Celebrating 150 years of service, worship and mission

In this Year of Mercy we have commemorated the 150 years since the arrival of the first resident bishop of Maitland, James Murray, who claimed St John the Baptist Church as his cathedral in 1866. We have celebrated a story of service, worship and mission and we continue to journey in faith, hope and love.

The following verse of “Take Heart, God is Among Us”, penned by Basil Morrow especially for this occasion, says:

To commemorate a century and a half of living faith,
every person’s treasured story is acclaimed.
Whether city, town or village in our broad community,
every member of the body makes it whole.

The 150 Year Celebration Working Party has tried to capture this 150 year story in a number of ways throughout the year. You may have noticed the snippets in Aurora – “The Way We Were” − or you may have visited the Pop-Up Museum in Maitland, which captured the social history of the Catholic people in the times in which they lived.

Certainly the digitisation of the Newcastle and Maitland Catholic Sentinel, which recorded the news of the Diocese of Maitland from 1931 to 1968, was a milestone for the 150th year. Anyone is now able to access these pages on Trove. As well, personal stories from grandparents, great-grandparents or older parishioners about ‘the way we were’ have been shared with children in our Catholic schools.

Gathering with the religious congregations who have served in our diocese was a wonderful celebration, recalling the generous response of so many men and women to God’s call to leave their homeland and travel to Australia to minister in rural communities, mostly in education, healthcare and pastoral care. Many dedicated their lives to serving the needy and giving them hope. Such was their commitment that many followed in their footsteps over those 150 years.

The Murray Pilgrimage Walk from Morpeth, where Bishop James Murray landed, to Cathedral Street, West Maitland, the site of St John’s, was a great day of honouring the stories of our forebears. Certainly the early settlers had a strong connection with their faith and the priests who served them travelled great distances to meet their spiritual needs. The resilience of those who came for a better life for themselves and their families is to be applauded.

In this year we have also recognised that we are not proud of some of our past history. People have been hurt and harmed and in this Year of Mercy, Fr Richard Shortall sj, our Missionary of Mercy, has travelled the length and breadth of the diocese to offer a listening ear to anyone who came. Many shared their stories of deep pain from past experiences and sought healing and forgiveness. “Be merciful like the Father” has been his mantra.

The World Youth Day Pilgrimage to Poland enabled pilgrims to experience and connect to the wider story of our church, once again invoking the beatitude, “Blessed are the merciful”, that has prevailed during the year. Young and old travelled to many sacred places, taking time to reflect on what being a Christian calls us to while journeying in the footsteps of the saints.

Dedicating our own shrine of St John the Baptist at Maitland was the highlight for the year of celebrations. For 170 years, there have been many Masses and family rituals in this church building on the banks of the Hunter River for 170 years. The renewed stonework glowing in the light of the sun serves to remind us of our call to be living stones. It is we who are God’s building, whose foundation is Jesus Christ. We are God’s temple and the Spirit of God is living among us. It is we who are sacred and who are called to keep on renewing the church through service, worship and mission.

Teresa Brierley is Vice Chancellor, Pastoral Ministries, Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is Director Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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