Fab Feb Photo Festival: Day 5 Church going

4 x 7UP collageThis photo symbolises the role of church or religion in my early life and that of my family. Religion’s impact on family relationships will inevitably be introduced in other stories.  The collage photo is of all the girls in my First Communion group, taken when I was seven. Instead of using that photo here I’m going with one I found subsequently which also includes the boys and the local parish priest Fr O’Connor. First Communion is the second significant step in the religious life of young Catholics following on from baptism. If you attended a Catholic school you received the necessary instruction in your religion classes which were the first session of the day: the reason why we had a longer school day than the kids at the State Schools. Ironically I remember nothing much about the actual First Communion –I was always so obsessed with getting things right, that the details of the event then passed me by.  We received a special medal with a communion symbol on it, which could be worn on a chain, and the certificate you can see here, and our further connection to the church was entered in the registers.

First Communion at St Joan of Arc

First Communion at St Joan of Arc

As you can see from the photo, both boys and girls were dressed to the nines for this special event. After the church ceremony, there would be a breakfast for all the communicants –a special “spread” of food and treats to celebrate the milestone. In those days all communicants were required to fast from midnight if they were to receive communion at Mass the next morning. All that I recall, dimly, is that I wasn’t especially well on the day, most likely because of nervous anxiety. In those pre-Vatican II days, communion was received on the tongue, not in the modern way, in the hands. It was all much more formal and structured.

Don't know what happened to this little prayer book.

Don’t know what happened to this little prayer book.

When our eldest daughter made her First Communion things were much the same stylistically, but by the time our second daughter came along, in a more progressive parish it has to be said, this had changed. The children all wore simple robes, not unlike altar servers’ robes, thereby eliminating the potential for competitiveness, and celebrations were mainly with family and friends at home. Strangely it was when #2 daughter was receiving her education for First Communion, that I met my second Kunkel relation: one of my 2nd cousins, a nun who was the granddaughter of my great-aunt, about whom I’d known nothing. And the teacher for our eldest daughter’s First Communion was the sister of a girl in the photo above. Small world isn’t it? In a Freudian slip, I almost forgot that before being accepted for First Communion each potential communicant also had to make their First Confession. Now there’s another experience which is fraught for those of an obsessive, literal frame of mind. One by one each child/person would go into the small confessional through (usually) a purple curtain. Once the penitent is inside the priest would slide a tiny window open and you would see his outline through the wire grill, rather than full-face.

A holy picture from my Confirmation.

A holy picture from my Confirmation.

There was a specific ritual of wording which occurred before you outlined your recent sins. At the end you would be given absolution. It’s not true that you can confess a sin and be forgiven then go out and, for example, commit murder again, Scot free, as is sometimes believed. This contradicts the need to be truly sorry and also to repent, follow the priest’s penance (usually some prayers) and “go forth to sin no more”. Confession has now been re-badged as Reconciliation. The procedure is a little more relaxed (there’s even an i-Pad app as an aide memoir…of course!) and in some cases people choose to talk directly to the priest rather than be “hidden” behind a screen. Some say that you walk out feeling so relieved but it was never my favorite religious experience.

This Confirmation photo is one of the earliest colour photos in our family -taken with film brought back by Mum's great-aunt.

This Confirmation photo is one of the earliest colour photos in our family -taken with film brought back by Mum’s great-aunt.

Confirmation, or the young person’s acceptance into the full life of the Church, came in the last year of primary school or thereabouts. It also involved much ritual but was significantly more daunting because the Bishop or Archbishop was the presiding cleric on the day. Those being confirmed also had to be able to answer questions on aspects of the faith –just imagine the scope for anxiety in an obsessive “nervous Nellie”. Your sponsor would accompany you, and you would take on an additional (second or third) Christian name. Of course these were simply the key events in a life which encompassed so many rituals and obligations (makes me tired just thinking about it all): Saying the rosary at home daily Morning and evening prayers Grace before and after meals Multiple church visits over Easter Benediction First Fridays Fasting before Mass Abstaining from meat on Fridays Lenten penances Stations of the Cross Confession (weekly …ugh) Weekly (minimum) Mass “visits” to the church between times Children of Mary (what the neighbourhood thought of these apparitions in blue cloaks with medals on blue ribbons, and white veils is unknown). Etc etc etc One of the complexities of our family’s religious life was that my parents had what was then called a mixed marriage[i] as my father was not a Catholic, though throughout he never stood in the way of my education and upbringing as a Catholic. Perhaps that made the focus on religion much greater than it might have been otherwise. It was such a pivotal part of life that it was woven through my day-to-day life. Was going to church a big-deal in your family, or low-key? Fab Feb imageFamily Hx writing challenge

 

This post is part of the February Photo Collage Festival and the Family History Writing Challenge.


