TWO solid blocks of stone stood between Mercy House and St Stephen’s Cathedral, foundation stones laid nearly a century ago for a cathedral never built, and Dr Barbara Reynolds-Hutchinson, a cathedral guide with 13 years’ experience, had a story to tell about them.
Brisbane Archbishop James Duhig was such a staunch Irishman, she said, that he had soil from Ireland shipped in especially to lay under the foundation stones of the ill-fated Holy Name Cathedral.
The stones now stand in the cathedral precinct as a symbol of what might have been.
It was one of countless stories she had to tell and just one of the reasons she was awarded an Order of Australia Medal on Australia Day 2021.
Dr Reynolds-Hutchinson said she found out she had been nominated for the award in early December last year but had to remain quiet.
She said it was not until she saw her name and accolade appear in the newspaper that the reality of the award had sunk in.
She said she was “dazed” and “shocked” she had received the award.
“I’m deeply grateful, it’s very encouraging,” she said.
The medal belonged to everyone in the Cathedral Guides and Welcomers, she said.
“We’ve got a really highly skilled group of people,” she said.
“They need to know a lot because you never know what you’re going to get asked.”
Dr Reynolds-Hutchinson said there was a tremendous interplay of disciplines when it came to understanding St Stephen’s Cathedral.
“The history, the architecture, the art, the liturgy that shapes it; our building is shaped by the Second Vatican Council and you need to know that to explain to people,” she said.
“One of the interesting experiences I had was I had a group on tour and someone said they didn’t like the crucifix.
“So I sat them down and talked about it, and talked about it as that moment of death and resurrection.
“If you unfold it, they can appreciate it and understand the whole depth of theology in that piece of art.”
Dr Reynolds-Hutchinson said the work of a tour guide for the cathedral was a cross between a lecture and theatre.
“There’s so many stories about this place that you weave in and it tells a history,” she said.
“And then you learn skills on what keeps a group interested and informed.
“You don’t preach to people that’s not your job.
“As we unfold the place and the art, people who may not have a Catholic background – even some who do – start to get a different experience of what it means to be a Catholic.
“Hopefully we can break down barriers.”
Dr Reynolds-Hutchinson said the cathedral and the surrounding precinct was a “place of sanctuary and quiet”.
“There’s this quality of God With Us,” she said.
“One of the things that’s important about the precinct is it’s not cluttered; there’s spaciousness so you can breathe in it.”
She said there was also a beauty to the place.
“Beauty is essential to us,” she said.
“I see that very much here in the play of light against the stones, the buildings, the fact that it’s in the heart of the city.”