AN EARLY HISTORY OF ST NICHOLAS’ CHURCH TAMWORTH FROM 1853-1953
The decision to make an attempt to list chronologically some of the most significant events in the first one hundred years of our parish life, has been made necessary by the fact that there are very few original documents in existence which relate to that period. Many details of parish life in earlier years are in danger of being forgotten with the passing of time. Whilst there is much that has been brought to remembrance in the list which follows, there are – of necessity many omissions.
Events that go on for years do not lend themselves to single line entries, and they could only be trivialised by attempting to do so. There is no mention of either World War for example, nor of the severe economic depressions of the 1890’s and the 1930’s. Probably the whole chronology should be headed by noting the essential fact, that whatever material advances have been made in the provision of buildings and facilities of all kinds, the one most important aspect of our parish life has been the enduring and ongoing practice of our Faith, which has been marked by continual practical expressions of charity, and a sturdy continuance of confidence in Divine Providence.
Through war and peace, through boom and bust, through good seasons and bad, the practice of the Faith has flourished at St Nicholas’. As we reflect on the past, we should humbly pray that this may continue into the future.
A CHRONOLOGY OF SIGNIFICANT EVENTS AT ST NICHOLAS’
Rev John Thomas Lynch (1816 – 1884) arrives in New South Wales. Appointed to East Maitland as joint pastor, with Rev Edmund Mahoney, of the only Catholic church north of Sydney. First priest to appear in New England; rode as far afield as Armidale.
Dean Charles Hanly, first priest at Moreton Bay, riding from Moreton Bay to Sydney, baptizes Jude Layden (b.1844) in Tamworth. Probably celebrates the first Mass in Tamworth.
Dean John Rigney (1814 – 1903) appointed to Singleton.Dean John Lynch appointed to Armidale. Both men visited Tamworth at irregular intervals. Dean Rigney celebrates first recorded Mass in Tamworth – June 1848 at Robert Peel Inn, Ebsworth St., West Tamworth.
Town of Tamworth (East Tamworth) surveyed; 19 streets laid out & named by Surveyor-General Thomas Mitchell.
Double width grant of land made to the Catholic Church by Colonial Government of New South Wales; land runs the full length of northern side of White St, from Marius St. to Peel St.
Rev Timothy McCarthy (1829 – 1879) appointed resident Priest at Armidale to serve northern NSW. His district: from Murrurundi to the Queensland border; from Wee Waa to the coast. He was first pastor of Tamworth.
Rev John Dunne appointed to Armidale as assistant to Father Timothy McCarthy.
9th February: foundation stone for first substantial church building in Tamworth laid by Father Timothy McCarthy, assisted by Mr. PJ Coghlan and Mr. Daniel Regan. The church to be built of brick; was to replace temporary structure on same site, previously used for church purposes. New St Nicholas’ Church built parallel to White St, on an east-west axis, about 60 meters west of present church.
30th January: new Saint Nicholas ‘Church blessed and opened by Dean John Lynch. Contractor: Mr. Grace; total cost 575 pounds;232 pounds subscribed on day of opening.
3rd June: Public meeting held at Harp of Erin Hotel in Tamworth to discuss need for a resident priest. Meeting guaranteed to raise 200 pounds to help support a clergyman.
16th November: Archbishop JB Polding OSB, accompanied by Rev Mellitus Corish and escorted by Father Tim McCarthy, made the first episcopal visitation of northern area of his archdiocese. He administered the sacrament of Confirmation to 20 candidates in St Nicholas’ Church (17th November) and received 47 children for their First Communion. He celebrated his 66th birthday (18th November) in Tamworth. A delegation of local Catholics asked the Archbishop for the appointment of a resident priest for Tamworth.
March: Rev John Killeen Handy (1834 – 1874) arrives in Tamworth to be Pastor of the Liverpool Plains and first resident priest of St Nicholas’. He establishes a school in St Nicholas’ Church ‘along American lines’, School Mistress Isobel Kendall of Maitland.
November: Clergy changes notified from Sydney: Rev Tim McCarthy from Armidale to Carcoar; Dean John Lynch from Maitland to Armidale; Rev James Garvey to Tamworth.
Tamworth proclaimed a Parish; Father Garvey first Parish Priest.
See of Maitland established. First Bishop, Dr. James Murray, consecrated in Dublin.
Bishop Murray takes possession of his Diocese; Tamworth no longer part of Sydney Archdiocese but included in new Diocese of Maitland.
