FORMER Bundaberg parish priest Fr John Daly had been away on the day of the St Mary’s Church fire and returned in the afternoon and when he went to see the church, there was “no sign of anything”.
“All the pews were just coals and the altar and the lectern, everything, there was no sign of furniture that existed there,” he said.
“And my first thought was how difficult it would be for people who had been involved in the bushfires throughout Australia to come back and just see their house just coals.
“That was my first thought, actually, that this is our church alright, but what about all those people that would come back home and see nothing, just black coals.”
It had been a tough few weeks for the church community and there had been some worries about how the community would go after the fire, which gutted the church in the early hours of February 11.
The St Mary’s Church community 9am Mass was shifted to St Patrick’s Church and everyone who had been ministering at St Mary’s had transferred to St Patrick’s.
Fr Daly said a lot of people in the community were grieving the loss of the church, but for those he had visited himself he said “they realise while the church is gone, the community still lives on”.
Fr Daly praised parish priest Fr Peter Tonti’s leadership during the crisis.
“Peter’s done an exceptional job since St Mary’s burned down; he’s called people together, he’s had meetings with them and listened to people’s grief,” he said.
He said Fr Tonti made a space where people could say how they felt and tell some stories, and also what they would like to see happen into the future.
“We’ve got a group of people visiting the St Mary’s parishioners in their homes and that’s proving to be really helpful, too,” he said.
Fr Daly’s family had been in Bundaberg for six generations and worshipping at St Mary’s for four generations.
He had been an altar boy there when it first opened in 1955.
“There’s been a lot of memories alright,” he said.
“At one stage, the four generations (of his family) used to go to Mass together at St Mary’s.”
He said it had been a “big” connection with baptisms, weddings and funerals under that roof.
“That was the first Mass I said after my ordination … was at St Mary’s,” he said.
Fr Daly said St Mary’s had always held a vibrant community but had been made more vibrant by the Indian community that worshipped there of late.
“It’s always, every Sunday, it’s been packed,” he said.
“It’s been a delightful place to celebrate Mass and see the people who know each other and connect well with each other.”
He said the church community had been feeling for the family of the alleged arsonist as well.