History of Forster-Tuncurry Parish

The Catholic Parish of Forster-Tuncurry officially came into being with the arrival of its first Parish Priest, Father Daniel Linehan in January 1957.  Father Linehan was appointed to the position of Parish Priest on 1 December 1956 and on 18 March 1957, he officially notified the Stroud   Shire Council that a new Parish had been formed incorporating the towns of Forster and Tuncurry and the surrounding district.

Fr Daniel Linehan PP Forster-Tuncurry Parish. 

Photo courtesy Archives of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle

Prior to the formation of the new Parish, the districts of Forster and Tuncurry formed part of the Krambach Parish, and for some years prior to that, the spiritual needs of Forster-Tuncurry Catholics were attended to by the Parish Priests of Krambach, the last of these being Father Joseph Bernasconi.

In May 1952, Father Bernasconi purchased two blocks of land in Lake Street Forster (Lots 18 and 19, Section 11) and on 25 June 1953, applied to the Lands Department for this land to be set aside for school and church use.  Father Bernasconi also applied for land at Lot 8 Section 10 Lake Street Forster on 2 December 1954, the present site of the Holy Name School.

Fr Joseph Bernasconi PP Krambach Parish.

Photo courtesy Archives of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle

The old timber church in Kent Street Tuncurry serving the Tuncurry parishioners was the second Catholic church to be built in Tuncurry and is thought to have been built in 1908, the first small church having been established around 1888.   Forster parishioners were obliged to use the School of Arts Hall at Forster for church activities.  Mass was usually celebrated about once a month at either location.

“Saint Mary Star of the Sea” Church at Kent Street Tuncurry built c1908. This was the second Catholic Church to be built on this site.

Many of the older parishioners remember the early days quite vividly and recall that it was not uncommon for Father Bernasconi to be one or two hours late during bad weather.  Flooded creeks and other hazards would force him to take other roads and of course, the bridge linking the two towns was not constructed until 1959, so bad weather could also affect crossing the lake on the old ferry punt.  One amusing side-light to this, although probably not amusing to the parishioners at the time, was that Father Bernasconi was notorious for his lengthy homilies, sometimes in the vicinity of 30 to 45 minutes, so it could become quite a long day for the patient parishioners, remembering also that Confessions were always heard before Mass.

St Joseph’s Convent at 16 Manning Street Tuncurry.  First occupied by Fr Daniel Linehan and later converted to a convent to house the Sisters of St Joseph when they arrived from Lochinvar in January 1958.

When Father Linehan arrived in January 1957, there was no official residence available for him and he was obliged to reside temporarily in guest houses or wherever he could find accommodation.  This of course was not particularly encouraging for the new Parish Priest.  Much of the correspondence written by Father Linehan in 1957 reveals that he resided for some time at 30 Wharf Street Tuncurry and also at Breese’s guest house “Russell Court” in Forster.

Some of the older parishioners recall how they took turns to prepare evening meals for Father Linehan, and how at one stage he was nearly on the point of despair at his inability to obtain a suitable permanent residence.

Help finally arrived when Mr and Mrs Bruce Wright of Tuncurry offered Father the house at 16 Manning Street Tuncurry.  This house later became St Joseph’s Convent and remains so to this day.

Father Linehan proceeded to have the new church-hall constructed on the land already purchased at Lot C Section 11 Lake Street Forster.  A building application was lodged with Stroud Shire Council on 24 July 1957 by the builder, Mr P J Smyth of Taree.  The original plan of the weatherboard building prepared by The Homebuilders Plan Service of Newcastle, consisted of a main hall with an entrance porch, two front rooms (for kitchen and cloak room), two vestry rooms on either side of the altar and two standard toilets to the rear of the church-hall.

The cost of the building was ₤7,000 and the cost of fencing ₤100.  The Holy Name Church-Hall was blessed and opened by His Lordship Bishop John Toohey on 22 December 1957.  The church-hall was used for the celebration of Mass and other church activities.  At the time the church-hall was built its size was excessive for the small Catholic population, but was necessary even at that time to cater for the large influx of tourists over holiday periods.

The Holy Name Church-Hall blessed and opened by the Most Rev. John Toohey DD Bishop of Maitland on 22 December 1957.

