The Rock of St George: Celebrating the 125"' Anniversary of the first St Joseph's Church-School, Rockdale.
Publisher: St Joseph's Parish, Rockdale City, 2017
Paperback: 210 pages
Reviewed by Dr Moira O'Sullivan (*)
Saved from the depredations of war and bombings, Australian archives are rich in stories of the past. These archives allow Damian Gleeson, a meticulous researcher, to put together a book that covers a few areas: historical, geographical, social, genealogical, ethnic, and religious. Gleeson has already shown his expertise in recording family and parish history. Without access to the detailed information that archives hold, the story of the church in Australia would again descend into a hagiography which is seen today, in the light of recent scandals, as hypocrisy. While always respectful, the latest parish chronicles, like Gleeson's (which is under review here), and Colin Fowler's of Pyrmont parish, have avoided any temptation to gild the lily.
Keeping to facts means that there is little opportunity to analyse the religious feeling of parishioners. For such personal experience, we go to a different work, such as Gerard Windsor's The Tempest-Tossed Church (2017). Gleeson's strength is in capturing many aspects of the complicated evolution of one parish into four as population grew. Though Rockdale was not created as a parish until March 1916, its first church-school was opened in 1892. Kogarah was the early hub on that line, founded in 1887, while others in the area were later: Hurstville in 1912; Arncliffe in 1917; Brightonle-Sands in 1937; and Bexley in 1940.
The genesis in chapter 1, "Colonial Mission', is followed by 'German Foundations', a reminder of a group not always remembered in a nation that tends to think of its beginnings as Anglo-Celtic, whereas in reality successive migrations came. Description of pioneer families, as well as tracing descendants still living in the area, shows the parish as close-knit, like the nineteenth century in loyalty to the area. Possibly St George's Club and footballers help maintain allegiances.
Conflict almost always comes from the competing claims of the parochial school for money against funding other activities the parish sees as essential. When a school is under the control of the parish priest, he cannot always adjudicate without offence. When a school serves more than one parish there are more problems. Reconciling the calls made by the Marist Brothers high school, Kogarah, on its feeder parishes was particularly difficult, especially when some parishes refused to meet what the Brothers asked them to contribute. They had their own expenses, and usually a heavy debt. The extra equipment demanded by the Wyndham Report on Education was expensive, beyond what parish primary schools had expected. The defection of other contributors placed extra stress on Rockdale. Fund-raising done by the parish schools run by religious women was not mentioned, perhaps because the religious Sisters' archives were not accessible for one reason or another.
I n a sense, The Rock of St George reflects forces and waves of immigration that shaped Australia's growth, and not just that of one Sydney church. The great strength of the book is the focus on the parishioners, ordinary people of good will. They were the ones who made up for the fewness of priests, the ones who donated land, or raised money for land and buildings. Like most newcomers, they were keen to have their children educated. Clusters of nationalities came and were succeeded by others. One aspect was constant: they were people of faith, generosity, and vision, devoted to their families and to the parish which nourished them spiritually. The present reluctance to worship liturgically of many Catholics, though parents were sterling believers, along with a lack of vocations, means that Rockdale's daughter parishes of Arncliffe and Bexley have again been subsumed into the one St Mary McKillop's Parish, Rockdale City, in 2008.
Given that the book goes up to the present, it is somewhat disconcerting to find that the Honour Roll includes names only from World War I. If the patriotism of the parishioners is to be celebrated, at least some mention of later participants in Australian or United Nations military actions would be fitting.
Apart from that quibble, because of the fullness of the information about pastors and people, Gleeson's book is valuable for those researching family history in the area and also for those interested in the development of the Australian church.
(*) Dr Moira O'Sullivan RSC has researched early church history and the first twenty years of the Sisters of Charity in Australia.
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|Publication:||Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2017|
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