[i] The linked article raises my hackles even all these decades after moving from my own family of origin but I include it as an insight to the situation as outlined by the church. I’d have thought that perhaps this would have changed in the current day and age, so it’s even more shocking to read this article.

H hops into Hughenden, Herston, Hastings Point and H ships

I am participating in the A to Z 2012 blog challenge throughout April. My theme is a genealogical travelogue or a travel genealogue (I’m not sure which).

H is for Hughenden

Hughenden is a small town on the road between Mt Isa and Charters Towers and Townsville. We’ve visited in passing a few times but I can’t say I feel any empathy or true understanding of it…perhaps the most noticeable feature is this stretch of road is ancient dinosaur country and the locals are making the most of this tourism opportunity.

Hughenden's main drag. I love those old country pubs with their imposing presence.

My great-grandfather McSherry and his family lived in Hughenden for several years when he was an inspector with the railways. My grandfather McSherry was also working here with the railway when he met my grandmother who lived in Charters Towers. How they came to meet I don’t know, but I’ve always assumed (yes, I know!) it was through her family’s refreshment rooms in Charters Towers. I’ve heard the Melvins also had railway refreshment rooms but I’ve found no evidence whatsoever of that, so I’m assuming it was probably a furphy, albeit a credible one.

On our last visit the people at the Visitor Centre were very helpful and tried to put me in touch with the local historian who wasn’t available. This H post reminds me that I’ve still not followed this up….the “to do” list is growing with each letter.

H is for Herston

Clydesdale c1900 John Oxley Library image, copyright expired. This was the convent during my school years.

School days, school days, good old golden rule days! My school and parish church were both “over the border” into the Brisbane suburb of Herston. Neither the church nor the school remain, replaced by a post-Vatican II church of simple architecture, while the old building shared by church and school have disappeared into memory…another job on my “to do” list is find a photo. Time, it’s always time, that catches us out.  I talked quite a lot about the school here so I won’t repeat myself in this post.

One thing of relevance to family historians: if you find your relative has been buried from St Joan of Arc church Herston and are wondering why…it’s because the priests were the curates for the hospital, and some people either converted at the last minute or came back to the church. I recall singing as part of the school choir at any number of funerals, many with no connection to the parish.

The other interesting aspect to Herston parish was the influx of European immigrants in the 1950s and especially the Dutch migrants. Don’t ask me why so many came to Herston, because I really don’t know, but as a result of the numbers, we ended up with Dutch priests for a number of years. Recently I commented on the fact that Family Search has digitised parish registers from the Netherlands: an invaluable resource for Australians with Dutch ancestry.

H is for Hastings Point

View south from Hastings Point

Hastings Point is part personal history and part travelogue. An inconspicuous mark on a map but for our family it’s been a special part of our story, filled with memories and fun times, shared over the years with friends and children’s friends. We have always camped as close to the beach as possible which means that the strong wind bent every tent pole we had. After a day of down-time from the normal rush of urban life with busy jobs and children, we’d take to exploring the rock waterholes which might conceal all manner of marine life. The area off the point is a marine park so there was usually plenty to see on these mini-expeditions and there was always the fun (perhaps less so for the feet) of navigating from one rock to the other. Most of the time there was a small spa-sized pool near the rocks which made the perfect spot for lolling around, unless you were mad keen to get into the surf, which swimming across the creek first, or wading, carefully avoiding the oyster-shelled rocks. On the southern side of the Point the surf near the rocks could be quite fierce and not all that safe for swimming unless you were a strong swimmer or out on a board.

Google Earth aerial view of Hastings Point, New South Wales

Each visit the path of the creek would have changed with tidal and weather conditions so you never knew what you’d find. One visit the creek would have a lovely sandy bank which might luminesce at night time as you walked up to the toilet block. Another time there’d be little sand on the bank and you’d be dodging around the rocks. One visit we even found a low tide mini-aquarium of marine life in a tiny pool in the creek…great fun.

Hastings Point was where we went to see Halley’s Comet uncontaminated by urban lights. Our viewing was much better on an early visit than on the date they’d say it would be optimal.

This aerial view from Google Earth shows some of the beauty of the place. Time was when the northern approach to Hastings was equally beautiful, driving through native bush of banksias. Sadly much has been altered with the bush replaced by resorts.

If you’d like to know a little more about this wonderful place you may wish to read a couple of my posts from last year, here and here.

H is for H-named ships

A ship called Hotspur, but is it the one which brought the Irish immigrants? State Library of Queensland Negative number: 63060, copyright expired.

