Where we are going… In my 2012 Letter “Rebuild My Church”, I invited the Catholics of our Diocese to begin discussing and imagining a Pastoral Plan that would give a framework for organising our mission in the years ahead. This has been carried along in the Diocesan Assembly process, perhaps more slowly than some of us had hoped, but carried on all the same. We have already stated the pastoral aspirations of our six great themes of Word, Sacrament, Service, Family, Aboriginals and Youth. Now we must make practical plans to implement them. Last month, the Priests of the Diocese and the Assembly Council spent a day focussing on how to develop such a plan, building on what has already begun. With this Pastoral Letter, I want to reaffirm our commitment to this work and clarify what we seek to achieve.
THE SPIRIT COMES TO HELP US IN OUR WEAKNESS (Romans 8:26)
The first step, already being taken, is the setting up of Word and Faith groups in every parish. In more than half the parishes, we have now begun these simple meetings to bring people into contact with the nourishment that only the Word of God can provide. This is basic and essential if we are to grasp the mission that a pastoral plan is devised to serve. These groups are doorways to the Spirit “who comes to help us in our weakness.” The next step will be to ask each parish to consider its mission and the human and material resources that requires. How does it participate in the shared mission of our Diocese and the wider Church: and how do we share our resources? These questions will lead to more specific questions about parish boundaries, the deployment of priests, the operation of schools and, above all, to each person’s assessment of his or her own responsibilities. “The Spirit comes to help us in our weakness.” No pastoral plan can predict the surprises and the generosity of God. No plan should cause us to lower our hopes in what God can do. But, like sailors awaiting the wind which blows where it will, we must repair and ready our sails to be filled with the gentle breeze or the mighty wind that is the Spirit who propels the little boat that is our Church. + Michael McKenna Bishop of Bathurst Pentecost 2014
A Pastoral Letter to God’s People of the Diocese of Bathurst Pentecost Sunday 2014 The image on the front page is the Holy Spirit window in the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. John, Bathurst The image on page two is the Pentecost window in St. Joseph’s Church, Gilgandra The image on page three is Shalom, Diocesan House of Prayer, Carcoar (John Hansen)
8th June 2014
Dear Friends in Christ, On 20th June 1865, Pope Blessed Pius IX established the Diocese of Bathurst. So next year, we will mark our Sesquicentenary: 150 years of this local church’s journey of faith. St. Augustine said that we should leave the past to God’s mercy, the present to God’s love and the future to God’s providence. I invite all the Catholics of our Diocese to begin reflecting together on where we have been, where we are now and where we are going.
How we began… The early Catholics of our region, most of them convicts, lived here for 15 years before the first visit of a priest. That priest was the legendary John Joseph Therry, whose anniversary of death 150 years ago we mark this year. There were two events in 1815 that are important in our story. That year, Governor Macquarie travelled the new road across the Blue Mountains and proclaimed Bathurst as the first inland town in Australia. And, across the world in Ireland, Father Therry was ordained in his home Diocese of Cork. Not long afterwards, the young priest was walking down the street and saw a wagon load of prisoners being transported to New South Wales. He raced into the nearest bookshop and bought twenty or thirty prayer books, which he threw into the wagon. He made up his mind on the spot that he would follow them to serve in the Australian mission. He arrived in Sydney on 6th May 1820.
Where we are now... Five years ago, when I became Bishop, I travelled around the Diocese for seven regional meetings, to begin dialogue with the faithful as we listened for God’s voice in our current situation. One lesson we learnt from these meetings was that there were three groups who did not come in large numbers: indigenous Catholics, young people and young families. It seemed clear to me that these groups were where our priorities of mission lie. This dialogue has continued with the Diocesan Assembly process begun in 2012, with more regional consultations last year, a great gathering at Pentecost and the establishment of an Assembly Council. We have identified three more themes: Hearing and Proclaiming the Word of God; Worshipping God in Prayer and Sacrament; and Building a Community of Love and Service.
Ten years later, he crossed the Blue Mountains for the first time. He came to Bathurst on All Saints Day 1830 to attend the convict Ralf Entwistle (of Ribbon Gang fame) who was to be executed the following day. At the Golden Fleece Inn, on the Sofala Road in Kelso, Mass was celebrated for the first time west of the Blue Mountains. It was six years before the next Mass was offered here, by Father William Ullathorne. Then, in 1838, the first resident priests, Michael O’Reilly and Thomas Slattery, arrived in Bathurst. O’Reilly had the care of a vast and vaguely defined area to the south of the Macquarie River; Slattery similarly to the north. They did what they could in the circumstances that they found. They travelled their territory, finding and visiting Catholics; gathering them for Mass and the other sacraments in homes and halls and pubs; and teaching them. Their people did not have Mass every Sunday, nor always a priest available for their last rites and funerals. By the time Father John Grant came to Bathurst in 1853, the Gold Rush had begun to transform life in the colonies. The population was growing and it was time for building churches and schools. We have a great example of that in our Cathedral of St. Michael and St. John. It was completed in 1861 as a parish church. With “his good life, in humility and wisdom”, Dean Grant united his Catholic people, and in fact the whole Bathurst community, in building this place of worship to God. When Bathurst was established as a Diocese, the year after John Grant’s death, it became our Cathedral. Today, we are engaged in restoring and renewing what the toil and wealth of our forebears has bequeathed to us. Our first Bishop, Matthew Quinn, arrived in 1866 in a time of gathering crisis for the funding of Catholic education. He had limited financial resources, and few priests or religious to work with. However, the history of the first hundred years of the Diocese is dominated by the successful building and growth of a system of Catholic schools. It came about thanks to the sacrifice and commitment of the people, the firm leadership of the bishops and priests and especially the generous service of so many religious women and men. Next year will be the time to tell in detail the story of our 150 years: and look for lessons from both the successes and failures in understanding and living our mission.
When these themes were announced, some people asked: What about our Catholic schools? The simple answer is that the schools of the Diocese are part of our ministry in all six areas. Indeed, as the largest numerical work of our local Catholic church, the schools have to be a vital part of the response to all these pastoral imperatives. Accompanying this letter is a statistical snapshot of the Diocese of Bathurst in 2014. I invite you to read it and reflect on what it tells us about our situation today. Of course, a few statistics cannot give the whole picture, but they can provide a starting point for deeper enquiry. For example, we can see that enrolments in our schools are growing, but rates of attendance at Sunday Mass are in decline. We can see that there are big differences in numbers between the smallest and largest parishes and schools. We can see that our financial resources are under strain, especially for supporting the priests we have and educating those who will take their place.