Upon the arrival of Sisters from the St Joseph Order at Lochinvar in January 1958, the hall was also used as a school.  The Sisters conducted classes in improvised class rooms in the church-hall until the new school was opened in 1961.  One parishioner recalls that ladies from the parish made curtains as partitions to divide the hall into separate class rooms.

On 1 April 1958 a building application was lodged with Stroud Shire Council for a weatherboard Presbytery and garage to be built adjacent to the church-hall.  The plans were again prepared by The Homebuilders Plan Service of Newcastle and the builder was Mr P J Smyth of Taree.  Amended plans were submitted to change the structure from weatherboard to brick veneer and a small verandah was added.  The Holy Name Presbytery was blessed and opened by his Lordship Bishop John Toohey on 4 January 1959, the feast of the Holy Name.

The Holy Name Presbytery was blessed and opened by the Most Rev. John Toohey DD Bishop of Maitland on 4 January 1959.

The residence at 16 Manning Street Tuncurry occupied by Father Linehan was eminently suitable as a convent for the four sisters who were sent to start up the new school in 1958.  They took up residence upon their arrival in Tuncurry and school commenced in late January. Three of the sisters were teachers at the school, namely Sisters Francesca, Hilda and Florence Mary. The school commenced with an enrolment of 30 pupils.  In the first year of operation there was no 6th class, but it was hoped that the next year there would be a full primary school course. According to a report in The Cape Hawke Advocate in January 1958, a fourth sister was sent to devote her time to teaching music (piano and violin) and the teaching of singing.  These subjects were to be taught at both Forster and Tuncurry.    Of course, with the school in Forster and the convent in Tuncurry it was necessary for the Sisters to ferry across to the school each day for the first year and a half of their occupation until the new bridge was opened.

Sisters of St Joseph at the opening of the Tuncurry Convent in 1958 – (l-r) Sr Martin, Sr Pat Hayes, Sr Gregory, Mother Aquin, Sr Florence and Sr Francesca

1959 – Sister Francesca and pupils travelling from Tuncurry to school in Forster via the ferry punt.  Note the bridge under construction in the background.

On 14 April 1960, the land at Lot 8 Section 10 Village of Forster was gazetted as church land.  This meant that the Parish Priest could go ahead with plans to build a school.  Quotes were received and contracts signed on 1 June 1960 for a brick veneer building valued at ₤16,000 and construction of the school proceeded.  The Architect and Structural Engineer for the project was Mr John P Gannon of Newcastle and the builder was Mr P J Smythe of Taree.

The building allowed for an enrolment of 150 pupils although its initial enrolment was only 35 pupils.  It had wide verandahs to provide shelter and in addition to the classrooms had two music rooms and a tuckshop.  It also included a septic system.

On 6 August 1960, a local newspaper, “The Forster Leader” carried an article proclaiming – “the building will be a credit to our town and a landmark in our progress”.  The new Holy Name School was opened and blessed by His Lordship Bishop John Toohey on 1 January 1961.

Above:   The new Holy Name School opened by the Most Rev. John Toohey DD Bishop of Maitland on 1 January 1961.  Photo courtesy Holy Name School Archives.

Sisters Francesca, Hilda and Florence Mary in front of the new school. Photo courtesy Holy Name School Archives.

The years following the opening of the Forster-Tuncurry Bridge on 18 July 1959 saw a tremendous growth in the twin towns of Forster and Tuncurry and the new bridge allowed quick and easy access between towns where previously a ferry punt was the only access.  In 1961 a leaflet produced by the Forster Urban Committee gave the population of Forster at 1,600.  In May 1964, Father Linehan, in the Parish Visitation Report stated that there were 332 parishioners, 100 Catholic families and 60 children of school age.  In the next Parish Visitation Report in June 1967, he stated that there were 400 parishioners, 116 Catholic families and 60 children of school age, also adding that there were 2,100 non-Catholics in the parish area.

January 1966 – Procession moving outside of “Saint Mary Star of the Sea” Church at Tuncurry. Photo courtesy Carmen Nixon.

Father Linehan found it necessary to provide for his ever increasing flock and  for the influx of tourists each holiday season, and so the decision was made to demolish the 60 year old timber church of “Saint Mary Star of the Sea” at Kent Street Tuncurry and replace it with a new brick building valued at $50,000.

1968 – “Saint Mary Star of the Sea” Church awaiting demolition.

