WHEN Gunnedah’s young men and women were leaving the battlefields of Europe in 1918, they came home to a newly appointed parish priest, a gentle Irishman named Fr Daniel Keane (pictured), working on the construction of a new church, St Joseph’s.
Current parish priest Fr John McHugh said the church’s construction began in the final months of the First World War, when “the great horrors of Europe were coming home”.
“We know that the men were traumatised and the women too, and those that returned were aware that this sacred space was being built,” Fr McHugh said.
“We already had a lovely church here but it was only too small, so we were building this bigger church.”
But, the church became much bigger than just a larger church – it became a war memorial for the soldiers who returned and those who did not.
Fr McHugh said parishioners from Gunnedah and the surrounding area donated the church’s Stations of the Cross, each panel commissioned in honour of a soldier or soldiers who died in the war.
The panels were inscribed with their names.
“The people of Gunnedah, not only the Catholic parishioners, but the wider community of Gunnedah got behind it in a wonderful way,” Fr McHugh said.
“(The people) supported Fr Keane in his endeavours to build this church and have it as a place where those returning from the First World War could be part of the faith community, and remember their fallen friends.”
Fr McHugh said the preservation of the church’s history was of importance to the future of the parish.
“It’s so important because, I use this term, ‘we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us’,” he said.
“These people who have gone before us have given us this huge legacy in this lovely church and it’s so important to maintain it and look after it.”
Part of this legacy has been a need to maintain the skeleton of the church, with many parts of the building being refurbished this centenary year.
Among the refurbishments will be new carpets, a new ambo, a new baptismal font and a new altar.
Fr McHugh said all of these new projects had been possible because of the generosity of the parishioners of Gunnedah and their support of the church.
“We’re very excited about things and I, as parish priest, feel very privileged and I’d like to recognise at this time the enormous effort of Fr Keane and the parishioners who have gone before us,” he said.
“It’s up to us now, this generation, to make sure it’s maintained and looked after to pass on to the next generation.”
Armidale Bishop Michael Kennedy will visit the church on June 10 to consecrate the altar before attending a celebration recognising the centenary.
“We’re hoping many past parishioners and friends will join us on the day,” Fr McHugh said.
For those who wish to attend the centenary event, contact the Gunnedah parish for catering purposes at: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (02) 6742 0200.st