Long before John Campbell Miles' great find in 1923, the priests from the
parish in Cloncurry, on their way to Camooweal, frequently passed the site
of the future Mount Isa. When in 1924 Mount Isa Mines Limited was founded,
the Cloncurry Parish continued to care for the spiritual needs of the
growing community for some years. Some of the priests of those days were -
Fathers Keane, Breen and Gibbs.
When they came to Mount Isa they said Mass in Boyd's Dance Hall (now the
paper shop), in Burn's Cafe (now Amiott's Building), Smith's Hall (behind
the Star Theatre), and in the Staff Mess (site of the Open Cut). These were
difficult times and the priests relied greatly on the help of the early
residents. One of these early pioneers recalls that she had to take a crash
course in Latin, not an easy thing by any means, to enable her to serve
Mass. They also gave the children their instructions. At this time Boyd's, a
very active Catholic pioneering family, claimed an area of land on the "town
side" as a site for the first Catholic Church in Mount Isa.
Catholic Parish of Mount Isa was created in February 1930 by Bishop Shiel of
Rockhampton - for at that time, Mount Isa was part of the Diocese of
Rockhampton. The 14 year old wooden Good Shepherd Church built in 1916 in
Duchess was brought by the people and erected in Camooweal Street, Mount
first Parish Priest was Father Hugh O'Twomey. He arrived from Richmond to
take up duties. He resided during those first months in the new extension to
the back of the Good Shepherd Church, which consisted of a small room
containing only a bed and a duchess. That same year the Diocese of
Townsville was separated from the Diocese of Rockhampton, and on 25th May
1930, Bishop T. McGuire was consecrated as the first Bishop. He was also the
first Australian born person to become a Bishop.
Meanwhile Father O'Twomey and his parishioners had been working hard, and
the Church of the Good Shepherd, with the Presbytery (built as a Housing
Commission home - in those days called "Workers' dwellings"), was blessed
and opened on 13th July 1930. This was the first duty of its kind performed
by Bishop McGuire. One of the first to be baptised in the new church was
Father Donald Smith, who was to serve for five years as assistant priest at
St. Joseph's 1960s. The first marriage in it, was between William Bertred
Philp and Cecilia Rose Dalton.
While the new church was coping with its 'teething problems', Mount Isa
Mines Limited on whose success the future of this young town depended, was
experiencing massive problems. Estimates of development costs proved
inadequate and technical difficulties were encountered - water flooded the
workings. Only large injections of capital from English and American
investments kept the ailing Mine alive. By the early 1930s, despite all the
problems, milling operations started in the new mine. The raising of the
necessary capital was due in no small part to the enthusiasm, tenacity and
boundless faith of three men - James Corbould, John Leslie Urquhart, and
Julius Krutschnitt. At the time when one Australian in four was out of work,
Mount Isa Mines was able to employ 1000 men. Among the early Catholic
population were six Americans from a group employed by the English Mining
firm, as shift bosses. These men donated the first Chalice to be used at
Conditions were harsh,
but these early men and women faced their difficulties bravely. The arrival
of the railway and the completion of the Rifle Creek Dam in April 1929 made
tremendous difference, but residents still faced
shortages of fresh food, fruit, vegetables, milk etc. Dust storms, searing
heat and general lack of amenities were all born with fortitude. A severe
shortage of housing made the erection of the famous tent houses necessary,
and some of today's residents would recall having to buy their water supply
from a tank on the back of a truck, at 5/- for 100 gallons. The wet season
too, brought with it problems when Mineside was inevitably cut off from the
town. For this reason, many babies were born in the Mine's Medical Centre
when their mothers could not reach the hospital.
Many of the early Catholics walked long distances for Mass. For although
Mount Isa was still a small town, it was spread over a large area. Father
O'Twomey walked from his residence in Camooweal Street to Boyd's Hotel every
day for his meals.
