Crookwell Parish
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St Mary's-
Wade Street, Crookwell NSW 2583
Fr Joshy Kurien (Administrator)
040 363 1797
served by Goulburn Parish office, Tuesday to Friday 9am to 1pm


St Mary's Church History


Crookwell parish was formed in 1882. A priest had been residing in Crookwell for several years prior to that time. The government had granted a piece of land from the corner of Spring Street and several blocks in Cowper Street for the erection of the Catholic Church and Presbytery. Around 1880 approximately 14 acres of land was purchased from Michael Moylan, and on this land a small presbytery was built. Fathers John O’Dwyer and Michael Meagher were two of the first priests to be stationed at Crookwell.

Mass was conducted in a small oratory built onto the Presbytery in those early years. In March 1886, Bishop William Lanigan was visiting the Parish to confirm children at Laggan and Grabben Gullen (both villages having had churches built around 1865) and he suggested that a Church should be built in Crookwell. The Crookwell Roman Catholic Church Land Sales Act of 1887 was enacted on 1st July, 1887, to allow the trustees Bishop William Lanigan, Father Michael Slattery, Daniel O’Brien and Michael Tully, to sell the land in Cowper Street using the proceeds for the erection of a Church beside the Presbytery in Wade Street. A committee was formed consisting of seven gentlemen of the Crookwell Parish, tenders were called and the contract was given to Mr John Howard. The building of the Church with Gothic and Norman style architecture of hammer faced blue stone began.

On Sunday 19th April 1891, St Mary’s Catholic Church was blessed and opened by Bishop William Lanigan. Father John Gaffey, the parish priest, gave a brief account of the financial costs of the building, 1,172 pounds 4 and 8 pence had been collected, with total expenditure being 2,181 pounds 18 shillings and 8 pence. The remaining debt of 111 pounds 14 shillings was still to be paid. It was stated at the opening that the Church would hold 500 people.

The Church remained without additions or changes until 1929, when in November a small porch was added at the front, together with a gallery. These additions were blessed by Bishop John Barry. The Parish Priest Monsignor Martin Vaughan, held this position from 1908 to 1940, the longest serving administrator in the Crookwell Parish’s 100 years. The seating was changed from having one aisle to two.

In 1950, extensive alterations were proposed for St Mary’s. The nave was to be lengthened to accommodate another 200 people, and other improvements were to be made. Father Alexander McGilvary was in charge of the Parish at the time of these extensions. The new extensions were blessed on 5th August 1951, by Bishop Guilford Young, in the presence of a congregation which occupied all the seating, standing in the aisles and overflowing onto the street in front of the Church. The renovations cost approximately 19,500 pounds, of which 9,490 pounds was in hand. The Church was used as a place of worship, even though the building and interior refurbishments were not completed until early 1953. The total cost of the enlarging was about 33,000 pounds. A debt of 20,000 pounds was still owed on the building, so the Parish started to hold functions to raise money, one of the main events being three Art Unions in consecutive years with the major prize being a Holden Car. Large donations were given toward the cost of the building also. Between 1953 and 1958 the Parish worked hard to pay for the renovations and no further upgrades were done during this period.

On the night of 5th January 1958, at approximately 12.45am, a fire was seen in the Church. Both local and Goulburn fire brigades tried to save the Church, but it was completely gutted. The total loss to the Parish being about 80,000 pounds. On the following Sunday morning, a make shift altar was prepared and the administrator of the Parish, Father Parker Moloney, said Mass in the school Hall across the road. Some people wishing to attend Mass walked almost into the Church before realising that it had been destroyed by fire.

An architect was then engaged, the cost of rebuilding the Church depending upon the reports from the architect and an engineer. If the shell of the burnt out Church could not be used, a new Church would cost about 100,000 pounds. A meeting of 350 parishioners heard the reports which stated that the existing shell could be reused. A committee of 20 was elected to examine the costs of a completely new building as against renovations to the existing structure.

At a general meeting held in March 1958, it was decided to renovate St Mary’s as the Parish could not afford a completely new structure. Tenders were called and Messrs SG & C McFarlane were appointed the builders.

The Church was reopened on 22nd November 1959. Over 800 people saw Archbishop Eris O’Brien formally bless and reopen the reconstructed St Mary’s Church. The late Father John Bartley, who had been appointed Parish Priest a few months after the fire, guided the building works and remained at Crookwell until 1977.

The Planned Giving scheme which was introduced to the Parish paid for the rebuilding of the Church.

After 32 years with no major renovations taking place apart from a few coats of paint, small alterations were made inside. The plastered walls had cracked over the years but the structure remained sound.

The centenary of St Mary’s Church was held over the weekend of 19th – 20th April, 1991. Father Peter Murphy, the Parish Priest, had some small alternations in the Church and external painting done prior to the celebrations. Father Peter Murphy remained as Parish Priest for 30 years, up until his death in April, 2015.

