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Historic Holy Rosary Church steps into modern age

Holy Rosary Church
Catholic Parish of Bundaberg archivist Cathryn King, manager Norm Whyte and Father Peter Tonti are passionate about the history of the Holy Rosary Church

The long and interesting history of Bundaberg’s Catholic community dates back to the early 1870s but that hasn’t stopped the parish from moving into the 21st century.

A range of improvements are planned for the Holy Rosary Church including air conditioning, solar and landscaping.

Catholic Parish of Bundaberg Manager Norm Whyte said the upgrades were being made with the church’s proud history in mind.

The iconic building holds a commanding presence in the Bundaberg CBD, on the corner of Woongarra and Barolin Streets, but Norm said it hadn’t always been so.

Holy Rosary Church
The first Catholic church in Bundaberg was this small timber building which still stands today within the Bundaberg Catholic Cemetery.

“We started with very humble beginnings with just a very small timber building as a church,” Norm said.

“That building still stands in our Catholic cemetery.

“As far as we know that little chapel was very likely the very first church in Bundaberg.

“We think,” Norm clarified. “It’s a bit of a hazy history.”

Norm said that small timber church had recently undergone renovations as part of the Catholic Parish’s commitment to preserving its history.

Prior to that he said there was already a Catholic presence in the community with the first mass delivered in the Adams hotel, a one-story timber building now better known as the Metropolitan Hotel.

The proprietor then was Walter Adams, Bundaberg’s first member to the Queensland Legislative Assembly.

“They used to let the priest use a room in the hotel to celebrate mass, that’s how it actually began.”

In 1876 the Sisters of Saint Joseph, founded by Saint Mary MacKillop, arrived in Bundaberg ahead of Father Rossolini who moved his residence from Mt Perry to Bundaberg in December of that year.

The Sisters of Saint Joseph began St Joseph’s school which remains a part of the community today. Saint Mary MacKillop is known to have visited Bundaberg on two occasions.

Father Rossolini was responsible for the building of the Holy Rosary church in Bundaberg.

Holy Rosary Church
The Holy Rosary Church strikes an impressive figure in the Bundaberg CBD

“With his Italian background, he commissioned Fransis Stanley, the architect of colonial Queensland, to design the Holy Rosary Church,” Norm said.

“The style of Holy Rosary church is neo classical, inspired by the temples of ancient Rome.… it’s quite unique.

“It is locally heritage listed with the Bundaberg Regional Council.”

Catholic Parish of Bundaberg parishioner and archivist Cathryn King has carried out extensive work to preserve the region’s Catholic history.

Her own personal history in the region, dating back to when her mother’s family arrived in the region in 1872, combined with a graduate diploma in local and applied history make her uniquely qualified for the job.

Some of the interesting facts she has uncovered include the fact that Father Rossalini, by request, was buried “10 feet under and 10 feet in”.

She said no one alive today was quite certain of the exact location “but they were very careful during the renovations of 1987/88”.

While celebrating and preserving this colourful history Norm said plans were underway to modernise the Holy Rosary Church, including installing live streaming cameras to make services more accessible.

“I guess you could say we are bringing it into the 21st century,” Norm said.

“We’re getting the building air conditioned, which is a major achievement knowing that we are dealing with such a significant building.

“That’s also combined with solar panels.

“Anything we’ve done with that building over the years we’ve been very careful to preserve it in any way we can and not detract from its architecture.”

Norm was also excited to announce that within the very near future a significant landscaping project would be undertaken within the church grounds.

“We’re getting designs made up at the moment for that corner.

“The finance committee’s aim is to have something the parishioners can be proud of and be a focal point for the town and also give everyone some enjoyment because it is such a prominent corner.”

Norm said the Bundaberg Catholic Church community continued to support and build locally, including:

  • Employing nine people in the parish office
  • Employing 356 people in Catholic Education in Bundaberg
  • Two full-time priest and two energetic “retired” priests
  • Celebrates 12 Masses per week
  • Staff include two Youth Ministry workers
  • Visitation and Bereavement Ministers
  • At least 50 volunteer visitors to the housebound each week
  • Has 400 volunteer parishioners involved in over 40 parish and community-based Ministries
  • Conducts numerous active prayer groups
  • Recently completed a comprehensive refurbishment to St Patrick’s grounds
  • Installed projector and monitors in all three local churches

Other news: Bundaberg's first Catholic Kindergarten officially opened

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