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Fire destroys St Leo’s Church at Haden, Fr Dave O’Connor manages to recover the tabernacle

Burned down: Fr Dave O’Connor recovers the tabernacle from Haden Church.

THE tabernacle was all that was salvaged when St Leo’s Church at Haden, north of Toowoomba burnt to the ground last weekend.

Priest-in-residence Fr Dave O’Connor in Crows Nest parish said by the time he arrived at the church in the early hours of Sunday morning the fire had all but destroyed the 89-year-old timber building.

“I got the phone call at 12.20 on Sunday morning,” he said.

“The police were there and the fire brigade were there.

“I’m only about five minutes away but by the time I got there you could obviously see that the place was going to be totally destroyed.”

Fr O’Connor said the fire burned fiercely and there was nothing left of the building.

“There’s a couple of metal railings that are quite twisted,” he said.

“I was able to recover the (steel) tabernacle, with the help of the police and the firies.”

Masses normally alternated between St Leo’s and St Colman’s at Goombungee at 10am Sunday, and there were normally 15 to 20 parishioners, sometimes up to 35, at St Leo’s, and Fr O’Connor knows them all.

“They’re just desperately sad, because they talk about their memories (connected with the church), they talk about what it meant to them and what it meant to their parents, their grandparents – all of that,” he said.

“So they’re very, very sad about the whole thing.”

Fr O’Connor said there were people who had moved away from Haden but who still were attached to St Leo’s, within Crows Nest parish, because of their family history.

“There’s still a lot of people that come to Mass here from other places, because historically this is where they were brought up,” he said.

“I’m thinking of one family in particular – the Kelly family – and they had a shop in town and there were eight girls in the family, and in my early days as a priest in Nanango, I met this family, Graeme and Rita Barron (who was a Kelly).

“They live at Cooyar and they had a large family, and I said to Rita one day, ‘Rita, where did you grow up?’

“And she said ‘a little place called Haden’, and it was the first time I’d ever heard of it.

“She said, ‘I was baptised there, I made my First Communion there, I was married there and I’ll be buried there …’

“That was the same for her seven sisters, and I’ve seen some of them and … the sadness and the loss is quite visible and so traumatic, because it holds so much history, so much sense of family, so many memories – all of that.

“So they’re the people who are feeling it the most.”

The cause of the fire is still being investigated.

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