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Farming community preserves church built by its ancestors

Rural faith: St Patrick’s, Rosevale, is a special church for Kevin Ahearn, Gerry Ahearn, Narelle Thompson and Fay Ryan, descendants of the church’s first worshippers.

Rural faith: St Patrick’s, Rosevale, is a special church for Kevin Ahearn, Gerry Ahearn, Narelle Thompson and Fay Ryan, descendants of the church’s first worshippers.

By Emilie Ng

DESCENDANTS linked to one of Ipswich district’s oldest churches are determined to keep their long-time parish from being lost in a culture of “knocking things down”.

Cousins Kevin and Gerry Ahearn know St Patrick’s Church in Rosevale, 40 minutes from Ipswich, as the place where their great-grandfathers worshipped in the late 1800s.

St Patrick’s, a heritage-listed building, sits beneath a stunning mountainous range in Rosevale, overlooking sun-scorched grasslands and thousands of hectares of cattle farm.

Both the Ahearns and family friends Narelle Thompson and her mother Fay Ryan are determined to preserve the humble church built by their ancestors.

“They have a habit in Australia of knocking things down, in the city area in particular, and losing history, but not in Europe, they wouldn’t do that,” Mr Ahern said.

Catholic families who settled in Rosevale, many of them sons and daughters of convicts who arrived in Australia in the late 1800s, donated all their resources to pay for a local Catholic church.

St Patrick’s Church was built in 1889 with endless support from the estimated “400 settlers” who gave their “heart and soul” to the project.

“A lot of these farmers were very poor, and to keep the church going they would often sell a cow or donate cattle to the church to be sold for money to come back,” Kevin Ahearn said.

“Everyone put in for the church – they did without to keep supplying money to the Catholic Church to keep it going,” he said.

Past parishioners, including Gerry Ahearn’s great-grandfather Patrick Cannan, who moved from Canning Downs to a selection of land in Rosevale in 1873, were buried in the cemetery behind the church, which was allegedly there before the church was built.

Sunday Mass at St Patrick’s, celebrated once a month, was the central monthly meeting place for the people, most of whom “rode down the hills” on a sulky before daylight.

“It was a big day, Sunday Mass,” Gerry Ahearn said. “Mass was early, and you had to be up fairly early, probably about at least 4am.

“You’d have to do all the milking before, and you couldn’t be late for Mass.”

Among notable priests who served at St Patrick’s was a young Archbishop James Duhig who heard confessions and offered Mass when he was still a priest under Fr Andrew Horan, the first parish priest of St Mary’s, Ipswich.

The then Fr Duhig rode to Rosevale on carriage to share life with the community.

Mrs Ryan, 89, grew up going to St Patrick’s once a month for Mass, and came down “for the missions” to hear the “staunch priests” talk on the Catholic faith.

Her daughter Mrs Thompson, 60, is working with the Ahearn cousins to preserve the historical church.

Ipswich parish priest Fr Peter Dillon will celebrate Mass at St Patrick’s on August 24 for the 125th anniversary.

Fr Dillon said apart from a small handful of faithful worshippers, the Catholic community in Rosevale was not substantial.

“It would be wonderful to rebuild the community there,” Fr Dillon said.

Mrs Thompson said the celebration was more than just about honouring the history of the old church.

“I think the point is that for our church here, we’re at a point where we can save history,” she said. “We’ve lost records to all those graves without headstones, but we’ve still got something.

“If we work now to preserve it, then we’re preserving it for our children and grandchildren.”

St Patrick’s, Rosevale, will be opened for Mass with Fr Peter Dillon on August 24 at 11am, but visitors are welcome to arrive earlier for a short tour.

The 125th year celebrations will conclude with a blessing of the graves and a barbecue lunch, and a self-produced history book and souvenirs will be on sale.

Former Rosevale families with information about the cemetery and ancestors who may be buried there are invited to contact Kevin Ahearn on (07) 3201 7160.

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