Chapter Three. Catholic Cowra History by Fr Timothy Reen.


Creation of the Bathurst Diocese.



Matthew Quinn was born on 29th May, 1821, at Rathbawn, on the border of the Counties of Kildare and Dublin. He was the youngest of four brothers, three of whom became priests, all distinguished dignitaries, and James, like Matthew, rose to the plentitude of the priesthood as first Bishop of Brisbane. Matthew Quinn pursued his ecclesiastical course partly in the Propaganda College and partly in the Irish College, Rome. Ordained priest in 1845, he volunteered for the Indian Mission in the following year. In 1853 he was recalled to Ireland. He was Professor and Vice President in Harcourt Street School, Dublin, and in the movements for the relief of his suffering countrymen he took an active and leading part. Furthermore, with the help of a few priests and laymen, he organised an Irish Army to the number of 13,000 to defend the rights of the Holy See and the Papal States. They arrived at Ancona, and taking possession of it, defended it with distinction. But if the saying of Dean Swift is true, that the trouble with the Irish is that ten Englishmen fully armed are more than a match for one Irishman in his shirt, then it is equally true that 50,000 of the Piedmontese Army, complete with artillery, attacking their barriers in front, and the whole Sardinian Fleet raking them from the rear, was too much for the 13,000 poorly armed Irish Crusaders, and in a short time they were compelled to surrender. Later, as President of St. Lawrence O’Toole’s Seminary, Dr Quinn concentrated on methods of Emigration for the overflowing population of Ireland and through his agency thousands of emigrants set out for the shores of Queensland,. where his brother Dr James Quinn saw to their suitable settlement. In 1865, Dr Matthew Quinn was chosen by the Holy See to be First Bishop of Bathurst, and together with Dr Murray, chosen to be first Bishop of Maitland, was consecrated ojn 14th November of that year by Cardinal Cullen, Archbishop of Dublin. The two Bishops, nine priests and twenty-four religious Sisters sailed on “The Empress” and arrived in Sydney 21st Oct. 1866, and Dr Quinn left for his diocese on 29th. The train travelled only as far as Penrith and the remainder of his journey had to be made in a large coach and six, with a police escort part of the way. The priests for the Bathurst diocese were Fathers J P Byrne, T J Walsh, W Nugent, D McGrath and P. Ryan.



From this group, Father Philllp Ryan claims our attention, for he was immediately placed in charge of the territory called the Parish of Carcoar, which comprised Vittoria, King’s Plains, Blayney, Brown’s Creek, Carcoar and its surroundtng centres, Woodstock, Cowra, Canowindra, Cudal, Cargo, and Eugowra. At this stage we notice how the district has become circumscribed, but with its natural growth of population and the constant influx of immigrants, the work was far beyond ‘the powers or one priest. Father Phillip Ryan was not to be daunted by any visions of despair. From his arrival in Carcoar 11th November, 1866, he built. upon the foundation of the pioneering priests with a zeal and piety comparable to those of the greatest missionaries, whilst at the same time, and in step with the spiritual needs of his flock, he erected a chain of Church buildings throughout the parish with a foresight worthy of a Bishop. Father Ryan was always actuated by a strong desire to devote himself completely to the service of God, and his people lived in the glow of his intense sanctity. He was a native of Clonoulty in Tipperary and was educated in Mt Melleray and All Hallows. He wished to enter Mount Melleray as a monk, but his constltution was not robust enough for the hard life of the Cistercians, and so we find him a secular priest in the heart of the Australian Bush with the ascetic’s strong love for God burning in his heart, It is a genuine pleasure to speak with persons who well remember Father Ryan, for his name is still musical to old people’s ears. They tell of his religious zeal, his fervour, his kindly charity. Like Father Therry, his strict temperance moved them all to admiration. A glass of milk after a forty mile ride was surely an order to arouse wonder in times when strong drink was considered a necessity. Moderation in the matter of intoxicating drink was not characteristic of settlers and miners in the pioneering days or the Gold Rush epoch. For these, and many other qualities that marked an exceptional man .of God, the older families of the district still revere him. Go to the Markhams, the Whittys, the. Ryans: consult the Newhams, Nevilles, O’Briens, the Casses, the Cusacks, the Burkes, the Breens, the Murphys, the Rigneys, the Kearins, the Grants-they will tell you, as will the O’Dwyers and the Purcells, the Lynches and all the rest, of the extraordinary sanctity of Father Phil and his all embracing geniality. He gave to them of his spirit and it has taken root in their souls. Their faith has in It-a.. toughness and a wonderful staying power, lending a charm to their manners and a contentment to their frugal laborious lives. For they are of the farming element who form the backbone of the nation, whilst the big station-owning families are going the consumptive way of luxurious living.



