By Peter Bugden
THREE women met regularly under a fig tree on a hill on Brisbane’s northern outskirts and prayed that one day a church would be built on the site.
Within a couple of years their prayers were answered, and Our Lady of the Way Church was built in the shadows of that fig tree at Petrie.
Today, November 9, a large congregation will gather there at 9am for a Mass to celebrate the parish’s 50th anniversary.
In the lead-up to the celebrations, parish pioneers Eileen Curtin, Pat Dunne and Peg Nolan met recently to reminisce and talk about the early days and some of the highlights of the years since.
They remembered the ladies who prayed under the fig tree.
“At the site of the church there’s an area where three ladies used to go and pray that one day there may be a church there,” Mrs Nolan said.
“And one of them was Pat’s mother – Alice Ormond – and Mary Cooke and Mrs O’Donoghue.
“They used to pray under the fig tree.”
Mrs Dunne said her mother and her two friends had their fig-tree prayer meetings for “maybe a couple of years, not every day but every so often”.
The women would bury holy medals where they prayed.
The parish website mentions that the establishment of the parish in 1964 “was a significant event as the establishment of the church and school represented the birth of a visible Catholic presence in Petrie and was the answer to more than a century of prayer by generations of Catholics living in the area”.
A forerunner to the development of the parish was Brisbane Archbishop James Duhig’s purchase in 1952 of “Murrumba” homestead for the Church.
“Murrumba” was the former home of early settler Andrew Petrie.
The land around the site was cleared to make way for the church, Our Lady of the Way Catholic Primary School, Mt Maria College Petrie and other parish buildings.
Before Petrie parish opened in 1964, the Catholics there belonged to the Aspley parish (then known as Zillmere).
“We used to go to Mass at Zillmere, until there was Sunday Mass (closer) at Bald Hills (then part of Aspley parish),” Mrs Dunne said.
She said Fr Tom Guy got the ball rolling for the establishment of Petrie parish as the area’s population started to grow.
First the parishioners began having Mass in Bray Hall in Petrie and then, once the school opened in a “little house brought from Aspley”, they had weekend Masses, in one of the classrooms.
“The kids used to have to clear the desks on the Friday night and after Mass on Sunday everybody would have to put the desks back so that they could start school the next day,” Mrs Dunne said.
“It was small, and we were poor,” Mrs Nolan said.
“But we had very happy times, though, Peg, didn’t we?” Mrs Dunne said.
The three women, their husbands and other parishioners worked hard to raise funds to build their church.
Mrs Curtin, who turns 100 in March, was at the forefront of those efforts.
“She was a very good worker,” Mrs Dunne said.
“We used to have morning teas under the fig tree, and cabarets. She was always organising different raffles and things.”
Mrs Nolan said “friendships were made and cemented” along the way.
“We were all young, we were energetic and we just worked hard. But we didn’t regard it as work,” she said.
Mrs Nolan said the community had “expanded into a loving, caring, welcoming parish”.
“It’s family, isn’t it?” Mrs Curtin said.
Mrs Dunne and Mrs Nolan are no longer able to attend, but receive Communion at home.
Mrs Curtin still attends Mass at Our Lady of the Way on most Saturday nights, with her friend Sandy Markey – who Mrs Nolan says is “an angel in disguise” – giving her a lift.
Asked is she had a special seat in the church, she said “Oh, yes” and her friends laughed loudly.
“Of course you do. You don’t even rent it out on occasions, do you?” Mrs Nolan said.
All three pioneers – along with “the angel in disguise” – hope to be at today’s anniversary Mass, with Mrs Curtin in her favourite seat – third row from the front, in the middle.