In A Hunter Valley Catholic History, Mr Andrews outlines the story of the Catholic Church in Maitland, Scone, Dungog, Raymond Terrace, Hamilton, and other remote parts of the Hunter from the 1830s to the 1960s.
Mr Andrews said the Catholic Church in 19th century Australia was defined by hardship, perseverance, determination and a fair degree of controversy. “One of the more interesting stories I discovered was of the Maitland priest who was accused of and charged with fathering a child in the 1880s,” Mr Andrews said. “He was tried in court and eventually found to have done nothing wrong but his reputation never recovered.”
Mr Andrews also uncovered a significant amount of bigotry towards Catholics, particularly in the Upper Hunter. “A number of landowners, who were generally English, only wanted Protestant convicts to work on their land and wouldn’t take the Catholics.”
The enormous size of the dioceses in those times meant the priests had to be highly proficient on horseback and travel vast distances across the state to say Mass, Mr Andrews said. “Wollombi parish was in the Sydney diocese for years, which meant very long journeys for the priest.”
The generosity of very poor people was another common theme in Mr Andrews’ book. “Despite having little money and suffering great adversity like the Depression and the Maitland floods, people were still determined to raise funds to build schools for the kids and churches, “ he said. “Hunter people really were very generous to the Church in the early years.”
Brian Andrews is the former curator of the Edgeworth David Museum and a former delegate of the Diocesan Pastoral Council appointed by Bishop Michael Malone.
His historical books can be purchased by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org