When Bishop McGuire first came to Mount Isa in 1930, he found that the
parish land was not centrally situated. Because of this, a piece of land
situated on Mineside was subleased from Mount Isa Mines. On this site it was
planned that a convent to house the expected arrival of the Sisters of Saint
Joseph was to be erected and also a school. An old iron building, formerly
Marshall's Hall, the old picture theatre in Kuridala, was erected and became
Saint Joseph's Church/School, the old C.P.S. Office and residence from
Selwyn was moved to the site and became the Convent.
Sisters of St. Joseph agreed to teach and the school began on the first day
of February 1932. The first Superior was Sister Brigid. Many years later,
Sister Thomas recalled those early days saying the Mineside was a city of
tents, the railway, ambulance and boot-maker's buildings were the only wooden
structures visible from the Convent. All around was bushland.
next two priests Father T. Kinane (April 1932 to 1933), and Father J. Feeney
(1933-34) had health problems. They were followed by Father Ormond Rush
from Bowen in November 1934. He served until 1941. Fr. Rush now lives at
Villa Vincent Home for the Aged in Townsville. Fr. Tom O'Dwyer followed and
lived here till 1957.
During this time Mass was being celebrated at the Good Shepherd Church and
in St. Joseph's Church/School. The latter also served as a place of
recreation for the community and many dances were held there. It must also
be remembered that the parish was not confined to the township, but reached
over some eight hundred kilometres. The priests travelled bad roads, in all
types of weather by sulky and it was not unusual for a Mount Isa wedding to
proceed without the benefit of a priest when on some occasions he was held
up on country roads by a sudden downpour of rain and prevented from
returning in time for the event and so was asked to bestow God's blessing at
a later date.
Mount Isa, like the rest of Australia, experienced many difficulties arising
from the war in Europe and later in the Pacific, and suffered the same
privations. Fortunately, Mount Isa Mines was able to maintain its profits
in spite of a severe labour shortage. It was able to do this through improved
methods and increased efficiencies. During the Second World War the
buildings at St. Joseph's were commandeered by the Australian Army and the
Church/School was used as a storehouse. This happened one weekend while the
priest was in Camooweal. He was most irate and decided to sleep in the
church, to keep his eye on things. The Sisters took up residence in the
Presbytery and taught school under the house, in the Church and in a bough
shed in the grounds. Children from Mineside had to get over to Camooweal
Street for their schooling.
Over the years the town was growing rapidly and with it grew so too the
school. The foundation stone of a new cruciform classroom block at St.
Joseph's was laid in 1950. The former Church/School filled with old pews
from Railway Estate, Townsville, served exclusively as a Church for another
five years until it was demolished to make room for the new Church which was
opened on 19th May 1957. The school hall, which was opened at the same time,
was built and a stone wall was built along Death Adder Gully and the level
of the playground was raised.
July 1959, St. Joseph's was set up as a separate parish with Father (later
Dean) Ryan as Parish Priest. He served there for 14 years. Other priests
including Fr. Tom Gard here for 12 years and known for his stand during the
Strike of 1965, Fr. Peter Kerwick who served a record of three terms in
Mount Isa from the 1950's until the late 1970's have since died. Fathers
Joe Baxter and Ray Eagan too served here for significant time. There are
others who served in Mount Isa for less then three years and are still
active in the Church in various parts of the Diocese.
community in those years experienced rapid growth and worked hard to raise
money to finance so many new buildings. A really strenuous effort was made
in 1956 - a Queen competition was held, it ran for five months and left all
involved exhausted. The Christmas Fete, which had been launched by Father
Rush was held faithfully each year over two weekends.