Rev Michael Gough appointed Parish Priest of St Nicholas’. Built 1st presbytery in White St. Small brick Building of 5 rooms.
Bishop Murray obtains government agreement to sell Peel St frontage of the land granted to the Church in 1849. He then buys ‘three half sections’ of land in Marius St, adjoining the present church (as site of future Dominican Convent).
September: Rev Patrick Dwyer Ryan appointed to Tamworth. Continues as Parish Priest for 24 years until his death in 1899.Largely responsible for consolidation of the church in Tamworth.
12th January: Arrival of first Dominican Sisters in Tamworth. 4 Sisters: Mother M. Regis Dowley; Sr.M. Francis Hayden; Novice Gertrude O’Loughlin and lay Sister Aloysius Lynch, escorted by Bishop Murray & Father Foran of Maitland, travel by train to Murrurundi rail terminus, then by coach to Tamworth with an overnight stay with a family in Ardglen. Accommodated in presbytery in Tamworth; Father Ryan moving to PJ Coghlan’s residence,” The Pines”, in Hill St. 16th January: Sisters begin teaching in St Nicholas’ Church – First day 90 pupils in Primary, 10 in Secondary.
10th March: foundation stone for new St Nicholas’ Church (the present one) laid by Bishop Murray. Father Ryan celebrates Mass in existing church, with five to six hundred in attendance.
Railway reaches West Tamworth, school enrolments double.
New St Nicholas’ Church blessed & opened by Bishop Murray, after 2 years in build. Contractor: William Dowell (who assisted Mr. Grace in building the old Church). Cost in excess of 3000 pounds. Old church now used for educational purposes only.
21st June: contract signed for erection of a new three-storey convent for the Dominican Sisters on the site purchased in 1874.Contract price: 2353.1882 pounds.
January: Completed Convent blessed & opened by Dean Thomas English, Vicar-General, Diocese of Maitland.
Erection of new two-story brick presbytery on site of first presbytery in White St.
27th September: First Catholic Ball held in Tamworth at Alhambra Hall.
September: Death of Fr PD Ryan, after 24 years as Parish Priest. Bishops Murray & Torreggiani attended his Funeral. Parishioners subscribed for an elaborate headstone. Fr James O’Neill, curate at St Nicholas’, appointed administrator pro tem. Appointment later confirmed as Tamworth became a Mensal Parish of the Bishop of Armidale. September: 1st meeting of special Parish Committee formed to find means of paying off the 2000 pounds debt on St Nicholas’ Church. Office Bearers: Charles Regan, H McVeigh, CJ Shannon.
January: Celebrations to mark silver jubilee of Dominican Sisters in Tamworth. Bishop Murray attended from Maitland & later laid the foundation stone for the new chapel at St Dominic’s.
Rev James O’Neill inducted as Dean of Tamworth.
3rd May: Consecration of Monsignor Patrick Joseph O’Connor as Co-adjutor Bishop of Armidale with right of succession.
December: Final payment on the outstanding debt on St. Nicholas’ Church.
28th January: Death of Bishop Elzear Torreggiani OSFC (Bishop of Armidale from 1879) and succession of Bishop PJ O’Connor. Completion of chapel at St Dominic’s. Blessed and Opened by Bishop O’Connor. Cost: 1500 pounds.
19th March: New brick church – St Patrick’s – at Attunga blessed and opened by Bishop O’Connor.
October: Completion of St Nicholas’ Parish Hall incorporating 2 extra classrooms.
Additions to the former church, now used as a primary school, in the form of an extra room at each end of the building.
27th October: Laying of Foundation Stone for major extensions to St Nicholas’ Church, to increase capacity by approximately 50%. Projected cost: 3000 pounds; 1516 pounds collected at laying of Foundation Stone.
Completion of extensions to St Nicholas’ Church. Dean O’Neill moved to Inverell as PP. Fr William Mullins appointed to St Nicholas’ as Administrator.
12 December: laying of Foundation Stone for St Michael’s Church, Dungowan.
Building of St Joseph’s Church-School at West Tamworth and the arrival of Sisters of St Joseph to teach there
Death of Fr W Mullins. Fr John R Collender appointed as Administrator at St Nicholas’.
Building of new classroom block at Dominican Convent for secondary school.
Purchase of ‘Carthona’ (two-storey residence with extensive grounds in Carthage St) as site for future Christian Brothers’ College. Cost 1200 pounds.
26 January: Arrival of Christian Brothers in Tamworth. Brothers Whiting, O’Connor, Lathey & Newman begin teaching in parochial primary school in White St until new College is built. First day enrolment: 120 boys. Brothers housed at ‘Carthona’.
