Cherished memories returned for more than 200 community members at the Mass in Remembrance of St Mary’s Church on Sunday.
Walking with neighbours to Mass on Sunday as a child is one of Father John Daly’s fondest memories of St Mary’s Church.
Now decades later, he along with dozens of community members, gathered to celebrate the memories together.
Father John said his family has been with St Mary’s since the very first day as they lived just down the street on Sims Road.
“When the parish and school opened, I was in Grade 2, and my brother and sister were in Grade 1,” he said.
“I suppose we were part of the pioneers. I served on the altar until I was 18.
“There were weddings and funerals, and my mum and dad were both buried from here. It has always been a part of my family life and the whole community as well.”
Father John said for almost seven decades St Mary’s Church provided the community with times of celebrations, and it was always a place of belonging.
“I know in our street we would start walking to Mass, and our next door neighbours would join us and then people up the road would come along, that would have been in the 50s,” he said.
“People didn’t have telephones then, and a lot of people didn’t have cars and this place was their community.
“It was always an alive community right up until the fire, and it still is to the extent that Father Peter shifted the service to St Patrick's, and I was there last weekend and nearly everyone was from this community as we have all stayed together.”
Decades of memories for Jackie Habermann
Jackie Habermann has been part of St Mary’s Parish since she was a young lady.
She was married in the church in 1955, and has seven children who were all baptised at the church, and they attended St Mary’s throughout their primary school years.
Jackie said her life revolved around St Mary’s Church and her memories include various liturgies. She has also taught Religious Instruction at public schools throughout the Bundaberg Region.
“I have just retired after 47 years of teaching RI in the state schools,” Jackie said.
“My fondest memory from St Mary’s that will be with me forever is probably Vince’s wedding as we had all the family here, and we are a very big group.
“By the time you get seven children and all their spouses and their children come along, it was very special.”
Jackie said when she received the phone call from family and friends in the early morning of February 11, she couldn’t believe the devasting news that St Mary’s had been destroyed by fire.
“It was unbelievable, just unbelievable. One of my first thoughts was for the Blessed Sacrament,” she said.
“Being sacristan I had a key to the tabernacle, and so, I came up with a key in the hope that they could get into the tabernacle and save it, but it was all gone.”
She said at least significant pieces were salvaged from the fire and they would now be on display in a cherished memorabilia collection for all of the community to see.
“But at least there is a marvellous display, with the tabernacle door that was salvaged, and all shined up – it is lovely to have that now,” she said.
“We had the bread and wine in the tabernacle that was very precious to us, and to think that that went up in flames is very saddening.
“St Mary’s to me was like a home away from home, and I was here every day as I liked to keep fresh flowers that needed watering.
“Now to be here all together today on the actual ground is a wonderful celebration for us all.”
Mourning and celebration of St Mary’s Church
Father Peter Tonti said more than 200 community members came together to celebrate the history of St Mary’s Church after a devastating fire destroyed the Catholic Church in February.
Father Peter said the Mass was a chance for church members and the wider community to come together to celebrate the memories.
“It’s a real celebration of all memories, whether they are sad ones for funerals, good ones for weddings and baptisms,” he said.
“So many people have invested so much of their life into this place.
“We have history and memorabilia that fortunately survived, and some was collected from the community.”
He thanked the emergency services who attended the emotional morning in mid-February, and said they did all they could to save pieces of their beloved church.
Amid the grief, Father Peter said support was provided by other churches in the region and he was forever grateful for their help in a time of need.