January 1960 three Christian Brothers opened Saint Kieran's College. They
had the care for the education of the Catholic boys of Mount Isa from Grade
5 to 10. During the Christian Brothers involvement over fifty Brothers have
served here and been involved in education. Brother Lou Walker is the
longest serving of the Brothers. This is his twelfth year. Likewise Br. Bill
Tynan is the longest serving principal of MICHS and has served here for
Also in 1960 a new Convent was built for the Sisters of St. Joseph on the
former tennis courts at Mineside. The old Convent became St. Joseph's
Presbytery, but having been stretched to its limit, it was demolished in
1970 and replaced by a cottage from Kings Cross, Mineside.
was evident at this time, that the very old Church of the Good Shepherd in
Camooweal Street would not last much longer. Father Gard and the
parishioners began to plan for a new church on the corner site where the
Presbytery stood. The foundation stone was laid on 17th June 1962 by Bishop
Ryan. The old wooden Church served still for some years as a Parish Hall and
classrooms for St. Kieran's. In 1966 Mass was celebrated in it to
commemorate its Golden Jubilee. In 1974 when it was very decrepit, it was
demolished and with it went a slice of history. The old Presbytery was
lowered onto low blocks and moved sideways to make way for the new Church.
piece of land, bought in the 1950's, became the site of Good Shepherd School
opened in Stanley Street in 1964. This was added to in stages until it
became a complete primary school. Grade 1 to 3 to begin with.
An Irishman and parish
stalwart, Michael Morgan, donated seven acres of land in the Happy Valley
area. It was here that San Jose College for girls was built. It opened for
with years 8 and 9. Sr. Gemma McGilvery and Sr. Majella Anning (now Cecilia)
were the teaching staff and travelled from the convent at Church Street each
San Jose School educated
girls until 1985 when it merged with Saint Kieran’s School, the Christian
Brothers School for boys on the Good Shepherd Church property at Mary
Street. The new co-educational school was named Mount Isa Catholic High
School. The "old" San Jose premises became St. Joseph's Primary School under
the leadership of Sr. Patricia Nolan rsj. In the same year the new Saint
Kieran's School in Short Street in Pioneer opened with Sr. Jenny Scari rsj
as principal. The present principal of Saint Joseph’s School is Sr. Therese
Gorman rsj and she completes her seventh and final year as principal this
year. Sr.Lyn Freestone rsj has served in Mount Isa in the San Jose and
Catholic High Schools and our community for sixteen years. The longest
serving Sister of Saint Joseph in their sixty seven years in Mount Isa. In
this time over one hundred and ten Sisters have been involved with school
and parish life here. A really significant contribution to life in Mount
An important feature of the
parish is that it stretches over some five hundred kilometres from north to
south and three hundred kilometres east to west. Over the years churches
have been built, Church of the Good Shepherd, Boulia 1955; Church of St.
Peter, Mary Kathleen 1958 - now a shelter shed at Saint Joseph’s School;
Church of St. Therese, Camooweal 1961; Church of St. Martin de Porres,
Dajarra in 1962, and in 1980 the people contributed to a Church that is
shared by all denominations in Burketown. Over the years townships have come
and gone and come again in areas like Gunpowder and Phosphate Hill. These
are visited regularly by the priest on his "bush trips". In 1970's and 80's
a light aircraft was used to get to outlying places.
There was one parish 1930 -
1958 and two parishes from 1958 - 1972. Following the Vatican Council, a new
model of ministry was discussed. In 1973 Bishop Faulkner, keen to experiment
with new ideas, reunited the two parishes of Mount Isa and after extensive
parish education and preparation installed a Team Ministry consisting of
four priests, there was to be no Parish Priest. Fr. Peter Kerwick was
installed as the first Team Leader, and priests took turns at being leader
for a year. The population of Mount Isa peaked at 34,000 in 1974 and another
priest was added to the Team. Another change when in 1976 Deacon Jim Erskine
was ordained in Mount Isa and also joined the Team Ministry. At the end of
1977 Sr. Maureen McGrath rsj joined the
Team as a Pastoral Associate. The changing character of the Team continued
when Sr. Maureen left and was replaced on the Team by Barbara Erskine, the
first lay person in this position. However throughout all this time the
priests were gradually being replaced by other priests or transferred
without replacement, so that not only were the names changing but also the
numbers were declining. Some of the priests not mentioned above to serve
here for significant time over these years were Dave Lancini, Terry Lyons,
Don O’Brien Alan Sheldrick, Mark Kelly and Vic Dalton. The character of the
Team also changed from a purely clerical team to a mixed team, containing
priest, religious and laity and also containing both males and females.
