First Mass in Bathurst

Each year, Bishop Michael McKenna celebrates Mass on 1st November at Holy Family Church in Kelso. The Bishop celebrates the All Saints' Day Mass at Kelso, rather than in the Cathedral, in commemoration of the first Mass in Bathurst on 1st November in 1830 by Fr John Joseph Therry.

In many of our parishes across the Diocese, we have the choice of Mass on Saturday evening, Sunday morning and Sunday evening, as well as daily Mass in many places.

Early Catholic settlers of Australia had no such luxury. Bathurst was the remotest part of the Colony. It took six months or more to obtain goods from Sydney. A horseman brought the mail once a week.

East of the Blue Mountains, from 1821-1826, Father Therry worked unaided, "discharging all the duties of a priest, no light obligation as the Catholics were scattered....He had to celebrate the divine mysteries at Parramatta, Wollongong, Hawkesbury, Penrith and Liverpool" (Progress of Catholicity in Australia - Dean Kenny).

"There are vast districts, such as Bathurst, where Catholics are without a single priest....How the Catholic prisoner clings to his prayer book given by the priest!. How he clasps it, when everything else if gone! How ingeniously he preserves it through every hazard! In the remote wilds it is to him in place of priest, and altar, and sacrifice" (Catholic Mission in Australia, Dr Ullathorne)

1830 -15 years after settlement in Bathurst - Father Therry was 'called' to Bathurst. The reason? So that he could attend on the scaffold, a Catholic convict, Ralf Entwhistle, who was to be hanged on 2nd November, along with nine other men - all part of the notorious Ribbon Gang. (An interesting aside is that, given the travelling time from Sydney and the fact that Entwhistle was only sentenced to death on 30th October, Father Therry must have received this 'call' from the Authorities some days before Entwhistle was even put on trial).

The day before the execution was All Saints Day and Father Therry celebrated the first Mass in Bathurst at Kelso - it is believed in a room over a stable at an Inn. (It appears he also baptised a 13 month old child on the day of the execution).

In his book "Centenary of the First Mass at Bathurst 1830-1930", Michael Meagher says that at the time of this visit, there would have been around 100 Catholic men and perhaps 20-30 Catholic women in Bathurst who had not even seen a priest for five, or more, years. After Fr Therry's 1830 visit, there was no other visit by a priest until 1833.

Fiona Lewis

Catholic Observer - December 2013


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