Nullawil 90th Anniversary

St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Nullawil celebrated its 90th anniversary on Sunday, July 8. What a great celebration it was, with over 100 people attending the Mass celebrated by Bishop Paul Bird and Fr Ed Moloney. Past members returned along with current parishioners, community members and many from the surrounding district.

Denis Ryan welcomed guests to the Mass and acknowledged the traditional owners of the land. He also acknowledged the early Mallee settlers for establishing small communities like Nullawil. He thanked Bishop Paul Bird and former parish Priest Ed Moloney for celebrating the Mass and Joan Glenn for playing the organ with some old time hymns.  Children took part in the service offering Prayers of the Faithful and being part of the Offertory Procession. Readings were proclaimed by Robert James and Amy Smith.


Joan Smith introduced several people carrying objects symbolizing a 90 year faith journey.

The land this church was built on was donated by James Bartram, a Methodist. To represent this his granddaughter, Lois Bartram, carried a jar of soil from the church grounds. It is also an important symbol of the interfaith connections that have been forged over the years. Nowadays we attend one another’s churches, have had many ecumenical services and Lois has for many years organised joint children’s services.

Ted Ryan carried a bookstand which was used on the altar for years and on it was a Latin volume representing the history of the Catholic Church. Until the early 1960s, Mass was celebrated in Latin.

The first wedding in the Church was between Frances Forrester and Gorrie Schifferle. Veronica Doran (nee Forrester) presented a photo of the couple from their wedding day.

For many years Mrs Margaret Forrester instructed children in their faith. Two former pupils of hers, Simone Fawcett and Melissa Gilchrist, carried a catechism and also one of her teaching aids (a large wall hanging with flip over pages, with prayers and religious pictures on it).


The Catholic Women’s Social Guild, later the Catholic Women’s League, was represented with Denise Hogan carrying a banner from when Nullawil hosted a CWL conference and also a container of medals of Mary the mother of Jesus, which are pinned on all mothers at Mass on Mother’s Day.

The Sacraments are an integral part of our faith journey.  Kaylene James carried a copy of “Let the Children Come” which she used for many years to guide children of St Joseph’s through their first Eucharist and Confirmation, following in the footsteps of Mrs Forrester.  With Kaylene was Rhett Hogan bringing forward a communion plate and sacramental stole.

And finally Jenna Hogan carried her grandfather Leo’s rosary beads. Many rosaries would have been said on these beads – the older parishioners had a great devotion to praying the Rosary.

In the homily given by Bishop Paul Bird, he said the anniversary was an occasion to give thanks for many blessings. It is an opportunity to give thanks for faith throughout the years and to all those who have been baptised, married, confirmed, buried and attended Sunday Mass. (Incidentally on July 7, 1928, sliced bread was being sold for the first time in Missouri, USA).  The church is a sign of continuing faith and perseverance. Sometimes we can “take things for granted”, rather than “take things with gratitude”. The celebration is about 90 years of God’s work in peoples lives through their joys and sorrows.  He concluded giving a blessing to the community of Nullawil.

The Mass was followed by a luncheon at the Auchmore Historical Museum, with the opportunity to reminisce and enjoy past friendships. The Nullawil Netball ladies provided soup, savouries, sandwiches and an assortment of home-cooked cakes and slices. Historical members provided guests with a tour of the museum and items were performed during the afternoon.

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St Joseph’s Church, Nullawil was officially blessed and opened on July 7, 1928 by Fr Francis, a Redemptorist priest deputising for Bishop Foley of Ballarat.  Prior to that Nullawil Catholics had to “make do” with Mass being celebrated, by visiting priests, in local homes, in the dining room of the “Joy” (wine shanty), and in the hall, where worshippers had to be careful not to slip on the dance floor, especially prepared for Saturday night dances.

The church was built on land donated by James Bartram. The builder was Jack O’Shea of Lalbert the cost approximately 1000 pounds.  The wooden altar was donated by Count O’Loughlin of Culgoa, who had land in Nullawil and it was made by Gomma and Price, cabinet makers of Donald.  The organ was donated by the McKusker family. (James McKuster was in the Blacksmith shop.)

Nullawil was originally part of the Quambatook Parish. In 1958, St Joseph’s became part of the newly formed Wycheproof Parish.

The church in Nullawil has seen many changes in the last 90 years: Mass being said in English instead of Latin; the altar being turned to face the people; the increasing involvement of lay people in mass, from lay readers to special ministers and from 1995 as the numbers of priests started to dwindle, Assemblies of Word led by lay-people.

St Joseph’s has weathered storms and droughts and in recent years floods.  The congregation has dwindled along with the town population, but a few families attend Mass regularly and some young people are still involved.

So rickety, on a lean and definitely looking worse for wear, the church begins its tenth decade, with a new chapter in its life, for more changes are on the way.  From July 12, 2018, Nullawil will be part of a new parish which has been formed by incorporating the former parishes of Birchip, Donald, Wycheproof, Charlton and St Arnaud – the Parish of Mary Glowrey, East Wimmera.  We acknowledge Fr Eugene McKinnon who is a wonderful supporter of our community.

St Josephs may be old and decrepit but it has nurtured many and the spirit of faith it has engendered lives on. Thank you St Joseph’s.

Joan Smith and Wendy Watts