited Mallowgrove each day to give instructions, for the nearest Church in those days was at Bathurst, and the Resident Priest for the Carcoar district then lived at Mallowgrove – probably Fr McGuinn. As a sturdy young bushman of nine, young Connolly rode with his father, who, together with the Archbishop, travelled on horseback to the top of Mt Macquarie. There the Archbishop erected a wooden cross on its highest point and placed a set of rosary beads over the arm of it. This hallowing of his native mountain by the illustrious Archbishop sank deeply into the impressionable mind of the child, and to this day, Mt Macquarie has for him a significance beyond comparison. The Archbishop’ may have performed this ceremony from numerous other mountain tops. We know that he, Fr Bernard Murphy, Dean Grant and Father McGwynn climbed to the Canoblas after a Confirmation ceremony at Orange. They drove to the base of the mountain in a cart, carrying an axe, a hammer and nails and some luncheon. The priests wondered why the Archbishop desired the tools. On arriving at the top he cut down two saplings and, having dressed them to suit his taste, he nailed them in cross formation. Having planted it firmly in the ground, he blessed the whole district. This cross remained in position for many years.


But we are anticipating. Dr Polding, four years after his arrival in Australia, was blessed by the support of an apostolic group of men whose peers have not been found. This missionary expedition arrived in Sydney Harbour on 15th July, 1838. It consisted of’ eight stalwart priests, whose missionary exploits will remain for all time one of the brightest the annals of this southern land. Dr Francis Murphy, who was soon to become Vicar General of the Colony, and finally first Bishop of Adelaide, was the senior of the group. From this number, three at least, can be distinguished for their work in the inland territory, namely:- Fathers Michael Brennan and Slattery who were for many years stationed at Penrith and Hartley, respectively. and the memorable Fr (Dean) O’Reilly who founded the Mission of Bathurst.

On Dr Polding’s visitation of N.S.W.Colony he was always accompanied by one or another of these priests, but we have only the most meagre information regarding the details of their work in these far-flung fields of labour. In 1841 Fr M. Brennan was stationed at Parramatta, and Fr John Fitzpatrick is mentioned as Priest in Charge at Penrith but he also visited’ the Stockade on the Blue Mountains and his district extended to the Bathurst Mission. The Bathurst Mission proper was under the care of Rev. John O’Reilly, Dean of the District, and Father Michael Kavanagh. On the south east and south this district extended to Goulburn and Yass, whilst to the north east as well as the north and west its boundary was undefined. In 1841 there was as yet no church or school in the whole district but churches were in course of erection at Hartley and Bathurst and nearly every Catholic family had a tutor. , There were some scattered families to the north and west at a distance of 350 miles from Bathurst which were very destitute of religious Instructions and could only at long intervals receive a visit from the priest. In Bathurst at this date about 100 assisted at Mass and there were 45 monthly communicants. In 1842 we find that Dean O’Reilly, still assisted by Fr. Kavanagh, has erected a church at Bathurst dedicated to St Michael and costing £2000. Before this the usual place for celebrating Mass was a bark hut in the little village of Kelso. Another church had been begun in the most populous district about 30 miles from. Bathurst. In the district there were 26 stations in which Mass was celebrated at stated times. The faithful came distances of 20 and 30 mlles to hear Mass and receive instructions.


About the year 1847 the successor to Dean O’Reilly in the Bathurst Mission was the Rev. John Grant, who also in his turn became Dean of the diocese of Sydney. He was a native of the county of Kilkenny and was educated in his own local college. Whilst he was in the Seminary Archbishop Polding vlslted the place seeking volunteers for the misslonary field in Australia. He was ordained prlest in Sydney in 1845, and being appointed to the Bathurst Mission, for well nigh 20 years, he watched over the growth of religion in his dlstrlct. The first church of brick and stone in Bathurst was built by him at a cost of :£12,000. It was dedicated to St. Michael and St John, to commemorate, it would appear, the two former priests, Fathers Michael Kavanagh and John O’Reilly. Archbishop Polding laid the foundation stone on 30th November, 1857. This building was destined, at no distant date, to be the Cathedral of the diocese of Bathurst. It had been the yearning of Fr. Grant’s heart to see new dioceses erected in the Colony and his own beautiful Church the Cathedral of one of these Sees. He was not spared to welcome the first Bishop of Bathurst, for he was called to his eternal reward on 25th February, 1864.

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