Fr John Collender moved to Manilla as PP. Rev Dr Patrick J Dunne appointed Administrator at St Nicholas’. Area west of the Peel River separated from St Nicholas’ Parish, to become new parish of West Tamworth. Fr Dave Carroll appointed first Parish Priest.
Commencement of new Christian Brothers’ College in Carthage St, following a very successful Parish bazaar at which sum of 3000 pounds was netted
Purchase of single-storey residence, ‘Coolinda’, corner of Carthage & White Streets, as a residence for the Brothers – ‘Carthona’ having been demolished.
Completion and Official Opening of Christian Brothers’ College, dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Total cost: 6830 pounds. Completion of a new school and convent at Dungowan, for the sisters of St Joseph.
15th July: Death of Bishop Patrick Joseph O’Connor, succeeded as Bishop of Armidale by Bishop John Aloysius Coleman as fourth Bishop of Armidale.
A new timber church built in Kootingal, dedicated to St Marie Therese, replaces earlier church destroyed by fire.
Work commences on building of a new church and school at North Tamworth on land donated by Maguire family. Bricks for the church donated by Albert Shepherd; contractor: Frank Lane. Work commencement preceded by a long period of fund-raising in the parish at large.
Erection of St Peter’s Church, Nundle.
21st May: Completed church at North Tamworth, dedicated to Our Lady of Victories, was blessed & opened by Bishop JA Coleman.
Purchase of former Military Hospital at Woolomol – now Oxley Vale – as site for a future Nazareth House.
22nd December: Death of Bishop John Aloysius Coleman, Bishop of Armidale from 1932.
Consecration of Dr EJ Doody in Brisbane, to be 5th Bishop of Armidale.
Demolition of 2nd presbytery (1885?) and erection of a new cream brick building of two stories on the same site.
Arrival of the Poor Sisters of Nazareth to staff new facility in former Military Hospital at Oxley Vale, renamed Nazareth House.
Rev Dr. PJ Dunne (Monsignor Dunne by then) moves to West Tamworth as Parish Priest after 24 years as Administrator of St Nicholas’.
Rev John M O’Connor appointed Administrator of St Nicholas’, one hundred years since arrival of Rev Timothy McCarthy.
PASTORS ,ADMINISTRATORS ,PARISH PRIESTS OF ST NICHOLAS TAMWORTH 1853-2019
1853 – 1862 Rev Timothy McCarthy: Pastor of New England, resident of Armidale.
1862 Rev John Killeen Handy: Pastor of the Liverpool Plains, first Resident Priest.
1863 – 1864 Rev Bartholomew Hyacinth Power OP: Appointed, but no record of his Administration.
1864 – 1870 Rev James Garvey: First Parish Priest of Tamworth, then in the Archdiocese of Sydney
1870 – 1875 Rev Michael Gough: Parish Priest of Tamworth, then in the Maitland diocese.
1875 – 1899 Rev Patrick Dwyer Ryan: Parish Priest.
1899 – 1914 Rev James O’Neill: First Administrator, pro tem. Appointment later confirmed as Dean from 1901.
1914 – 1922 Rev William Augustine Mullins: Administrator.
1922 – 1928 Rev John R Collender: Administrator.
1928 – 1952 Rev Patrick J Dunne: Administrator.
1953 – 1959 Rev John M O’Connor: Administrator.
1959 – 1967 Rev Cletus H Leis: Administrator.
1968 – 1971 Rev C.A Fisher: Administrator.
1971 – 1983 Rev John M Carey: Administrator.
1983 – 1993 Rev Gerard Hanna: Administrator.
1993 – 1996 Rev Gerard Hanna: Parish Priest. First parish priest of St Nicholas as part of diocese of Armidale.
1996 – 1997 Rev Richard Gleeson: Temporary Administrator.
1997- 2013 Rev Richard Gleeson: Parish Priest.
2013 – 2015 Rev Msgr. Edward T. Wilkes: Parish Priest
2015 – 2018 Rev Jose S Adriano: Parish Priest
2018 – 2019 Rev Christopher N. Onuekwusi: Administrator
2019 – Rev Christopher N. Onuekwusi: Parish Priest
The Parish of St Nicholas’ has been part of three Dioceses since it was first established. From first contact (1830s) to 1866 it was part of the Archdiocese of Sydney. From 1866 to 1887 it was part of the Diocese of Maitland. From 1887 to the present time, it has been part of the Diocese of Armidale.