Some thoughts on “St Mary’s Ipswich: the Luckie Parish”

St Mary’s Ipswich: the Luckie Parish

This book by John R Kane was published in 2011 and was a winner of the Viva Cribb Bursary offered through the Ipswich City Council. I bought the book during a driving trip to Ipswich a few weeks ago and felt my money had been well spent, and as a bonus it gave me in-flight reading on the way home.

This book added a new timeline dimension to those I’ve read before about Catholic Queensland, or Ipswich, or both. This meant I got a clearer sense of what had happened in St Mary’s Ipswich before and during the years my Kunkel ancestors lived there. Other ancestors lived there but they were members of other congregations. My interest really focussed on the period from the church’s inception to the turn of the 20th century.

The physical and emotional demands placed on these early Queensland priests, essentially missionaries, echoed our own experience of missionaries in Papua New Guinea in the 1970s. It could be a very lonely life as well as physically challenging and financially draining.

I had known about Fr McGinty’s indefatigable efforts to fund-raise and build churches for the Catholics of his geographically-dispersed parish (or mission as it was technically known). I’d also known that he had ridden many, many miles in his commitment to his parishioners, baptising and marrying people who may not have seen a priest for some years. My great-grandmother Julia Gavin and her brother were among those he baptised on these rides to far-flung stations, settlements and towns. He’d also baptised some of the Dorfprozelten descendants as well as an unrelated Gavin family I research. The man really had enormous energy and dedication. Unfortunately his resistance to the Bishop’s directive to hand over the donated funds raised by McGinty, caused untold controversy, and no shortage of ill-will. He could also be a rigid-thinking man who got himself into bother with the community over religious holidays or refusing to bury those who did not practice their faith (even children). Still I continue to admire his commitment and energy.

It may not have been the author’s intention, but I left the book feeling no love for Bishop Quinn and his impact on the church in Ipswich. Certainly McGinty was obdurate but to over-ride the parishioners’ wishes for the money they’d so generously donated seems both unwise and insulting, albeit consistent for the times. My understanding is that the Sisters of Mercy struggled against Quinn’s control as well, though Kane suggests they conformed –not my understanding from years at All Hallows’ but perhaps my memory is not correct.

The book also highlights the Irishness of the Catholic Church in Australia, something that’s not news to anyone brought up in the faith in Queensland, and something the German Catholics had to come to terms with (though sometimes it drove them to the Lutherans). The book also talks of the debates and changes around parochial education and government funding –something that continues to rear its head from time to time.

From a personal point of view I remain disappointed that the church built by Fr McGinty in 1860 from donations by early parishioners was largely destroyed, to be replaced in 1884 by a grander church of cathedral dimensions. Surely it would have been possible to retain the old one and use it for another purpose. I wonder how many of the first donors contributed to the second church’s construction…those early pioneers must have suffered from church-building-burnout, especially if they moved around. Fr Martin (see book below, p134) indicates that stones from the previous building were used in the sacristy of the new church.

I’d have liked to see a little more cohesive editing of the book in some sections, and a subject index, but this did not detract from its value to understanding the history of St Mary’s Ipswich and would be a useful reference for anyone whose family worshipped there.

It is a good complement to the following books:

The Foundation of the Catholic Church in Queensland, Martin D W, Church Archivists’ Press, Brisbane 1998 (this book has some excellent images of St Mary’s Ipswich, old and new).

St Mary’s Story: a history of St Mary’s Catholic Parish, Ipswich 1849-1999, St Mary’s Parish Historical Society, Ipswich, 1999.