St Joseph’s Penshurst
In 1907, the Bishop and his advisors transferred the community of St. Joseph’s, Penshurst out of the Parish of Hamilton as it was then situated and the community of St. Joseph’s, Hawkesdale out of the Parish of Koroit to create the new Parish of Penshurst. Some months later Fr John Walsh took up residence as the first parish priest of Penshurst.
The nave of the present blue-stone church had been built in 1864 – being serviced for Mass at first from Port Fairy and later from Hamilton. The transepts and present sanctuary and sacristy were added in 1897 under the inspiration of the then parish priest, Fr Shanahan of Hamilton and were opened and blessed by Bishop Moore in November 1897. The present presbytery was built in 1926, when Fr Manning was Parish Priest.
Along the way St. Joseph’s School was built in 1874, then re-built and re-furbished again and again, until we arrive at the pleasant and well-equipped building that operates today. From 1874 until 1945, the school was staffed by lay women, then the Sisters of Mercy staffed the school, in latter years with lay staff, until 1975. Lay teachers remained in the school after the departure of the Sisters and this continues today under the leadership of Mr. Ben van de Camp as principal.
With notable families like Twomeys and O’Briens in the early days and more recently the Kellys and Ryans and priests such as John Murphy, James Hyland, Michael Glennen, Patrick Bushell and in later times Meredith Delahenty, Thomas Brophy and Lawrence O’Toole – the parish continued, more or less successfully, over the intervening century. The community of St. Joseph’s, Caramut was transferred from Mortlake to Penshurst in the second half of the 20th century.
This brings us to 2012. Over the last two or three years it became obvious, that with the serious decline in the clergy numbers, the reduced numbers in the parish and the ageing nature of the congregation, the present parish priest would not be replaced when his term finished in one way or other. This was accepted as inevitable by the parishioners, knowing too that the present incumbent was a number of years beyond the accepted retiring age.
Rather than let the matter drift on until that retirement became a reality and be faced with an emergency situation, the Parish Council decided to be pro-active and have some possible plan in mind. Various options were considered, but most were considered to be of a stop–gap nature and the decision was for a ‘final solution’- namely that the Parish of Penshurst be carefully wound up and its various components be attached to the neighbouring parish to which they had a geographical, economic social relationship- Penshurst to Hamilton, Hawkesdale to Koroit and Caramut to Mortlake. Shades of 1907!!
With the general agreement of parishioners, the plan was to proceed cautiously. First to get the OK from the Bishop and to spend the last quarter of 2011 setting things in motion and preparing the community for life without a resident parish priest. So that the Parish of Penshurst would be closed down sometime in 2012 and the present incumbent Parish Priest would quietly ride off into the sunset.
Following the demands of Canon Law, the Bishop got the permission of the Council of Priests to ‘suppress’ (canonical terminology) the parish of Penshurst and all was expected to fall into place in due course. The respective parish priests of Hamilton, Koroit and Mortlake agreed to accept the added work load of another community.
But as with many well laid plans it all had to be put on fast forward when the current parish priest had a slight mishap which put him out of action for two months. As a consequence the Bishop issued the ‘suppression’ document on September 22nd 2011 and it was therefore a case of ‘coming ready or not’. There is a sadness in the ending of a parish, but a wonderful lesson for us in the foresight and courage of the priest and parishioners in looking to the future and ensuring their faith can continue to be expressed in new ways.
And so endth the lesson of Penshurst with thanks to Fr. Frank Madden.
Article taken from the Ballarat Diocesan E-News – 7 February 2012.