The following posts will be extracts from the book Death of a Catholic Parish presented here to tell only a part of the whole story. Hopefully this will interest you enough to get the book and read it all for yourself (Disclaimer). If not we hope and pray that it will at least prompt you to sign the NEW petition for the restoration of this Parish, and the preservation of others like it, this is the whole purpose of this site. This is our goal and nothing more. It is not all about the building.
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Death of a Catholic Parish – INTRODUCTION – WIND OF CHANGE page 10
The Catholic Jewel
Situated about 220 kilometers north-east of Melbourne, Benalla is known in the secular realm as The Rose City for the picturesque setting of its famous Art Centre amidst rose gardens by the Broken River. Despite its small population of around 9,000, the city boasts an international reputation as a premier gliding locale. In the Catholic world, building on the unswerving faith of it’s Irish ancestors, St. Joseph’s parish had won for itself an epithet as “the jewel” of the Sandhurst diocese.
In his introduction to the historical booklet published in 1976 to celebrate the parish centenary, Monsignor Michael O’Reilly, parish priest since 1971, referred proudly to ” … a loyal and closely knit Catholic community who still retain a strong tradition of faith, deep spirituality, personal and family prayer and devotion to the Mass and Sacraments.”
This is not to say that St. Joseph’s was a parish version of The Brady Bunch. Like all parishes, it had its share of disagreements and petty bickering and it was not untouched by the post-conciliar tumult. During the 1970s-80s, with newchurch in-services, conferences and retreats producing a standard Jekyll and Hyde transformation of the local convent, the newchurch version of Catholic education cast its unholy shadow across St. Joseph’s primary school and F.C.J. College. Following the familiar skirmishes and regulation dismissal of parental concerns by the Bishop, some informed parents withdrew their children in favour of either state or home-schooling.
Self-centred, feelings-based newchurch programs like Marriage Encounter and RENEW also gnawed away, rat-like, at the orthodox foundations of the parish, indubitably sowing seeds of discontent among those who gravitate toward pick-and-choose, cafeteria-Catholicism like moths to a flame.
But these things pretty much simmered below the surface and it was only the arrival of Benalla’s first thoroughly “modern” cleric that acted to reinforce, at the workaday pastoral level, the principles upon which such programs were based — personal autonomy and supremacy of conscience.
Yet despite this encroachment of the new church, it is fair to say that St. Joseph’s parish, under the gentle guidance of its faithful, orthodox pastor, coped far better than most. Throughout the 1980s, therefore, Monsignor O’Reilly’s earlier assessment in the 1976 centenary booklet held true:
We are weathering the present religious turbulence reasonably well. Avoiding undue conservatism on the one hand and unregulated experimentation on the other. The Catholic Community through fidelity to Christian values has won for itself a respected place in the wider local society.