The Parish is now administered by the Goulburn Catholic Mission.


In 1903 my grandmother wrote these words as part of the address of welcome to the Sister of Mercy on their arrival in Crookwell “Dear Reverend Mother and Sister, with a feeling of great joy and gladness, we the parishioners of St Mary’s Crookwell hasten to offer you a most hearty welcome to our midst”. Ironically, Bryan spoke on behalf  of the parishioners to farewell the sisters.

The Sisters came from Ireland to Goulburn in 1859, established the Convent and School which eventually became Our Lady of Mercy College and soon attracted many students and also novices.

They then set up communities in Albury, Boorowa, Cootamundra, Gundagai, Grenfell and Jerilderie. In contrast to the burning heat of Jerilderie they were to set up a Convent and School at Crookwell, probably the coldest climate in the Goulburn Diocese. Prior to that time, provisional schools which were virtually Catholic Schools, had functioned in various parts of the district, such as in Loughnan’s paddock at Grabben Gullen in 1868 with 32 pupils. The teacher, Maria Garvey, had been educated at the Goulburn Convent. There was a Catholic certified school in the then new St Andrew’s Church at Laggan in 1866, where the cemetery now is. These types of schools, often in slab huts or sheds, came and went as demand fluctuated and government policy altered, but often they were staffed by girls who had been educated by the Sisters in Goulburn. It was the Sisters themselves, however, who introduced Catholic education into Crookwell.

The Crookwell township grew rapidly in the 1880’s and demand for a Catholic school became pressing.

The nuns, consisting of Reverend Mother and four Sisters, accompanied by Bishop Gallagher, arrived by train (the rail service was less than one year old) and were greatly welcomed by the community. A ten room convent and schoolrooms were built, with the completed the Church building in 1891.  The nuns provided secular education and culture, as well as visiting the sick and lonely in their homes. It was a common sight to see the sisters moving through the streets in pairs. The sister made religious education possible to the children whose parents could not otherwise afford it. They earned the respect of all the community, providing an even handed approach to all students, regardless of denomination. Many local young people were inspired to follow the nun’s example by joining religious life. Their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience meant they went where they were needed.

From the original school building almost joining the Convent and Church, increased student numbers required the parish to build the existing School Hall in 1911. The original school room was then used as an Infant School. The Hall was divided by a green curtain, which did not help dull the sounds from the other side of the curtain, just made one more curious. Two classes were at each end of the hall with Sisters at either end of the hall. When a function was to be held in the Hall, often weekly, the desks had to be stacked three high in the alcove. In 1928, the community room and Chapel were added to the Convent. A new Infant School was built at the bottom of the school grounds. The original classroom was converted to a children’s Chapel on the side of the Church. A portion was used as an altar boy’s sacristy and part for commercial classes with typewriters etc.

In 1924 the Sisters opened a Convent and school at Binda, the geographical centre of the Parish, even taking in boarders there. This school functioned for about 35 years, but eventually a shortage of nuns forced its closure.

Sister Angela, the cook, was the forerunner of the St Vincent de Paul meal centre. She worked away in the hot kitchen, always with her little dog Nigger on the door mat. No itinerant was ever turned away, and as payment for their meal Sr would take them up the back to ‘chop a bit of wood’.

In those early days Sister ‘Cook’ also made the Altar breads. She would spread the mixture over a small electric plate on which was the imprint of the hosts. She would bring down the top which had the obverse side on it and make about 12 breads plus one large one for the Altar.

With all building works having come to a halt during the war, overcrowding became a big problem after the war. Fr McKenna, a WW1 veteran wanted to see a school built to honour the war dead, used all his influence and guile with local MPs and government departments to get the building application through with some speed.

As well as the normal educational subjects being taught by the Sisters, music was a very strongly supported subject within the school and with students from other schools in the district.

The Sisters prepared the children for their First Confession, Holy Communion and Confirmation, always having them very well instructed and presented. They travelled to the country churches to help the local catechists. The Sisters also trained the altar boys, which often proved quite a challenge.

The Sisters were great at training the children for sport and marching, as well as, teaching typing and shorthand. Very multi skilled people indeed.

By 1958 the numbers were increasing so much due to many small country schools closing and the school at that time went to Intermediate level, so a new classroom and staffroom were added to the Colyer Street side of the school. By 1962, changes to the syllabus reduced the school to primary level only.

1962 saw the diamond jubilee of the Convent, and at that time the back verandah was enclosed to make it more comfortable and small bay window added at the front to catch winter sun.

In 1976 more additions at the school joined the school to the Hall, making the building more workable.

The sisters finally left the convent in late 1993.

Extracted from presentation by Bryan Kennedy

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