I have done some research into emigrants from east County Clare, Ireland to Australia. When I was looking at the names yesterday I realised a number of these immigrants arrived on ships whose names started with the letter H. So here’s to them…name of ship (year) [number of east Clare people on board]. You can see the increase in numbers in the 1860s with the American Civil War.

Humbolt (1852) [4]; Himalaya (1855) [3]; Hilton (1855) [2]; Herald of the Morning (1858) [9]; Hornet (1859) [3]; Hotspur (1863) [26]; Himalaya (1865) [6]; and Hornet (1865) [15]

The original source for this data came from the Board’s Immigrant Lists from State Records NSW. The east Clare data has been extracted from my own database.

Today’s A to Z 2012 recommendation:

Somebody has to say it…I love this woman’s bolshie attitude. Her position is set out clearly and logically on her topic of the day. She reminds me of a friend and former colleague of mine.

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History: Week 44: primary school, church, nuns and migrants

The topic for Week 44 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: Elementary (Primary) School. Describe your grammar/elementary/primary school (or schools). Were they big or small? Are any of these schools still in existence today? If so, how have they changed since you went there? This is going to end up as a long post, be warned.(I keep thinking of Cat Stevens and the Days of the Old School Yard, cue the music).

Clydesdale c1900 John Oxley Library Negative number: 146812, copyright expired. This was the convent during my school years.

No school bells ring today, there is no sound of children playing or chanting tables. Those who live in the modern townhouses built on a large block on Clyde Road probably have no idea that there ever were bells or children. After all, it is many decades since the old school and church were there: they only know of the 1960s church and presbytery adjacent to the townhouses, and even those are quiet these days.

Only those who attended the little parish school during the fifty odd years of its life can remember that it wasn’t always a sleepy hollow. In fact much that happened there reflected wider social conditions as well as a very particular experience of Catholicism in the pre-Vatican II era.

The official jubilee site tells how the Herston parish of St Joan of Arc was established mid-1920, while Trove reveals more details of its blessing in December 1920. The parish complex of 2 ¼ acres, included Clydesdale, an impressive house built c1890 which was to become a convent, a building for the priest, and a timber building which had been relocated from elsewhere and raised to a second storey building (apparently a former Salvation Army Hall, something I never knew), which was to be used for the church and a hall. The church was blessed by Brisbane’s “building Bishop”, Archbishop Duhig, who made much of the event by declaring all Brisbane’s Catholic churches to be fully occupied…ironic to read these days. Archbishop Duhig was renowned for buying premium plots of land around Brisbane and establishing many new parishes. He also contributed the organ to the new church.

I was surprised when first reading about the hall in the old timber building. To me, it was both church (upstairs) and school (mostly downstairs). While I don’t think of it forming a hall, on reflection the central area downstairs, immediately under the church’s footprint, could be opened up and with the stage (on the ground floor beneath the altar above), it would form a very satisfactory hall. I suppose this is where we held our concerts, though to be truthful I have no memory of the events themselves, only the preparation. The two central areas were surrounded by enclosed verandahs which mostly served as class rooms though downstairs there was a tuckshop and kitchen.

My first communion class from St Joan of Arc school. I don’t usually include photos of people without their permission but this one is so small and so old, and unidentified that I’m going with it.

The Presentation Sisters commenced the school in mid-1924 and for another 44 years it would have a pivotal role for the Catholics in the area. Of course a parish school is very much centred on the church and our lives were inextricably linked to the church’s liturgical seasons. We prepared for First Communion and I distinctly remember the bishop coming to examine us for our Confirmation – I was scared stiff I’d get the answers wrong.

Over the years this parish became responsible for the ministry to the Royal Brisbane Hospital so it was quite common for those who had been hospitalised there before their death, to be buried from our parish. It was the task of the pupils to sing at the funerals which became quite an intriguing responsibility: it became a “bread and butter” event for we school children. Of course the boys would also have the alternate responsibility of serving as altar boys at the funeral. I’m always bemused by people who have never been to a funeral until they’re adults….I lost count of how many I attended as a child and the richness and ceremony of the priest’s words, the incense and the procession of the coffin remain in my memory.

I started primary school aged 5, in prep class, and progressed round the classrooms for the next 9 years until finishing in Grade 8. My first classroom was on one of the verandahs adjacent to the church and I must say I don’t remember my first teacher with any great affection. While occasional nuns were pleasant (and young!) many were what I’ve heard referred to as “industrial strength” nuns. The convent, Clydesdale, was adjacent to the school so the nuns were definitely part of our lives. This convent was, I think, a sort of retirement home by this stage and many of the older nuns came there to live…at least that’s my memory of things. Apart from those who taught at the school, there were others (more than one?) who taught music. My friend, who was a non-Catholic, also went to the convent for her piano lessons.