Today the Parish has a Pastoral Worker-Mrs. Helen Tarttelin, one
priest-Father Mick Lowcock and the Parish Pastoral Council as the main
bodies responsible for the Parish. The Parish has had a number of people
work in the Parish Office. The earliest recollection is of Cec Dwan at Saint
Joseph’s, Dolphie Tuytel, Deirdre Frain, Robyn Dolzan, Ray Cullen and Kaye
Rouse having served in various ways at Good Shepherd for many years.
To follow the Team Ministry,
the first Parish Council was founded in 1975 with Ted Cullen as President
and Teresa Van Lerssel as Secretary. It was a sign of the lay involvement
called for by the Vatican Council.
FRANCISCAN MISSIONARIES OF MARY: (F.M.M.)
Missionaries of Mary (F.M.M.) arrived in Mount Isa in 1973. Their
involvement with Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people has been their
main work and they have been actively involved in a diverse range of
ministries including: managing Marillac House; encouraging the Aboriginal &
Islander Catholic Council; community development work at the Yallambee &
Wulliberri Aboriginal reserves and with the Dajarra, Boulia, and Urandangee
communities, establishing the physio-therapy unit at the Mount Isa Base
Hospital; and pastoral work with the St Vincent de Paul Society, Laura
Johnson Home, the Arthur Peterson Centre, and the Filipino community.
The presence of the F.M.M.
sisters, over thirty have served here, witnesses to their belief that
Australian society and the Australian Church will not be complete without
the acknowledgment of the rightful place of Aboriginal people in our
society, and their contribution to our Church. The Franciscan Missionaries
of Mary are currently working in Mount Isa with the Aboriginal & Islander
Catholic Council, and at the Yallambee & Orana Park Aboriginal Corporation.
ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER CATHOLIC COUNCIL (AICC)
In April 1972 a meeting was
held at the Bishop's House in Townsville to which representatives of the
Aboriginal community were invited. However it was not until 1980 that the
Aboriginal and Islander Catholic Council.(AICC) was formed in Mount Isa with
a small gathering at Marillac House. This little coffee shop gathering was
instrumental in boosting the Aboriginal peoples of Mount Isa in small but
community building ways such as a float in the mardi gras which won them 2nd
prize and a Christmas celebration at Yallambee Reserve.
From small seeds grow big
trees and so it was with the AICC. Nola Archie was the first worker for the
AICC in Mount Isa. Carol Sam the first catechist. Now there are five
pastoral workers (three lay Aboriginal and Islander Elders and two FMM
sisters), one Administrator and many volunteer workers. All paid workers are
under contract in their positions.
The Pastoral Leaders were
commissioned in 1989 by Bishop Raymond Benjamin to care for the Aboriginal &
Islander people of the Mount Isa area. Where 2 FMM sisters visited the bush
now 1 Aboriginal lay person visits, where there were once a number of
priests there is now one, so the ATSI Church Elders prepare and celebrate
with families for sacraments; have written their own baptism ceremony and
celebrate the sacrament of Baptism, prepare and celebrate funerals, prepare
the liturgies for any Eucharistic celebrations, celebrate bush prayer
monthly; do house blessings and visit the hospital, Laura Johnson Home for
the aged and families. All in all they care pastorally for the Catholic
Church for the ATSI people of Mount Isa and surrounding areas.
From the coffee shop of
years ago, there grew Ipika Murrabi Creations a small sewing enterprise set up especially
for low income families. There is a craft group where many of the mothers
gather to talk, learn to make different craft and share a cuppa. The Drop in
Centre that is opened each week day was set up especially to serve the
homeless, but anyone is welcome to come and visit. From the garage at 32
Isabel Street, to the tuckshop in the old Good Shepherd School building then
onto Room 8 at the Catholic Centre, we have had a very nomadic journey.
Recently we were funded to renovate our office.
