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Search on for new Brisbane archdiocesan archivist as Fr Denis Martin plans to call it a day

Retiring: Fr Denis Martin holds the photo of the church in Gympie taken 150 years ago.

AUTHOR and archivist Fr Denis Martin has relished uncovering many treasures during decades of research.

The 75-year-old will soon retire after 47 years as a priest of the Archdiocese of Brisbane, including three decades of archive work, sifting through the Church’s rich history around Brisbane and then “digging to make a good story out of it”.

“It started off as an adjunct to the rest of my work in the Church – chaplaincy and parish work – then Rushie (Archbishop Francis Rush) asked me to take over,” Fr Martin said.

“It makes everything and everywhere I go more meaningful, because you know the past and the story behind things.”

Fr Martin served as a parish priest in Maryborough, Sandgate and St Stephen’s Cathedral.

He remembers a lot of Church records being stored in the archbishop’s residence Wynberg in New Farm, before they were transferred to the St Stephen’s Cathedral precinct. 

“(There were) old photographs and books that nobody seemed to care for. It was a matter of getting them all together and preserving them,” he said.

As Fr Martin prepares for retirement, he has “dug up” one last nugget – the story of how Brisbane Bishop James Quinn attended the First Vatican Council 150 years ago.

“I’d always had bits and pieces of it all in my mind … and then I found this picture,” Fr Martin said, pointing to a photo of the blessing of a church in Gympie, taken in 1869.

The photo shows Bishop Quinn at the front of the church on opening day. 

It was significant because the bishop’s trip to Gympie included a visit to the flourishing goldfields, and a gift that helped finance his historic journey to Rome for the First Vatican Council, Fr Martin said.

“It was the period of Gympie’s prosperity when specimens were being unearthed by the diggers from the cap of almost every reef, and so the miners made a specimen collection which gave the fine sum, when reduced to mint value, of over £750,” he said.

“The sum realised was not only sufficient for the expenses of the bishop’s visit to Rome, but also to pay off several other debts.”

Bishop Quinn returned to Brisbane with the gold by Cobb and Co coach, and with two outriders, one of them a priest.

“I reckon they would have been outriders to protect all that money,” Fr Martin said. 

Within a few weeks, Bishop Quinn travelled to Rome and was present for the proclamation of the infallibility of popes. 

A day later the Franco-Prussian war broke out and, soon after, Italian troops occupied Rome and the Vatican Council had to be adjourned, never to resume.

During this same trip, Bishop Quinn set about recruiting priests and sisters and some Italian laymen to serve in Brisbane.

“The Brisbane Courier reported his return and the High Mass at St Stephen’s ‘after an absence of more than two years in Europe’,” Fr Martin said. During his tenure as archivist, Fr Martin has written numerous articles and books, based on his findings.

A Hill in the Valley, published last year, was a fascinating account of the Holy Name Cathedral in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, planned by Archbishop James Duhig in the early 20th century.

The whole cathedral would have cost £700,000 upon its completion – about $55 million by today’s standards.

Fr Martin said the search was now on for an archivist to take his place.

“We’re trying to find the right person,” he said.

“It has to be someone with a knowledge of local history as well as Church history. 

“If they have that background it’s a big help.”

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