ST George’s Fr Jamie Collins was recently forced by extensive flooding in south-west Queensland to pursue his ministry in a car borrowed from his cousin – and in Premier Anna Bligh’s government jet.
Fr Collins (pictured) said he had also been going to fly by an Emergency Management Queensland helicopter from St George to a funeral in nearby Dirranbandi, in the state’s south-west, but the plan had changed when the helicopter was needed to assist with flood evacuations.
It was all certainly a far cry from his original plan – to have a quiet weekend with his parents in Warwick before celebrating a funeral there the next morning with possibly a visit to Stanthorpe’s Apple and Grape Harvest Festival.
The St George priest, who is also vocations director for Toowoomba diocese, said his latest adventures would provide further proof to those interested in studying for the priesthood that life in ministry was far from dull.
Fr Collins’ adventures began when he left his parish after celebrating Mass there on the morning of Sunday, February 28.
“I later said Mass at Thallon, then headed to Toowoomba where I was to spend several days at a council of priests before returning to Warwick,” he said.
“By Wednesday news was coming through that many of the roads back to St George were being closed by flood waters. So I thought, rather than driving back to St George, I might as well go to Warwick early and stay around for the funeral.”
This all changed Wednesday night when Fr Collins received a phone call to say a woman had just died in Dirranbandi and could he come back to officiate at her funeral on Saturday, March 6.
Fr Collins rang police stations “from Moree to Lightning Ridge” to try to work out a route back to St George. One of the few available routes turned out to be long and torturous.
“On Friday morning I left Warwick by car for Goondiwindi, then it was on to Moree, Walgett, Lightning Ridge, Hebel and so on,” he said.
“I reached Dirranbandi at 4pm then drove on the final 95km to St George intending to return for the funeral the following morning.”
Fr Collins said he wanted to get back to his presbytery at St George to ensure all parish records were stored out of the reach of predicted flood levels.
Saturday morning dawned at St George and the flood situation had worsened considerably.
The road to Dirranbandi was now closed but Emergency Management Queensland had offered to fly Fr Collins and one of St George’s funeral directors by helicopter to the funeral.
However, several people outside St George had to be evacuated in a hurry, ending that plan.
Eventually a Dirranbandi funeral director and a member of that town’s Catholic community had to officiate.
Fr Collins then spent Saturday with members of St George’s community filling sandbags and preparing for the expected onslaught.
Seantor Barnaby Joyce, whose office is in St George, was also in town assisting with flood preparations.
All the time Fr Collins was wondering how he was going to get back to Warwick for the funeral of his family friend.
As it was his birthday, he spent the evening with several people enjoying a meal at the local hotel. Among those present was Barnaby Joyce’s brother-in-law.
“Anyway, Barnaby got to hear about my situation and organised that I fly back with Anna (Bligh) in the government jet on the Sunday afternoon,” Fr Collins said.
“The upshot was that I arrived in Brisbane later that day, borrowed my cousin’s car and returned to Warwick that night in time for the funeral Monday morning.”
When Fr Collins dropped in to The Catholic Leader office on Tuesday, March 9, he was about to return the car, take a bus to Warwick, get a lift to Toowoomba on the Wednesday and return by air to St George.
Meanwhile, Bishop William Morris of Toowoomba has this week headed out to the diocese’s south-west with donations taken over two Sundays for flood-affected areas.
The bishop’s office said on Tuesday that he was somewhere between Charleville and Cunnamulla.
Last Sunday, Archbishop John Bathers-by of Brisbane launched an archdiocesan appeal to help the flood-stricken region.
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