For most of his. life in Australia, Father: Ryan lived in a humble cottage down the slope of the hill on which he subsequently built the first Carcoar Church. In his extensive parish there was but one Church, the stone building at Cowra erected by Father Murphy. He at once set about building a church at Carcoar which cost £1,500 and a Convent and School at the cost of £4,000. This was the first Catholic School erected in the whole district. The Church, which he supervised personally, was completed in 1870 – four years after his arrival in the Parish. The following information is a good measure of the love people had for him and of the generosity his presence evoked. Monsignor Flanagan, of Mudgee, who as a small boy of ten travelled with his people from Orange through Forest Reefs to attend the foundation stone ceremony in Carcoar, testifies to the fact that Mrs. Robinson: woman of slender income, gave £200 as donation on that occasion. Father Ryan’s great friend, Dr Croke, afterwards the famous Archbishop of Cashel, was over on a visit from New Zealand, and  preached at this Foundation Stone Ceremony. Glancing at the smalI but fervent gathering, Dr Croke said he looked forward to getting £200 . and if they were extremely generous – £300. To his amazement the collection amounted to £1800. Shortly after, Father Ryan erected a Church and in 1880 a Convent and School at Blayney, and both groups of buildings as well as the Presbytery at Carcoar, built in 1877, fulfil the purpose for which he so nobly designed them.

In the Cowra District, Father Ryan found the Catholic faith growing to such large numbers that he caused another Church to be, built within 20 years after the erection of the original one. In 1878 this new Church of St. Raphael was completed. It had a seating capacity for 300 persons. The opening ceremony was performed by Dr Quinn in the first month of 1879, The opening of the new Convent also took place about this time. Both these edifices were built of granite and on Gothic lines and did justice to the distinguished architect, Mr. Gell, and the contractor, Mr. O’Mara. The Church had a lofty tower with spire in which hung the bell. The twelve stained glass windows from Toulouse, France, gave to the building an atmosphere of devotion which has impressed itself on the souls of all who worshipped within it during the past fifty years. Among the subjects depicted on these windows were: S.S. James, Ann, John the Baptist Margaret and Paul on the Gospel side, while on the Epistle side Patrick, Colman and Mary Magdalen were represented.



The education of the Catholic population was well provided for in those days, before the arrival of the Sisters. From about 1870 Miss Martin. a Catholic lady pious and well educated taught all subjects necessary,. including religion. She was the first and only teacher and came originally from Kelso. About 1876 she was succeeded by Miss Purcell. who in addition to her teaching capabilities, was also an accomplished singer. She afterwards married Mr. E. J. Collins, a bank manager, then residing in Cowra.  In the meantime. Father Ryan was not neglecting the ever urgent task of raising money for the new: buildings which were needed. From the 21st to 23rd May, 1878, we find him conducting a large scale bazaar in the Church Grounds, and on the 24th he is present at a Concert At this function the refreshments were supervised by Mrs. Links. of Carcoar. Through these and similar activities. the need of funds was kept clearly before the minds of the people. and so  generous was their co-operation. that on Sunday 15th Sept., 1878, even before the Church was completed, Dr Quinn was again present in Cowra to lay the Foundation Stone of the Convent. This building was erected adjacent to the original church so as to harmonise and make with it a complete building at some future date. The Blessing of the site took place at 1 o’c!ock. When the Litany of the Saints was chanted by the Bishop, Frs Ryan and Horan and Mr. Freehill, Father Rvan then celebrated a Cantata. This helps us to form some idea of the work entailed in such ceremonies in those days. It. is evident that both he and the Bishop must have celebrated Mass in some distant. centres at an earlier hour in the morning. Nevertheless, all the prescribed ritual of the Church was fulfilled. The Choir rendered Mozart’s XIIth. Mass, and Miss Purcell sang a special offertory piece with exquisite taste and great power, accompanied on the new organ lately imported. and then used for the first time. Father Horan, of Ipswich. Queensland. brother of Father Joseph Horan. successor to Fr Ryan at Carcoar, delivered the occasional address. The donations amounted to £600 and the foremost in generosity were Dr Quin,. Father Ryan, Mrs W. R. Watt. Mr Donnellv. Mrs. Challacombe. Robert Daly, Thomas Walsh, James Butler and John Carmichael. Both Church and Convent were completed early in 1879 and on 22nd February of that year the bell of the new church tolled long and loudly at 1.30 p.m. to announce tne arrival of the first group of Nuns to the town of Cowra.



