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Cooranga North church that closed in 2013 brought back to life at Brisbane school

Cooranga North Back to Life

New home: Principal at St Thomas More College, Sunnybank, Leslie Conroy with Brisbane Catholic Education director of school services (Springwood) Derek Maclean outside Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church which will become the school’s new chapel. The church closed in 2013 after being in use for 75 years. Photo: Emilie Ng

A COUNTRY church used by Dalby Catholics for 75 years that closed in 2013 has found a new home in a schoolyard in southside Brisbane.

Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church was originally part of the Dalby parish in Toowoomba diocese and then was part of the Jandowae community before its doors closed in 2013 due to low attendance and a lack of priests.

It was decommissioned before being put up for sale online through a private vendor.

Before it could be turned into a bed-and-breakfast or a hay shed, former St Thomas More College, Sunnybank, principal Peter Elmore bought the church for the school.

Now principal Leslie Conroy is maintaining the plans to bring Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church back to life as the school’s new chapel.

“The chapel that we currently have is a converted classroom and so it always had that look and feel of a converted classroom, whereas we wanted a sacred space that we could use that was dedicated, looked and felt like a chapel and a place where students could worship and pray, and we could do our own retreats internally in the school,” Mr Conroy said.

He said when members of the school community first went to inspect the church they “fell in love with it” and decided to bring it back to life in their backyard.

“(Peter Elmore and some staff) went out with some engineers and the APRE (assistant principal for religious education), and loved what they saw, fell in love with it and thought we could bring it back into the Sunnybank community and rebirth it,” Mr Conroy said.

The church was relocated to Sunnybank on a 380km journey on June 28 in the middle of the night on two trucks – each carting the roof and body separately. While the interior will receive a fresh makeover, a portion of the original walls that has hand-painted panelling and stencilling will be preserved under a glass panel.

The exterior will also remain untouched, retaining its historic Queensland country church character.

“We’re trying to do everything we can on the outside to make it look authentic and exactly the way it was when it was at North Cooranga,” Mr Conroy said.

“Inside there’ll be some significant changes with modernisation, you know, digital technologies and LED lighting, but from the outside looking in it’ll look like it did in 1937.”

The new chapel will play an important role in developing the prayer life of the school.

Students and staff are encouraged to participate in morning and afternoon prayers but the chapel will be open for private prayer during the day.

It will also be used in ceremonies welcoming students on their first day of school and when they graduate.

Behind the chapel the school will also plan a labyrinth for another sacred space.

Brisbane Catholic Education director of school services (Springwood) Derek Maclean visited the former church in the weeks following its move to Sunnybank.

He said the church would ensure the community at Sunnybank had “no doubts that it’s a Catholic school”.

“I think that’s very important and I really like the vision that Leslie and the community here have, of just highlighting the Catholic identity of our schools,” Mr Maclean said.

Former Cooranga North parishioner Cheryl Cosgrove and her husband Mick were married in the church 50 years ago.

“My husband has been involved with the church since 1952,” Mrs Cosgrove said.

She was overjoyed to hear the church that was part of their lives would become a chapel for a new community.

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