Oh so demure Confirmation photo.

The school was always a small one, at least in my time. Most classes would have had fewer than twenty pupils and were usually taught as composite classes: eg Grade 7 taught with Grade 8. We used slates in the early days (that hideous scratchy noise) and ultimately pens dipped in the ink wells on our desks. The cane was never too far away for unruly students, especially the boys. Many of the boys left around Grade 6 and went to one of the larger boys’ schools. Only a handful of boys remained in my small Grade 8 class of about 13 students. If the nuns were sometimes cranky who could blame them, wearing those heavy serge habits in the heat of Queensland’s weather.

There was a nearby State School and the bus would go past our school on the way to and from it. Pupils of both schools happily shouted rhyming invective that would not be tolerated these days. At the recent Shamrock in the Bush I was much amused to recognise some of these old ditties while the younger attendees look on bemused, or was that appalled? Fortunately it was uncommon for the rivalry to go beyond the odd slanging match….uncommon but not unknown.

One of my endearing memories of primary school was the huge school and church fetes that were held in the grounds. Really they rivalled the Ekka for excitement. I think nearly everything was hand-made and the fete was just an absolute delight: sponge cakes, toffees, coconut ice, fudge, toffee apples, dolls clothes, dresses. What fun! They seemed so grand and important to me that I’m surprised there’s nary a mention of one on Trove.

St Patrick’s Day concerts were a very big focus: I remember that on the day we would wear little green ribbons with a shamrock badge in the middle..our Irish heritage was proudly flaunted in those days. We’d have to stand on the platforms on the stage while we practiced our songs and hymns, presenting all the old favourites both religious and Irish. For a long time it seemed that if you were Catholic you were Irish but that was soon to change. In fact one of my rare experiences of winning a raffle occurred in primary school when I won a lovely tin filled with home-made confectionery. It was a rare enough event that I still have the tin. :-)

My primary school years overlapped with a significant change in Australia’s cultural life with the massive influx of post-war immigrants. I’ve talked before of how important this influence was in my life. Previously we had mainly Irish nuns, and an Irish priest, and many of us had the Celtic colouring of red hair and freckles or the “black Irish”. But our new school mates looked different and were learning English as their second language, negotiating with their parents or grandparents in another language and trying to navigate all the new experiences, no doubt including vegemite sandwiches, sardine and potato crisp sandwiches on Fridays, not to mention warm milk from the tuckshop daily. However one thing that would have provided continuity for them would have been religion, or at least I assume so. Many, if not most, of the rituals would have been familiar to them, although the Catholic Church in Australia at the time was very Irish-influenced. The Mass was still said in Latin in those days so some part of their religious life was a reprieve from the language barrier challenging them in the outside world. We had absolutely no understanding or knowledge of the horrors many of them must have experienced in the war years or immediately afterwards.

Trove again illustrates day-to-day life: to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953, 400 “New Australian” children each planted a tree in nearby Ballymore Park (later to become the Rugby Union headquarters)[i]. This again shows how much a part of the local fabric these new immigrants were becoming. Many of the parents, especially the women, worked in nearby factories like the Mynor cordial factory or the cardboard factory, or much further away at the Golden Circle cannery.

Around the middle of my time at school, and to minister to the significant immigrant population, we acquired new priests from Holland (the Netherlands). One in particular was amazing to us because not only was he staggeringly smart and well read, but he spoke about 8 languages: unprecedented in monolingual working-class Australia.

Students from St Joan of Arc convent give a eurythmic display 1924 ( a bit before my time!). From Trove and The Brisbane Courier 15 December 1924.

And so the school and I moved closer to the Vatican II era and much was changing. The nuns remained for a while but I lost my link with them when I went to high school as it was run by a different order of nuns. I laugh when I think of the day my Grade 9 teacher challenged something I’d done by saying “you went to a Presentation convent didn’t you?” Apparently that could explain all vagaries in my behaviour! No doubt the Presentation nuns thought much the same of Mercy-trained children.

The old timber building is long gone replaced by a modern 1960s church with its simple style and open outlook, a promise of a new Vatican II era. The only remnant of its history is the statue of St Joan of Arc which links the old and new churches. The nuns also left and their rather more grand building was also demolished.

School, convent, and church: memories only for those who lived in those days.

( I can find no photographs online or in my own archives of the original church -something to add to my to-do list).

[i] The Courier Mail 20 May 1953 and The Courier Mail 29 May 1953.