On 6 October 1968 the foundations of the new “Saint Mary Star of the Sea” church were blessed by His Lordship Bishop John Toohey.

The official ceremony was performed before a representative gathering including Mr P Lucock, Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, local councillors from both Stroud Shire Council and Manning Shire Council, Rev. John Adam (Church of England) and other local dignitaries.

On this occasion, Father Linehan thanked the many non-catholic citizens for their assistance with the church project and the Bishop also took the opportunity to praise the work of Father Linehan, whom he said “was sent as a pioneer” to the district 12 years previously and had achieved much.

“Saint Mary Star of the Sea” Church, Tuncurry, blessed by Most Rev. John Toohey DD, Bishop of Maitland on 6 October 1968.

In December 1970, Father Linehan was transferred after fulfilling 14 years as Parish Priest to the Forster-Tuncurry Parish.  As a result of his faith and perseverance, the parish had grown in numbers and had made rapid strides, both spiritually and materially.

Father Harry Fenton succeeded Father Linehan as Administrator in January 1971 remaining until August 1973.  During this period further land was purchased in Lake Street for the Holy Name School – Lots 9, 10, 17 and 18, Section 10.

Fr Harry Fenton

Photo courtesy Archives of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle

Over the next few years various administrators were appointed to the Parish.  Father Jim Hughes came for a few months from August 1973, followed by Father William Cantwell in January 1974 and Father P McAlindin in December 1975.  In May 1976, Father Anthony Brady was appointed Parish Priest and this appointment lasted for 12 years.

Fr Jim Hughes

Photo courtesy Archives of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle

 Fr William Cantwell.  Photo courtesy Archives of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle

Fr P McAlindin

Photo courtesy Archives of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle

The year 1978 saw some changes within the parish.  The first pastoral team in the parish commenced consisting of Father Tony Brady, Sister Margaret Mary and Sister Cabrini.  However, Sister Margaret Mary became ill and died during the year.  At the end of the year Sisters Cabrini and Noreen were transferred and replaced by Sisters Helen, Virgilius and Monica.  Sister Helen taught religion two days a week at Holy Name School assisted by Sister Virgilius and they also looked after the state school apostolate and visitations within the parish.

Fr Tony Brady PP

May 1976 – April 1988

During the year a group was formed within the parish to assist the Parish Priest wherever possible.  This group introduced a register of new parishioners, visits to new parishioner homes and it created lists of parish organisations for placement on church noticeboards.  At the end of 1978 lay ministers of Communion were introduced into the parish with several people appointed to act as ministers for the year.

In 1978 proposals were being put forward for the erection of a church at Forster.  Father Brady, in a newsletter to the parishioners in May 1979 said “we are praying to discern God’s will for a new church at Forster”.  A new church was eventually erected on land adjoining the Presbytery in Lake Street in 1980 and subsequently consecrated by His Lordship Bishop Leo Clarke on 15 August 1980.  The church was dedicated to the “Holy Name of Jesus”.

On 2 March 1983, His Lordship Bishop Clarke returned to Forster to open and bless the new extensions to the Holy Name School.  The school celebrated its Silver Jubilee on 29 June 1986.

The Second Vatican Council, which met from 1962 until 1965, was the most significant event in the last 400 years of Church history.  The changes brought about by the Council were slow to take effect, but they gave birth to many “Renewal” movements within the Church.

The most significant renewal program for the Forster-Tuncurry Parish was the “Movement for a Better World”.  Adopted in July 1982, this was a program to outreach to all baptized Catholics and the involvement of willing Catholics in committees and groups to assist the Priest in the running of the Parish and maintaining contact with all Catholics in the community.  This saw the formation of a Parish Team and later a Pastoral Council and the holding of annual Assemblies.  A Liturgy Team and an Administration Team were also formed to ensure the laity was involved in all aspects of Parish life.  Other renewal movements such as Marriage Encounter, Cursillo and Family Groups continued to enliven the parishioners and encourage them to take an active role in the Parish.  The Diocesan Synod of 1992-93 adopted a similar system of Council, Team and Assembly for the Diocese and Parishes.

