THE ornate stained glass window over the altar at St Michael’s church in Nowra serves as a visible connection to the parish’s place in Shoalhaven history.
This weekend, a series of celebrations will mark the sesquicentenary of the establishment of the St Michael’s Parish in the Shoalhaven.
Early parishoner and convict settler Patrick Caffrey worked on the Berry estate in the 1830s for seven years until his wife and child were allowed to join him from Ireland.
Two generations later in 1911 his grandson John and wife Mary donated the window on behalf of the Caffrey family, whose descendants still have strong connections to the church today.
At the time of the creation of the parish in 1863, humble wooden buildings served as chapels and Catholic schools in villages throughout the Shoalhaven.
The very early years of the parish were marked by a terrible tragedy: in 1883 two young Nowra priests were drowned after being caught in a rip at Kendalls Beach during a visit to Kiama.
The original Catholic Cemetery across the road from the church in Nowra also tells part of the story.
Parish priest Father Pat Faherty said among the headstones is one for the church’s first organist, a parishioner from one of several German families connected to St Michaels.
Ahead of the sesquicentenary, Father Faherty has put together a commemorative book, A Faithful People which will be launched on Saturday.
The book includes photographs contributed by local families and interviews with long standing parishoners.
Father Faherty said education was always an important part of the parish activities, even before the arrival of the teaching nuns, the St Joshephites at Berry and the Good Samaritans at Nowra.
“In the case of the very early parishoners, many of them had no education, and they wanted that for their children, to help them to find a way out of poverty,” Father Faherty said.
To research the book, Father Faherty has called on the parish records, the earliest being in the beautiful copperplate handwriting of the first parish priest, David D’arcy.
Father D’arcy was from County Clare in Ireland, the same region that produced a later parish priest, Monsignor John Purcell.
“The Mons”, as he was known, presided over the parish for 35 years until his retirement in 1992 and is well remembered as a larger than life figure, particularly by generations of St Michael’s school children.
An exhibition of memorabilia will also be on display throughout the weekend.
The parish incorporates St Michael’s, Nowra; St Patrick’s, Berry, Sacred Heart, Bomaderry; Mary, Help of Christians, Culburra Beach; St Joseph’s, Kangaroo Valley; and Holy Spirit, Vincentia.
HISTORY OF FAITH: St Michael’s parish priest Father Pat Faherty prepares for this weekend’s sesquicentenary celebrations. Photo: ADAM WRIGHT