When I came to Bathurst six years ago, there were three buildings in my direct care that were in urgent need of repair: the Diocesan House of Prayer; the Bishop’s House; and the Cathedral. If these buildings were to be kept, the longer renovations were delayed, the more they would cost.
With the Shalom House of Prayer in Carcoar, a decision needed to be made whether to renovate or to sell it. I appointed a committee to explore the options, hoping to find a way to keep this vital part of our local church life going. The response from many people, who had valued Shalom’s place in their journey of faith, and wanted it to continue, was strong and convincing. Most importantly, a small group emerged who were willing to form a community to ensure that the buildings were truly a welcoming space for prayer and growth in the Christian life. With a heritage grant, expenditure by the Diocese and generous donations of time, talent and money, we have been able to restore and renew this House of Prayer.
The decision about the Bishop’s House was also whether to renovate or to sell. The Diocesan Finance Council advised against letting go of this valuable piece of real estate that was part of our patrimony, and which would not, in its run-down state, fetch a good price. It is a working place. Its use is not simply as a residence for the Bishop, but a facility for formation programs, meetings and other Diocesan gatherings. The necessary expenditure was a redeployment of investments in maintaining a Diocesan asset, which, unlike the Cathedral, could always be sold if required. Not one cent of Bathurst parish funds was spent on the project. It has been deeply disappointing to me that this project has been misunderstood and even misrepresented in some quarters.
There was no question of demolishing or selling the Cathedral of St Michael and St John. This fine building has deep religious significance for generations of Bathurst Catholics and is one of the oldest public buildings in the city. Repairs to it over the years have been eaten away by rising damp and salt attack. To renovate the Cathedral properly, careful study and planning was needed to deal with the basic problems so that our efforts in restoring the fabric were not wasted. The importance of the building and the scale of its restoration are immensely greater than that of the other two projects I have discussed. However, we have made an accurate assessment of the needs and set a realistic and affordable budget. Churches and Cathedrals are about more than bricks and mortar. They are about what the building represents: the faith of the people who built it and who maintain it. Please God we may rise to the occasion today.
+ Michael McKenna
Bishop of Bathurst
7th July 2015