A new history of the “Little Cathedral In The Bush” by Nanango historian Elizabeth Caffrey seems certain to become an essential addition to any South Burnett history collection.
The book was produced to mark the Centenary of Our Lady Help Of Christians Catholic Church, which will be celebrated on September 23-24.
Elizabeth used newspaper reports, other local historical accounts and interviews with members of the parish to put together the story of how the church came to be founded and the lives of the people who worshipped in it over the past 100 years.
The church had its roots in a fledgling congregation of Irish Catholics who arrived in Nanango in the 1860s.
By 1917 the local parish decided to build the church in memory of a much-loved priest, and James Duhig, the Archbishop of Brisbane, laid its Foundation Stone on September 23 the same year.
The word “cathedral” appeared almost immediately afterwards in a local news article from 1917 when Nanango Shire Vice-Chairman John Darley opened a bazaar to raise funds to build the church.
He said the magnificent new church would become the “Cathedral of the South Burnett”.
And the next year, the Catholic Leader of May 26 reported the opening of the church with the headline “Memorial To Father Bergin – The Cathedral Of The South Burnett”.
At the church’s 75th anniversary in 1992, Bishop John Gerry used the expression “little country cathedral”, and the phrase “little cathedral in the bush” is now in popular use.
The 15-chapter book covers the period from the 1840s through to present day, and documents not only Nanango’s church but the creation of other Catholic churches from Moore to Murgon, and Cooyar to Kumbia.
Elizabeth said her aim was not just to write a history of the building.
“I wanted to tell the story of the people who worshipped inside that building – people who mustered their meagre resources during a time of extreme adversity to build an ‘exquisite temple’ as a memorial to a beloved priest.
“It was a story of struggle and sacrifice tempered by pride and achievement as they built not only a church, but united a community of Catholics dedicated to the practice of their faith.
“It was also important to me to write this history within the context of the everyday lives of parishioners as they upheld their faith through droughts, depression, wars and family tragedies or in happier times, joining with their wider Nanango community on the dance floor of Tara’s Hall, on the sporting field at St Patrick’s Day celebrations, or at a local dairy farmers’ meeting.
“And, of course, there had to be space for some of the amusing tales which surfaced!”
Elizabeth’s book will be on sale during the Centenary celebrations for $25 per copy.
A special Centenary calendar will also be on sale for $10.
[UPDATED with correction]