I acknowledge the Traditional Owners on whose land I walk, I work and I live. I pay my respects to Elders past, present and future.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Not all hell, fire and brimstone

Places of worship: one, two, three, four…..
One: The Divisional Board Hall where Father James Cassar (beginning in 1885) and other visiting priests said Mass. Father Cassar prompted the building of the first church because he objected to offering “the Holy Sacrifice on the stage dedicated to the feet of the ballet dancer.”
Lannercost Street Ingham 1912 with businesses pictured L-R: Ingham Shire Hall (1883-1916); Fraser's Cash Store; Bank of Sydney (sign on building: The Commercial Banking Company of Sydney Limited). Hinchinbrook Shire Library Collection.
Two: St Patrick’s Church in Abbott Street location, constructed in 1893. This Church was first constructed on 55 Morehead Street, moved to Abbott Street in circa. 1902 and then shifted to Seymour in 1923 to become St. Bartholomew’s Church (later St. Anthony’s Church of Bemerside).
St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church, Ingham, Queensland. Photograph dated ca. 1912 but may be earlier. State Library of Queensland Collection.
Three: St Patrick’s Church blessed on May 27, 1923. With an influx of new Italian immigrants in the 1950s Italian Masses were introduced. The Italian choirs of this time are still remembered for their beauty. Priests recall being busy doing extra work required for proxy marriages: Sposati con Procura. Photograph used in Portrait of a Parish by kind permission of Gotzone Zemaitis.

Four: St. Patrick’s Church, Ingham, blessed and opened March 12, 1961. Built in the shape of a cross, and dedicated as a memorial to those who had died for Australia in wars, it seated 450 people at capacity.  Its capacity coupled with improvements in roads, means of transport and the economic boom of the post war period meant that the small country churches began to fall into disuse and be dismantled.
Church life, at least Catholic Church life, isn’t all hell, fire and brimstone, ponderous ritual and self-righteous clerics. The delight of writing a parish history was hearing the stories, particularly the stories about and told by the Sisters, Brothers and Priests who, for the most part gave their lives selflessly, energetically and with good humour!
It is difficult, in the first place, not to be impressed by the vision and character of the priests, who ranged from a decorated war hero, to survivor of a concentration camp to a future home grown Bishop. Recollections of contemporaries consistently remark on their charm, grace, kindness and ready sense of humour while not either glossing over their foibles and sometimes pedantic ways. Parish Priests, to a man, were movers and shakers and BUILDERS taking the church to the people with the little bush church buildings and educational facilities spread throughout the district. Their prodigious energy, and that of their assistant clerics jumps out from any recollections of them. Father Ferlazzo described his own job role as one of a “three tonne truck trying to carry a ten tonne load!” Dean Grogan was described as “a great worker – he was always on the trot- and those who tried to keep up with him had to be on the trot too, while those who kept ahead of him had to be on the trot to keep out of his way!” Father Mambrini was recalled for his “racy” style and his “zeal”. Others were described as “unremitting’ in their “acts of kindness and zeal”. While advancing their own Parish they were committed to the wider community and it was not only Reverend Dr Kelly who would be described as having “endeared himself to all other denominations as well as his own”.
Some of my favourite stories however, were those involving the Italian language. The population of Ingham and district is largely of Italian origins. The church hierarchy soon came to appreciate that it would be an advantage if they sent priests to Ingham who could speak Italian.  Parishioners were grateful for the efforts individual priests made to learn the language. Reverend Associate Professor Ormond Rush, when assistant priest in Ingham for example, had gone to Florence to study the Italian language. When he was farewelled from the district in 1983 he was praised and thanked “for making the effort to learn so that he can be a better priest for the Italian speakers in the district.”
However, the attempts of priests to speak Italian, and Italian parishioners English, sometimes caused confusion and funny situations on either side. Father O’Meara was sent to Rome in 1925 to learn Italian to prepare him for his work in North Queensland. He recalled that “when he had preached in Bemerside an Italian parishioner had told him he did not know what language he had been speaking!”
Another, Father Michael Mullins, a local boy of Irish origins, who was ordained in Rome in 1942 spoke fluent Italian which gave rise to a story Father himself delighted in: “…a domestic who worked in my home in Brisbane told me her grandson was baptised in Ingham by the ‘little fat Italian priest’. When she showed us a photo- sure enough it was “Father Mick” himself!
Father Severino Mambrini OFM who was sent to the district by the Apostolic Delegate to make a report on the Italian immigrants in 1923 ended up staying 10 years.  It was he who suggested that the Parish should be served by English or Irish priests who spoke fluent Italian. His determination to effect change often got him into trouble with Church hierarchy and there is no doubt he was quite a character as this story attests. “…he is remembered for visiting just on dinnertime, eating up all the fish and leaving the potatoes for the family to eat; or if meat was on the menu rather than fish, even though it was Friday, it was not unknown for him to make a ‘sign of the cross’ over it saying: “I bless you the fish” and then to sit down heartily and partake of the’ fish’!”
Another story figuring Father Mullins and the Italian language involved one of the little country churches that were once dotted the district. This story happened at the Church of Saint Theresa, Toobanna. He recounted: “There are very few of the galvanised iron churches now in the Parish of Ingham They were built to bring Mass to the people in the country at a time of bad roads, limited transport etc. Most of them were unlined, with no ceilings, and they were certainly hot boxes!!One Sunday morning I was saying Mass in one of these churches at Toobanna. It was blisteringly hot; the morning sun was scorching, heating up the walls. I opened a small wooden louvre beside the Altar, hoping for some relief. None came! But shortly afterwards a gentle breeze sprang up. How welcome but it blew out the candles. So be it! A very little boy in the congregation came up to the Altar and whispered to me:
“Mama dice: le candele sono morte” (In English – My mother says the candles are dead”).
I sent him back to tell his mother that Father said:
“It is better to have two dead candles than one dead Priest”. She enjoyed it!’
As for Italian members of the congregation and their growing mastery of the English language there is this priceless story recalled by Father O’Dwyer: “One venerable man I often think about was Mr. Venturato who lived down in Coolbie area. He used to drive his big truck to Bambaroo church with about 12 of his family on the back. He was in his 70s. He always became M.C. and altar boy at Mass. He used to move the book from Epistle side to Gospel side then turn to the people and with a wave of his hand say “Up” and all would stand. One Sunday he got tangled up in the Confiteor, and in trying to catch up he beat his breast, with one Mea Culpa running into the next and finished with an extra touch, as [sic] – “E tutto Buggerup”. He was a grand person. I went to his house once for Mass and then to lunch. One end of the table was set aside for the “Prete” with one of the biggest dishes of spaghetti, I had ever been faced with.”
Source: Vidonja Balanzategui, Bianka. Portrait of a Parish: A History of Saint Patrick’s Church and Parish Ingham 1864-1996. Ingham: St. Patrick’s Parish, 1998.  Portrait of a Parish can now be read online at http://onesearch.slq.qld.gov.au/SLQ:SLQ_PCI_EBSCO:slq_alma21131607220002061

One of the many little churches erected around the district: Church of Our Lady of Pompeii, Lannercost, built in 1933. This was the first of the small churches to be built.  These churches could not have been built without the financial support of the Italian immigrants. Mrs Borello donated the land for this church. Photograph used in Portrait of a Parish with the kind permission of Mario Cristaudo.

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