In 1983 the first “In Touch” newsletter was distributed to Catholics within the Parish area.  As mentioned, concern to maintain contact with all baptised Catholics was the reason for starting the newsletter and the Parish area was divided into 12 geographical zones with a network of co-ordinators and messengers set up to personally deliver the publication.  The newsletter was used to advise people of spiritual and social events within the Parish.  The social events were designed so that parishioners would get to know one another.  Over the years outings included picnics, dances, dinners, car rallies, morning and afternoon teas, quiz nights, housie nights, balls, tennis and cycling competitions, lake cruises, concerts and of course the three main and continuing events of each year – the Parish Dinner, Christmas Lunch and Pancake Tuesday.

Father Tony Brady was transferred in April 1988 and his successor was Father Kevin Corrigan.

Fr Kevin Corrigan PP April 1988 – February 1996 and July 2006 

During 1989 the Forster-Tuncurry Parish Team decided that a logo was required to represent the ideal of the Parish Plan and to promote its understanding.  Parishioners were requested to submit a design for the logo and from the 40 entries received, the design submitted by Debbie Tinker was selected.  The logo depicts two groups of people reaching out to each other from each side of the Forster-Tuncurry Bridge.  Above them in the sky, is the Cross, and in the foreground – dolphins, palms and water representing the area’s environment.  The motto – “Building Unity in Christ” came from an off the cuff remark by Father Kevin.

In 1992, the Parish appointed the first lay Pastoral Associate, Mrs Letty Bartlett, to assist the Parish Priest, Father Kevin Corrigan and Sister Kathryn McCabe in the pastoral care of the Parish.  In 1997, Cathy Keech was employed to oversee the Sacramental Program and Church Liturgy.  In 2000, Sister Louise McDonell joined the pastoral team and in 2001, Letty retired and was replaced by Greg Byrne.  The employment of lay staff to assist in the administration and pastoral care of the Parish showed the willingness to be forward-looking and to keep the Church active, and has meant the Church has continued to function efficiently through times of sickness and/or the absence of a Parish Priest.

Father Kevin’s term ended when he was transferred as Parish Priest to Gloucester on 1 February 1996.  Prior to Father Kevin’s transfer, Father Danny Austin was appointed Assistant Priest to Father Kevin who had also been appointed acting Parish Priest of Gloucester and Krambach, a post that had been vacant for some time.  Father Kevin and Father Danny shared the pastoral duties of both parishes for some months in 1995.

As a result of Bishop Clarke’s impending retirement due to ill health, Bishop Michael Malone was appointed Coadjuter Bishop of Maitland with right of succession and was consecrated on 15 February 1995.  Bishop Malone visited Forster-Tuncurry soon after and subsequently, it was announced that Father Danny Austin had been appointed Parish Priest from 1 February 1996 with Father Kevin Corrigan being appointed to Gloucester.

Father Danny Austin was duly installed as Parish Priest by Bishop Michael Malone on 5 March 1996.

Fr Danny Austin PP March 1996 – December 2001. 

In October 2000, Father Danny took sabbatical leave until July 2001.  Father Derek Garner became administrator to the Parish in November 2000 and served in that position until Father Danny’s return in July 2001.

After resuming duties for a short period, Father Danny again took leave in October 2001.  Father Pax Scarfe, a Franciscan Priest served the parish from 4 October until the end of December 2001.

On 1 January 2002, Father Tony Stace was appointed Parish Priest of the Forster-Tuncurry Parish.

Fr Tony Stace PP

January 2002 – December 2005.

Father Tony was acutely aware of the shortage of priests in the Catholic Church and particularly within the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.  His vision was to have a single church serving both Forster and Tuncurry, large enough to accommodate the parish congregation in fewer Masses and able to fit the holiday crowds.  He began planning for this concept, but was diagnosed with cancer and was hospitalised on Christmas Day 2005.  He subsequently was unable to return to active ministry and passed away in July 2007.

During those times when the Parish was without a resident Priest, Father Phil Murphy, a retired Priest who lived locally came to the assistance of the Parish.  Father Brian Quillinan became a Priest in Residence from February to June 2006.  Father Brian attended to the sacramental needs of the Parish, but the administrative duties fell to the lay leadership.

On 1 July 2006, Father Kevin Corrigan returned to the Forster-Tuncurry Parish to once again become the Parish Priest.

Fr Andrew Doohan became Priest at Forster-Tuncurry Parish from Jan 2012 – Mar 2015.

In March 2015 Fr Greg Barker took over as Parish Priest until June 2021.

In June 2021 Fr Peter Street became Parish Priest at Forster-Tuncurry Catholic Parish.