Barcaldine Convent

Source: Hoch, Isabel. 2008. Pages 33, 63
Between the Bougainvilleas. 2004. Page 29

Our Lady of Perpetual Succour Convent opened on 3 February, 1896 when the Sisters of Mercy commenced Catholic schooling in Barcaldine in a two-storey structure with verandahs on the front and two sides. It was the residence of the Sisters as well as being a school, having nine rooms upstairs for the sisters, each opening off a central room. The bottom storey had service rooms and classrooms. Its total length was 60 ft. with a depth of 33 ft. A tender of £1,000 from Rathbone and Sons of Rockhampton was accepted for the building early in 1895 but as Maryborough pine was used, transport difficulties delayed the work all year. A school began in the convent with almost 100 pupils in the charge of Sisters Mary Muredach (Superior), M. Catherine and Fayne, assisted by Miss Catherine Lobie who taught music.

As the years passed the convent building grew. In 1909 a new wing was added to the eastern side, giving extra accommodation on the first floor. In 1912 a 12 ft verandah was added to the back portion. In 1914 a large new classroom was joined to the old one by a 10 ft. verandah for a total cost of £1,079. It was opened by Bishop Shiel of Rockhampton in August 1914, with a considerable debt outstanding. In 1920 there was an intake of boarders.

During the war years, when Range Convent scholars had to leave the coastal areas, accommodation was provided in Barcaldine for them, and what was then the Presbytery was willingly given up by the clergy to house the children. Fortunately the Church owned another property in close proximity and it remained the residence of Father Pyke and Father Bagley. Their original quarters were transformed into a club room, the rendezvous for social functions in connexion with church work.

In the forties, one of the first to change as part of the renewal of buildings in town was the convent. 1946, as part of the Golden Jubilee celebrations for the Sisters of Mercy in Barcaldine, a new school was added to the convent, and it was remodelled and enlarged. With the improvements opened in 1946, ‘the Convent extended 122 ft in length and 46 ft in depth. It had ‘a most artistic frontal appearance’, designed by the Rev. Father Pyke. A septic system was installed on each floor, and each cell, complete with wardrobe and duchess, contained a set-in basin’. The altered building with its distinctive arched windows cost the parish £6,000 but was opened free of debt on 26 May 1946.

Jubilee celebrations lasted four days, and included a Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving, a grand jubilee Ball and a reunion of past students. During the reunion, pride was expressed at the many pupils who had entered religious life. Two girls who enrolled on opening day in 1896 became Sister M. Sebastian (Mary Ryan) and Sister M. Leonard (Louisa Vale) and many others including two priests – Fr. Vincent Ashwood and Monsignor R. W. Lyons (the son of solicitor and past shire chairman, R. F. Lyons).

The blessing of the convent was conducted by Archbishop Duhig, witnessed by a large number of people, including many visitors. On his arrival he walked through a guard of honour formed by the pupils of the school, and also by Hibernians. The Morning Bulletin reported that the Archbishop’s speech included special mention of the:

splendid service Father Pyke had given to the parish.He said that Father Pyke had launched the appeal for funds to bring about the erection of the structure with confidence. In addition, the architectural design, admired by all, was planned by him.He further said that he was so taken up with the design that he felt sure that if Father Pyke had not joined the Church he would have followed architecture; there would have been Pykehouses, bridges, &c, all over Queensland.

The Morning Bulletin also listed the members of the clergy present: His Grace, Archbishop Duhig (Brisbane), Rt Rev Monsignor Rowan
(Mackay), Very Rev. Dean McIlhenny (Longreach), Rev. Father Lyons (CSSR), Rev. Father Dobson (CSSR), Rev. Father Dunphy (CSSR), Rev. Father Pyke, Rev. Father D. O’Meara (Hughenden), Rev. Father R. Lyons (Childers), Rev: Father M. O’Connell (Alpha), Rev. Father T. Murphy (Rockhampton), Rev. Father K. Bagley (Barcaldine), Rev. Father V. Ashwood (Kolyo), and Rev. Father M. Greene (Longreach).

The Convent was demolished in 2002, its upkeep becoming uneconomical for the members of the Catholic community. Golden Jubilee of Convent MornBull30May1946
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