The excitement their advent created drew a large crowd around the church grounds, into which the Nuns were led amidst much cheering and rejoicing. As they filed up the Aisle to the seats reserved for them, a special Choir prepared for the occasion, burst into the stirring strains of the Church’s great hymn of thanksgiving, Te Deum Laudamus. Mrs. Collins. formerly Miss Purcell the teacher. was, organiste on that occasion. When all were seated three ladies ascended the altar steps and read a beautiful address of welcome to the Sisters, thanking them for coming into their midst, and Father Ryan for bringing them. Fr. Ryan responded on behalf of the Nuns and he must have certainly spoken with feeling, under the influence of such a splendid dispIay of Catholic love and reverence for God’s chosen ones. The special orators chosen from the ladies to express their words of welcome were Julia McCarthy, Kate O’Shannessy and Kate ODonnelI, whilst Mrs. Arkins had a ceremony all her own in the handing over of the key of the Church to the Sisters. She had then completed eleven years as faithful custodian of all things pertaining to the House of God. These Sisters belonged to the order of St. Joseph at Perthville. They were four in number, Sister Mary Ann Forde, Superior; Sister Mary Anslem Lyons; Sister Mary Benigna Corry, and Sister Mary Stanislaus Fitzgerald, who afterwards went to Tasmania.

It must have been a pIeasant surprise for them to find so much enthusiasm and loyalty displayed on their behalf, and, aIthough they had moved nearly eighty miles into the bush, they were still in the midst of ardent Catholics. But the ardour of the people of the district. was also manifested in other ways. The townspeople had decided to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with some marked festivities in March of that year, 1879. So they resolved on holding a race meeting; perhaps Father Ryan’s need of finance influenced such a decision. However, this was no sooner mooted than a very strong protest. supported by strong numbers, came from Back Creek to the effect that Cowra should not hold races on St. Patrick’s Day, that being the rightful privilege of Back Creek, already established for over 11 years. The gentle townspeople subsided and held their meeting at a later date.

In May of that memorable year, Dr Quinn made a regular visitation of the Parish and conferred Confirmation on a large number of children and adults at Cowra. He was assisted by Father Ryan and Father James Kelly. Towards the end of the year, the Sisters of St Joseph held what has ever remained to be known as the annual School Concert. At this Concert, Father Davern was a visitor, and it was acclaimed a wonderful success, considering the few months the Sisters had been amongst them. Peeping into the programme of the distant past we find a few of the items were:-


         .        A Hymn……………. “Holy Patron” …………………………….by Miss McCarthie,  accompanied by Miss O’Shannessy

                  A Recitation……….. “The Church”……………………………….Samuel Daly

                 Song…………………..”St Patrick’s Day”……………………… Maisie Skelly

                Recitation…………..”The Nun’s Plea”…………………………. by Miss McCarthie

Part of the programme included an examination in Arithmetic and Geography, in which latter subject, Miss Walsh, one of’ the earliest pupils, distinguished herself.


