A Hospital for Sinners – A Training Ground for Saints


In the first 20 years of St. Patrick’s Parish the major activity and concern was building and the collection of the monies required to fund the construction of buildings. The first building built after St. Patrick’s Church was the presbytery in 1907. By 1908, already onto its third parish priest, the parish lost this priest and in the next six years it and Halifax was served by visiting priests. The number of parishioners were few and it was not until 1914 that it was deemed that the parish numbers had increased sufficiently enough to appoint to Ingham a new parish priest. Father Thomas O’Connor arrived to become the fourth parish priest of Ingham in 1914.

1914 also saw the building of a Catholic Church in Halifax, St. Peter’s Church, and a convent for the Sisters of Mercy who arrived in Ingham in 1915. The presbytery with renovations was then opened as Our Lady of Lourdes Convent School, becoming the first Catholic day school in the district. The parish priest took up residence in the sacristy and took his meals at the convent or at one of the hotels.

A large number of Italian immigrants came to the valley in the 1920s. The fifth parish priest appointed to the parish in 1920, Father Kevin Kelly, was sent an assistant, Father Joseph Morley in 1923 who had studied in Rome and had been especially selected for the Ingham parish because he had a good command of the Italian language. Father Severino Mambrini O.F.M. was also sent to the district to make a report on the Italian immigrants in 1923. He ended up staying on in the district for another 10 years. Though the Irish Australian clergy remained firmly in charge of the Ingham parish, the church hierarchy did acknowledge that Ingham should be placed in the care of priests who had been trained in Rome and that regular visits by visiting Italian priests should be facilitated.. Other groups of immigrants to begin arriving in the district in significant numbers were Spaniards, Basques and Maltese.

The next period of building activity was precipitated by the arrival of Father Kelly: in 1922, a new presbytery, St. Kevin’s Presbytery, and in 1923 a new brick St. Patrick’s Church. The former church was relocated to become St. Bartholomew’s Church (later St. Anthony’s Church of Bemerside).

Each of the little communities of the Herbert River valley was isolated from each other by waterways, bush and cane lands. Rough bush roads and waterways were inaccessible in the wet season. Church attendance at the parish church in Ingham was impossible for many, so the parish priest would take the sacraments to the parishioners in the outlying areas.