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Ipswich community launches campaign to raise $10m to restore historic churches

Fr Stephen Bliss standing inside the St Brigid's church
Major project: Franciscan Father Stephen Bliss, inside heritage-listed St Brigid’s at Rosevale, is putting out the call to raise millions of dollars needed for church restoration; and (below) Ipswich landmark St Mary’s Church, and St Brigid’s at Rosevale.

A BRISBANE parish priest has launched a campaign “relying on the generosity of people and the generosity of God” to raise millions of dollars needed to restore several unique, historic churches.

Franciscan Father Stephen Bliss said the community of Ipswich was rallying behind as he began the task of raising nearly $10 million dollars to repair and maintain two of the city’s iconic landmarks – heritage-listed St Brigid’s at Rosevale, and St Mary’s in the heart of the city.

“As a community we’ve been praying very hard that people will be generous and give towards the upkeep of these churches,” he said.

“We are blessed to have historic churches and it’s through our history that our faith is strengthened and I invite people of the archdiocese to help us and people of the wider Catholic community, to ensure our historic churches are maintained.”

Fr Bliss hopes government funds will bolster restoration efforts.

St Brigid’s is an ornate weatherboard building built 110 years ago – the largest timber Catholic church in the southern hemisphere.

The timber was felled locally, and grandparents of some of the current parishioners now in their 70s and 80s helped lay the stumps on which the church sits.

Sadly it has been declared unsafe because the church leans to one side and is sinking into the rich, black soil.

It will cost an estimated $3.4 million to $3.5 million to restump and repair.

“St Brigid’s is known to have been leaning for a few decades, but that has accelerated in the last year – from 90 millimetres to more than 200 millimetres,” Fr Bliss said.

Inside, the lean is apparent and Fr Bliss can put his fingers in the cracks that have appeared.

St Brigid's Church and St Mary's Church both in the Ipswich parish boundary
Saving history: Ipswich landmark St Mary’s Church, and St Brigid’s at Rosevale

St Mary’s, an Ipswich landmark, was started in the 1870s, and can easily pass as a cathedral. It requires a new roof and maintenance of its stain-glassed windows.

Fr Bliss estimates the repair cost is $6 million.

“The historical nature of these churches means they have interest as places of worship and also are a significant presence in our community,” he said.

“St Brigid’s Church – it’s the first item on the pamphlet listing things to do in Rosewood.

“St Mary’s is an icon of Ipswich city. The mortar for the sandstone came out of the Bremmer River.

“Over a century ago somebody had the vision to use local products.

“And that’s really what Laudato Si’ and Fratelli Tutti, the latest documents of the Pope, are asking us to be – connected to the commu- nity, and here these two buildings are very much pivotal in the lives of the city of Ipswich and the area of Rosewood.”

As a Franciscan, Fr Bliss said he could appreciate his calling to lead the restoration of historic churches.

“St Francis heard the words of the Lord – repair the Church – and we literally are repairing churches here in the Ipswich Catholic community,” he said.

“Ipswich and Rosewood are working class areas and the parish struggles to make ends meet at the best of times, so once again we are relying on the generosity of people and the generosity of God to provide for us.”

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