But we must hurry away, for Father Ryan has no abiding presence in the town of Cowra. He has moved over to Canowindra and has erected a Church outside the township on the road that leads to Eugowra. This site was obtained from Edward Coady, who then owned Mogong Station, and Father Ryan was enamoured with the site nearly two miles from the town for reasons peculiar to Canowindra. He erected this Church about the year 1870 and called it “St.. Edwards” in compliment to the donor of the site. Round this edifice, the Grants, Coadys, Finns, Breens, Clyburns, Duffys, Galvins, Callans, Dooleys and Dwyers, gathered for their weekly adoration of God, strong in the faith they had brought with them from Kerry, Kildare, Cork and Tipperary. Watch the names of their homes around Canowindra– ‘Tralee,’ ‘Moyne;’ ‘Brittas,’ ‘Dara,’ ‘Sleivenamon,’ ‘Clonmore’-these indicate their place of origin, and there lurked no secret desire for concealment. Many a time did Father Ryan, having finished his station at “Sheet 0′ Bark,” pass by Andrew Lynch’s place, and picking his way through the scrub until he had forded the treacherous Jack’s Creek, rein in at their homesteads on his way to Eugowra, Motorists nowadays are forever counting the mileage they have covered in one day, or it may be over many years, but what must distance have meant to the lonely horseman in drought time? A vision of parched lands, dried-up creeks, or in flood times? swamped areas and rivers breaking their banks. Forty years ago a priest had need to be a good horseman and courageous. At Eugowra, Father Phil would visit the Tooheys, the Kirbys, the Augustenellis, not yet sufficiently numerous to undertake the building of a Church. Eugowra was t.he last outpost of Father Ryan’s watch and here as in every other quarter, he has left an abiding memory.



But fortune decreed Cowra to be the most flourishing’ part of his vast vineyard and the McElligotts, Mahers, Enrights, and the Simeons from far distant Nancy in France, contributed their quota with all the others and helped to swell the crowded congregation that swarmed round St Raphael’s. Their fidelity to Mass on Sunday and Holidays of Obligation has become proverbial, and the spacious churchyard was necessary to line up the sulkies and buggies of the old pioneer stock. Not satisfied with their periodical station at “Sheet O Bark,” the Begleys, Purcells, and Young O’Briens, the Kearins, Finns, Lynds and Lynchs swept out onto the highway and pushed on towards “Old Cowra” in the wake of Father Ryan, and when their Mass was over, the women of the party quietly slipped towards the Convent hugging ready-made  parcels, for neither then nor afterwards were the good Sisters forgotten.

The first marriage recorded by Father Phillip Ryan is that of Nicholas Challacomb, of Liscombe Pools, with Bridget Mary Neville, of Cowra, at King’s Plains on the 27th day of January, 1867. Another marriage of interest to Cowra was that of John Whitty, of Summer Hill, to Susanna Smith, of Cookamingla, performed at Cowra on the 6th day of October, 1867.


Although Fr Ryan entered his first baptism on the 21st November 1866, when Mary, daughter of John Day, and Margaret Ryan, of “The Meadows,” was made a Child of God, he is practically without assistance until 1871. Father Davern, from County Tipperary, comes as his first assistant. Here is another priest mighty in body and in mind ready to take up any gauntlet when he found a foe worthy of his steel. In later years, the unlimited district of Wilcannia-Forbes claimed his priestly services, and he died at Wilcannia.

We must hurry through the names of those who came to Carcoar at intervals and left just as abruptly between the years 1872-1882. These were Father Fitzsimmons, Father James Kelly (afterwards Parish Priest of Carcoar), Father John Dunne (who became the third Bishop of Bathurst), Father Edmond O’Dwyer, Fathers Leo Murphy, W J Meade, F. Huggard and J. Campion, Fathers Meagher, Denis McCarthy and Pierce Corcoran, who was one time President ‘Of St. Stanislaus College and later Vicar General of the Armidale Diocese. Worthy of special mention in this record are the two brothers of the Parish Priest, Fathers Patrick and John Ryan. Father Patrick, who was stationed chiefly in the Newcastle District, helped Fr Phi! in Carcoar al through 1875, and came at rare intervals afterwards. Fr John Ryan spent most of his short priestly life in Carcoar. Unlike his brothers he was a delicate man, and although at times it would appear that this bracing air would restore his vigour, he died within 12 months of his ordination. He had been ordained in the Carcoar Church by the first Bishop of Bathurst. and it is the only ordination which took place there, as far as can be ascertained. He must have been robust in the spirit and of prudent judgment, for we find that he was appointed Parish Priest of Cowra about eight months after his ordination, but he never took charge of the District, for the providence of God ruled otherwise in this regard. From Drumond, Parish of Rossmore, Tipperary, he passed through St. Patrick’s, Thurles, to finish his career in far distant Australia within one short year. He was buried at Bathurst. Because he was so young we linger by his graveside Requiescat in pace.



