ONE hundred years ago, as the tragic Great War was drawing to a close, the people of Gunnedah gathered for the laying of the foundation stone of a new Catholic church on the corner of Henry and Conadilly streets.
On Sunday that same church was filled to overflowing for the commemorative solemn mass and dedication of a new altar in the historic building known as St Joseph’s. Gunnedah shire mayor Jamie Chaffey and his wife Judy, and Tamworth MP Kevin Anderson also attended.
Con-celebrated by Bishop Michael Kennedy DD and Parish Priest Father John McHugh, the mass included the deposition of a relic of Australia’s first saint, into the surface of the altar.
St Mary of the Cross MacKillop formed the Sisters of St Joseph and this historic order was represented by a group of nuns from around the region, while Gunnedah’s own Sisters of Mercy were also represented.
In the congregation were descendants of many faithful parishioners who had contributed to the construction and furnishing of the church at a time when the town was grieving losses in the Great War and also struggling with the worst drought in Australia’s history.
The 14 Stations of the Cross were donated in memory of those lost in the war, while the beautiful stained glass windows, depicting the life of St Joseph, were donated in memory of loved ones.
The church had been closed since Easter for refurbishment, which included painting, new carpet and the development of a central aisle. The front of the new lectern features the original tabernacle doors, while the marble altar, created by Lamistone Tamworth, has the original gates of the altar rails embedded into each end.
The Stations of the Cross and the statues around the church have all been meticulously restored by Martine Moran over many weeks.
Bishop Kennedy congratulated Fr McHugh and the whole parish for their care of the historic building and remembrance of soldiers lost in World War 1 through the Stations of the Cross.
After Mass, the Bishop unveiled a commemorative plaque assisted by Fr McHugh and chair of the Parish Council Noreen Kennedy. He also planted a tree to mark the occasion and cut the centenary cake made and donated by Kim and Paul from the Hot Bread Shop.
A number of special awards were announced and framed citations were presented to John Perkins, Val McCann and Deirdre Andren, who have contributed enormously to the parish as volunteers over many years.
A highlight of the day was the presence of the youngest and oldest parishioners at St Joseph’s, with 100-year-old Eileen Egan honoured by Bishop Kennedy and newborn George Plevy and his parents, Samuel and Nikola, receiving a memento from Fr McHugh.
The Sisters of Mercy were also honoured for their ongoing contribution to the parish and the wider community over the past 139 years, while the Knights of the Southern Cross were also commended.
Everyone gathered on the lawns to catch up with old friends over a sausage sizzle lunch and a browse through the parish scrapbooks. A centenary booklet was produced for the occasion and is on sale at the presbytery for $10.
Fr McHugh offered his grateful thanks to everyone involved in the celebration and those who have contributed since planning began three years ago.
“This is a wonderfully warm and generous parish,” he said.
“Everyone has contributed in their own way and the whole day ran very smoothly.
“The choir and musicians were wonderful, the readers, ministers of the eucharist and altar severs and also staff and students from St Mary’s College and St Xavier’s.
“The senior students took part in the service, others entertained in the college band or served food. My grateful thanks go out to everyone, especially the parishioners for their support.”
The celebrations concluded on Wednesday with mass and a gathering of clergy from around the diocese and beyond.