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The cathedral that was never built – the project that troubled long-serving bishop


90 years: The Holy Name Cathedral foundation stone in 1928.

SUNDAY (September 16) marks the 90th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone for the ill-fated Holy Name Cathedral in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley.

The cathedral would have housed a congregation of 4000 people, making it the largest cathedral in the world at the time.

In a new book titled A Hill in the Valley, author and Brisbane archdiocesan archivist Fr Denis Martin gives an intricate account of the project.

“The highlight was on Sunday, September 16th, 1928, when the papal legate Cardinal (Bonaventura) Ceretti, surrounded by the most numerous and brilliant assemblage that has ever marked a Catholic religious function in Brisbane, laid the foundation stone of the new cathedral,” Fr Martin wrote.

Retired priest Fr Jim Browne, from Macleay Island, also recalls the event.

“Archbishop Duhig arrived in Brisbane on September 11, 1928, with a very large entourage,” he said.

(The cathedral) was to be the high point of (James) Duhig’s episcopacy – at least that’s what he hoped for – but it ended up being his low point as the cathedral was never built.”

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

The Great Depression of 1929 struck a definitive blow to plans, and funding for the cathedral soon dried up, effectively terminating the project.

“Right from the beginning he was troubled with finances because his predecessor Archbishop Dunne had given £60,000 to the Mercy Sisters and £30,000 to the Christian Brothers,” Fr Browne said.

“He had to use a lot of that money when he became Bishop of Brisbane in 1917 to create new parishes which hadn’t happened in the last few years of Dunne’s episcopacy.”

In A Hill in the Valley, Fr Martin elaborates on the archbishop’s financial burdens.

“If the depression was an unforseen blow for (Archbishop) James Duhig, there was another one to come,” he said.

“Architect Jack Hennessy had been waiting for his fee and very little had filtered through in twenty years.

“He was entitled to a fee of four per cent on £1m but being an ecclesiastical purpose, it had been reduced to three per cent.

“The case was heard before the Supreme Court of Queensland in May of 1950 finding in favour of the plaintiff.

“The appeal was heard in the Full Court in August. It upheld the original finding compelling the archbishop to pay £25,720 plus costs.

“At some stage during or after these proceedings a priest at Wynberg saw His Grace engaged in a ceremonial burning in the backyard incinerator of a pile of cathedral plans.”

Remains of the original foundational stone can be seen on display at St Stephen’s Cathedral.

A Hill in the City will be released later this month and will be available for purchase through the Brisbane Archdiocesan Archives.

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