Early in the year 1880 Fr. Phillip Ryan terminated his long association with the Carcoar district. His last recorded baptism is that of Catherine Beatrice, daughter of Peter Finn and Susan Paterson, on the 29th Feb., 1880. Fourteen years of missionary life in Australia had built him up and to the intense regret of a legion of friends all over the State, he returned to Ireland to fulfil his lifelong desire. He entered the Trappist Monastery of Mount Melleray in 1882, and for 26 years he lived the austere life of a Cistercian Monk. The Honourable John Meagher of Bathurst. and Col. Freehill, one-time solicitor of Cowra, were amongst some of the privileged Australians who visited him in his house of prayer before his death on October 1st, 1908, Although he has ceased from his nocturnal supplications on this earth, the living faith he engendered in the hearts of his spiritual children is handed on from generation to generation, and around the altars he erected, crowds gather even more eagerly, and the hearthstones of the homes his saintly presence blessed still re-echo to the deep strains of the family Rosary. Over all this land hovers the spirit of his priestly life, and it is shrouded in more reverence with the mellowing of the years.



Through this spiritual haze we evoke the spirits of the men who immediately succeeded him in Carcoar. In this interregnum Fr Davern was administering the Parish until 1881, assisted at intervals by Fr. Lynch, Meade. Campion and William McGrath. Then Fr W. McGrath, assisted by Fr Campion and by infrequent visits from Fr John Milne Curran, the geologist, directed affairs until the appointment of the next Parish Priest, Father Joseph Horan. about November 1882. Fr Horan was relieved by his assistant, Fr Michael Hanley, when his Lordship: Dr. Quinn on his ad Iimina. visit to Rome took the former with him. This was in Feb. 1883 and in that same month Father Denis O’Kennedy, the present Venerable Archdeacon of Cowra, came to work in Carcoar. By the end of December, 1884, Father Horan is back again in charge of Carcoar and Fr Hanley is transferred as Parish Priest to Molong. From then, until the end of 1887, when he succumbed to a prolonged illness, Fr Horan, assisted by Fr O’Kennedy, attended to the spiritual needs of the district. He was a native of Kildare and was a nephew of Dr Quinn. the first Bishop of Bathurst. Educated at Carlow College, he came out to this country about the year 1870, and for the most part of his priestly life he was a professor at Bathurst. when it was still a twofold institution, viz.: St. Charles Seminary and St. Stanislaus College. He was also President. for a short time. Although never very robust, he was able and willing to take on the work of a priest at all times. He was a man of outstanding ability. learned and versatile in the classics and a mathematician of some note. In the short years he enjoyed at Carcoar he endeared himself to the people throughout the whole Parish and they rallied to his assistance to alleviate the burden of debt that Fr Rvari’s extensive building scheme had incurred. Towards the middle of the vear 1887 his health became definitely impaired and at five in the afternoon of Jan. 6, 1888 having received the Last Sacraments from Fr O’Kennedy, he passed peacefully to his reward.

Except for 10 months at Bourke, Fr O’Kennedy had been permanent assistant since Feb. 1883. He now administered the Parish with the intermittent assistance of his old friend Fr MacNamara. also of Father John Barry and Fr William McGrath. Father MacNamara has been Fr O’Kennedy’s friend from youth into old age and with equal manly stride they still march down the years as Parish priests’ of North Parramatta and Cowra respectively. Father Barry was later appointee to Gilgandra. where after years of pioneering in this lonely district he took suddenly ill. A grand veteran Catholic man. J. J. Curran. who was then stationed as Postmaster at. Gilgandra. spared no efforts to reach the nearest Priest, Fr O’Donnell, the present Monsignor, then stationed at Coonamble, and through his agency, Fr Barrv passed into the presence of his Master fortified by all the last rites of the Church Father WilIiam McGrath was Parish Priest of Coonabarabran after his leaving Carcoar. In later years, he broke down completely in health and for a long time was confined to hospital in Sydney. On recover ing, a brother of his who was living in New Zealand, book him to that country, where he died after some years of fruitful work ..

 With these short remembrances we exhaust the list of names of Priests who helped. in no matter what humble way, to reap the harvest in the fields in which labourers are always few. For we can best measure the work of the Priest by taking stock of the numbers that are arrayed against him. Only considered cognisance of the many and varied influences which work for evil, even in the quietest waters, can help us to appreciate the extraordinary amount of good done by priests, when health or other crippling circumstances compel them to live in spiritual doldrums. “They also serve who only stand and wait.”


To go to Chapter Four – Cowra Parish and its Parish Priest – click here.