We have also been heavily
involved in community development. Yallambee has probably been the biggest
project we have undertaken and will be ongoing for many years. The Arthur
Petersen Special Care Centre was also initiated by members of our
organisation. The development of people is vital to our ministry. Our
Mission Statement that was created by us on 9th October 1996 reminds us of
BELIEVING IN THE DIGNITY AND SELF - WORTH OF EACH PERSON
AND OUR CALL TO GREATER ‘FREEDOM’
THE AICC STRIVES TO CONTINUE THE MISSION OF JESUS
THE AICC INVITES ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT
ISLANDER PEOPLES INTO PARTNERSHIP
TO SHARE AND DEVELOP OUR CULTURE AND SPIRITUALITY,
TO OFFER PASTORAL CARE;
FAITH EDUCATION AND NOURISHMENT
TO DEVELOP AND PROMOTE OUR LEADERSHIP
IN THE CHURCH AND LOCAL COMMUNITIES
Although the financial
struggle is overwhelming at times, it is the people we have come to serve
that make the AICC what it is today.
ST. VINCENT DE PAUL SOCIETY
Commenced operation in the
late 1940’s. It was run from the then Parish house, Camooweal/Simpson
Street. It continued through the strike in the 60’s becoming two
conferences, the second operating from Church Street. It again become one
presumably in 1967 when the first shop was opened behind the Taylor’s
Furniture Shop in West Street. It then moved down the road next to Lou
Ellis’ Sewing machine shop in the early 1970' eventually moving to the
present location approx 1978. The volunteers struggled with a borrowed ute
to collect and deliver donated items and furniture, after a ling struggle
the shop took possession of an Isuzu 2.5 ton truck in 1990. this vehicle is
still in operation.
During all this time the
Society has helped in the welfare by home visitation, hospital visitation,
Laura Johnson Aged Home Visitation, food parcels, volunteering at the hostel
with meals and in the areas of clothing, household and furniture. The work
done by volunteers throughout this time reflects the great commitment people
have for the society, their community and the belief of helping our brother
and sisters in need in the name of Jesus Christ.
In 1976 the society started
the meal centre for homeless people. At the present location, the house came
from Kuradella and today is still known as Father Brown's old house. All
food was donated by Mount Isa Mines Limited and cooked on the premises. Our
volunteers went and collected the night's food and gave it out to the needy.
Up to 150 meals per week were given out. The need was seen for homeless men
to have emergency accommodation, so in approximately 1977 the Society housed
up to 9 men overnight. Accommodation was extended to 16 persons soon
afterwards. in 1982 it was decided to ask the government for a grant to
expend eating facilities. this took a long time to fruition. It was not
until 1986 that the extensions were finished.
In 1979 the first paid night
supervisor Arthur Yamaguchi was employed by the society. the need for a
p;aid worker become necessary for the responsibility of the hostel and to
alleviate the need of volunteers sleeping over ,as most volunteers were
workers. Arthur worked until January 1984. In 1984 the society made
application to the Dept. of family Services for funding for a paid worker to
man the hostel. Our first Welfare/Manageress, Mrs Jean Restall was employed
on February 1986, as well as a night supervisor. in 1986 the society was
able to Attain funds to employ a paid cook, this meant that SAAP funded the
workers for the hostel - a cook full-time, welfare officer 50% and a night
supervisor full time. The Society was able to be independent from Mount Isa
Mines Ltd. in Sept 1986. With funding from the government the financial
burden was lifted from the committee, MIM and volunteers.
The society has previously,
when membership was greater than it is now, been able to liaison with the
schools so that younger ;people can have awareness of the work of the
society. The Mount Isa conference has a sister conference in India, which we
regularly correspond with and help financially time to time. The need at the
present time is for all conferences and others in Australia to help by
adopting a child form an overseas “third world country” and help with their
education, the Mount Isa conference has adopted three students.
(A Conference of the St. Vincent de Paul
Society was formed in Mount Isa in 1953, and this Society has always been a
vital part of parish life. The members visited the sick, and helped to
arrange for support for those people who are in need. Under President Alan
Nixon, Marillac House, a hostel for aboriginal girls was opened in 1973. It
was staffed in the beginning by the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary. Fr.
