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St. Joseph’s Parish Celebrates

“Journey“ was the theme chosen for St. Joseph’s Catholic Parish Meredith to celebrate 140 years of faith and community in this area.

The parish now comprises Meredith, Anakie, Bannockburn, Inverleigh and Winchelsea. But due to changing demographics over the 140 years there have been churches at Darriwil (now a chapel at Deakin University Geelong), Lal Lal, Elaine, Lethbridge, Steiglitz, Gnarwarre and Teesdale which have been sold and removed or put to other uses.

The journey for this area began with the Irish priests who came to Australia to minister to the miners and pastoralists who had come to the area with the first Mass reportedly celebrated at the home of John Campion in Campion Road Meredith by Fr. Smythe, the date was probably in the late 1840’s. This home became a rest stop for the priests from Geelong who often rode on horseback to say Mass in Ballarat for the miners in the early 1850’s. Father Smythe was a very important figure in the Eureka uprising, counselling Peter Lalor to use peaceful means to solve the disputes. When he failed in his attempts and violence broke out, Father Smythe smuggled the injured Peter Lalor out of Ballarat through Taylor’s Road to Maude and eventually spending a night hiding in a haystack at Lethbridge and then continuing to Geelong.

The journey continued as the Catholics in the area eventually built little churches which were sometimes also used as schools. The first church and school in Meredith was built in 1861.  The catholic school closed in Meredith in 1970 although it certainly was not continuous during all that time. Sometimes the school building was moved to Elaine because there were more children there.

Many of the Catholic churches in this area were built in the late 1850’s and early 1860’s and Meredith was the first mission church of St. Mary’s Geelong. For a short time Meredith and Elaine belonged to the Ballarat Diocese but in 1875 a separate parish was formed and Meredith became the centre of that Parish. Steiglitz at that time was by far the larger town but because of the railway and the position of Meredith on the road between Geelong and Ballarat and the fact that Steiglitz ‘s gold could one day run out, Meredith was chosen.

The main celebration of not only 140 years as a parish but also 125 years for the Meredith church was held on Sunday August 16th at St. Joseph’s Meredith with a Mass presided over by Bishop Peter Connors, a former regional Bishop of this area as well as Father Kevin Dillon and Father Maurice Barry from Geelong, Father Mick Fitzpatrick from Manifold heights and of course Meredith’s own  Father Herman Licayan. 

Also present was the Mayor of the Golden Plains Shire, Cr. Des Phelan, Rev Lyndell Gibson Minister of the Ballarat South Uniting Church which takes in Meredith and Stephen Elder Executive Director of the Catholic Education Office who was kind enough to launch the new Parish history book “Journey”. 

Also present were many past and present parishioners many of whom travelled long distances to be there. Deb Barrett a former publican of the Royal Hotel now in her nineties and a resident at Rice Village in Geelong was warmly welcomed as was Mary Skelton/ Pearson from Elaine. Six McDonald sisters who grew up in Steiglitz were delighted to be present . 

Many stories were shared about life then. One of particular interest was their relationship to St. Mary MacKillop and the fact that she most probably travelled through Steiglitz on her way to Gordon. From the McDonald family two sisters became sisters of Mercy and the only brother Hugh was ordained a priest.

Visitors enjoyed a most wonderful afternoon tea catered for by parishioners from all corners of the parish and Andrea Spiller. 

Bishop Connors cut the manificent birthday cake which was 140 small cakes decorated in the purple and gold theme. 

An excellent display of historical photos and memorabilia completed what was a wonderful celebration of more than 160 years of faith and community in this part of the world.