St Michael’s Roman Catholic Church at Mittagong was opened on Sunday, February 17, 1889, with Cardinal Moran of Sydney presiding. The event was described in local papers including the Bowral Free Press, owned by a Methodist family, and the Mittagong-based Southern Mail, owned by publican J C Murphy, an Irish Catholic.
A report by ‘Onlooker’ in the BFP depicted the consecration, mass, music and sermon. Extracts have been provided in previous articles.
Onlooker’s report then made mention of the parish priest, Father Harnett, who “stepped forward and gave an account of the balance sheet in connection with the building fund. He stated that the Cardinal had lately bought the adjoining allotment of ground, so that the block was now complete. Despite the endeavours to wipe off the debt before opening, a deficit of some £100 still existed, so fresh efforts were needed to make a clean balance sheet. A list was read naming the donors and amount of their donations.
“The Cardinal then said that those who had come with subscriptions would be enabled to deliver them into the keeping of their priest then and there. A table was brought forward, and for the next 15 minutes the chink of gold resounded through the edifice; from all quarters the money rolled in – cheques, notes, gold, silver, until at last the little table looked very much like a banker’s counter.
“During the few quiet moments when the workers were totting up the total, his Eminence congratulated the Catholics of the district on the bountiful little church they had just opened. He foresaw that Mittagong would one day become a great and flourishing centre; in consideration of this he thought it better to build a school church, and in such a position that it would not interfere with a grand and magnificent edifice they might one day raise. Moreover, he hoped for the establishment of a convent and school, where their children could be instructed and grafted in Catholic truths. But all this was in the future. At present they ought to feel amply contented with the beautiful little building their generous efforts had helped to build.
“The amount collected was then announced – £80, and that considering the bad times must be voted a generous response. The Cardinal then pronounced a blessing, and the congregation streamed out. It was long past 1 o'clock when all was over, so it may be readily understood that the majority were inclined to think longingly of the pleasures of the table.
“Viewed from every standpoint the affair was a thorough success, and I only echo the Cardinal’s words when I say that the church is a credit to the Catholic community, and too much praise cannot be given those active members who have strained every point to leave this mark of their faith on one of the sloping hillsides of fair Mittagong.”
The Southern Mail of February 19, 1889 also provided a report on the opening of St Michael’s Church. Its lengthy coverage included that, after the Mass and blessing, the Cardinal, attendant priests and others had dinner at Murphy’s Commercial Hotel and in the evening another service was held at the church, where a large congregation gathered:
“The Cardinal preached an eloquent sermon, confined chiefly to an explanation of the meaning of the mass. During benediction some very fine music was rendered by the choir, notably the tenor solos effectively tendered by Mr James Doyle. Above the tabernacle a massive gilt crucifix was used. The altar service consisted of a silver chalice and cruets for the wine and water, as well as a thurible and incense boat. On the sanctuary, covered with a splendid carpet, were placed four pines in pots. At the back of the altar is a vestry, the sides of which are curtained off by maroon damask curtains. The church was splendidly lighted by two large brass lamps, supported from the roof by chains.”
“The whole of the service was a great source of gratification to the Roman Catholic communion, whilst to those immediately concerned it was a pleasure that everything was carried out in such a complete manner, and without a single hitch.”
Today, with its exterior recently repainted and new doors fitted, St Michael’s Church continues to do Mittagong proud.
- Berrima District Historical & Family History Society – compiled by PD Morton. Part 3 of a 3-part series.