Kevin Brown with the Society’s members initiated meals to be served to
people in need, these meals were provided on a daily basis from the back of
the old presbytery in Church Street. Meals were donated by Mount Isa Mines
and were collected each afternoon and served by volunteer workers. In 1976
the Society opened a hostel to provide accommodation for homeless men at 11
Camooweal Street, the meals were then prepared and served from the hostel’s
kitchen and continues today. The SVDP Shop has been at several locations
and is currently run from Miles Street.)
The Missionary Franciscan
Sisters (O.S.F.) came to serve the people of Dajarra from Kedron, Brisbane
in 1972. Sister Raymond, a qualified teacher, worked at the kindergarten
started that year at the Dajarra State School. Sister Rumold commenced
teaching of sewing to the women in Dajarra with the aid of a treadle sewing
machine - there was no electricity in Dajarra at that time. She also taught
cooking when gas stoves were installed in their kitchen. The Sisters became
part of the extended family of Aboriginal people at Dajarra. They taught
religious instruction weekly, had "song nights" when they would go across
the creek, light a fire to keep away the bugs, and sing hymns to the
accompaniment of the youngsters on guitars. They held Youth Club nights,
good film nights, played pool and table tennis, read comics and ducked out
of the way of stray darts - and laughed a lot. Dances were held in the hall.
The Sisters stayed there until 1982. Their work here was followed by the FMM
1985 will long be remembered
as the year of "The Rationalisation Project". This project has meant the
re-organisation of every parish facility in Mount Isa - two churches, four
schools, two convents, a presbytery and Brothers' residence. In 1976 there
had been a reorganisation of the schools, but this was
only temporary as each primary boy had to attend three different schools and
each primary girl had to attend two. What happened was -
* A new single stream
co-education primary school for Years 1-7 was built in Short Street, St.
Kieran’s Primary School.
* San Jose Secondary School
became a double stream co-educational primary school for Years 1-7, and
renamed St. Joseph's Primary School, Twenty Third Avenue.
* The primary/secondary
boys' college converted into a secondary co-educational school for Years
8-10, renamed Mount Isa Catholic High School. The Good Shepherd Church and
the Brothers' residence on the site were converted to school facilities.
* The St. Joseph' Church and
School on Mineside were sold to Mount Isa Mines Ltd.
* The Good Shepherd Primary
School in Stanley Street was converted into a Parish Centre, and a new
Church and priests' residence were built in the grounds there.
* The priests residence in
Simpson Street became the residence for the Brothers.
*The Sisters of Saint
Joseph were to live in the house at Twenty-Third Avenue.
After an expenditure over
$2 million the official opening and blessing of the three schools took
place on the same day March 17, 1985, an educational hat trick for Bishop
Raymond Benjamin. The new Church and Parish Centre in Stanley Street were
opened on November 30th of that year.
Mr. Guido Vogels, the
director of Centacare Townsville, together with Bishop Raymond Benjamin saw
a need to offer a relationship counselling service in the West. Funds were
sought from various sources and Centacare was officially blessed and
opened by Bishop Raymond Benjamin on 16th October 1992. Mrs. Mary-Jane
Costello was employed as a part-time counsellor and Mrs. Trinidad Kreutz as
full-time migrant support worker. Since then Centacare has been responsible
for providing a variety of services and has employed various people to
coordinate many relationship based programs. Centacare today employs a full
-time and part-time relationship counsellors, a full-time family support
worker and a part-time migrant support worker.
This history of people and
buildings is a reminder of the constant witness of many people to the faith
and relationships built here. Some have been the building blocks of many
other parishes as people have moved on from Mount Isa. The faith, Church
practice and commitment of so many people has been and will be a source of
inspiration. Over these years the Catholic Community has been active in many
areas of civic life. We reflect on the past and to
remember with gratitude the faith in God and commitment of people and gifts
they have shared that have have added significantly to life in Mount Isa.