St Anthony's Parish History:
In 1950 a recreation hall previously erected and used by CUSA (Catholic United Services Association) was relocated from the Army base at Cabarlah to Memory Street, Harristown. On 12th July it became a Mass Centre of Toowoomba West, to which the Catholics of Harristown belonged. They had been worshipping at the school Mass Centre of Our Lady of Lourdes.
A few days after celebrating the first Mass at Memory Street, Father McMorrow was invited to afternoon tea with the Bishop, who congratulated him as the official Parish Priest of Toowoomba West. This included the suburbs of Harristown, which had a hut for a church, and Newtown with only a school.
Discovering his talent for fund-raising, Father McMorrow immediately engaged his parishioners of Newtown and Harristown in community activities. As a result Newtown had its church, presbytery and curate by 1952.
Harristown waited with a willing spirit of co-operation, evident in supportive parish groups, rapidly formed, including the Holy Name Society, the Catholic Daughters of Australia (later to become the Catholic Women's League), the Children of Mary, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the Boy Scouts.
In 1954 Father McMorrow learned that a community of Presentation Sisters would be ready to come to Harristown in the following year if a convent was available. Relying on pick, shovel, hand cement-mixing and lavish smoke-o's supplied by the women, as many as 20 men at a time assisted the builders at weekends to have the convent ready on time.
Use of the church as temporary school raised the issue of building a separate parish church. With support of his parish community, Father Mc Morrow's energy and drive resulted in the fine building completed in 1966 – a fitting symbol for the conclusion of Vatican II and a response to its call for liturgical renewal.
The former church building had been removed to Stephen Street and used as a temporary Mass centre. It then became the parish hall, available for church and school gatherings and also for rental for approved purposes.
Meanwhile the Sisters continued to make their enduring mark on the parish. Faith was nurtured in sacramental life, daily Mass and other devotions. Pupils were educated and trained in social, cultural and community life that brought highlights in sport, speech, music and drama.
New challenges in the 1980’s included the diminishing number of Sisters. St. Anthony's, led by a lay principal, defined itself as a self-renewing Catholic school community. By 1992 parents were making individual contributions to every facet of school life.
An era ended in 1992 with the retirement of Father McMorrow to Lourdes Home. Father Sweeney, a reserved, prayerful, scholarly man who had been his assistant, was appointed Parish Priest. Other priests who had ministered at St Anthony's during the previous forty years included Fathers Brian O'Dwyer, Peter Byrnes, Jim Madden, Rod McGinley, Brian Murphy and Peter Mulder.
Two years after his appointment, Father Sweeney died suddenly on the feast of St. Anthony (June 13) in 1994). An anxious time of waiting followed with the Diocesan shortage of priests now recognised as a growing reality.
Bishop William Morris set in motion a collaborative process where the Parish Community recognised its strengths and its needs. Meetings were held while the parish had the regular care of Father Des Coates, a member of the ‘Legionaries of Christ’, previously a full-time Chaplain at the University of Southern Queensland, who had, however, previously ‘plugged gaps’ where the need arose elsewhere in the City. His daily ministry, a kind of 'mini-mission', resulted in living liturgy, name tags, welcome, adult education, and recognition of church as community.
In November 1995 Father Peter Dorfield, nominated and appointed as Parish Priest, invited his people to journey with him in the spirit of Vatican II - a pilgrim church reaching in love beyond familiar boundaries, becoming a sacrament of the love and goodness of God.
Twenty-one of the seventy nominations for St. Anthony's first Parish Council were offered for election at the end of 1996. Four men and six women (including Pastoral Associate Sister Rita Clancy) were elected. Lay – and especially parental – involvement followed in parish life, ranging from sacramental initiation, Eucharistic ministry and Adoration, baptism, funeral and marriage preparation and support, to Care and Concern and playgroup.
The joys, sorrows, and growth in faith life of one or many became the concern of all, with reminders in the Newsletter and at morning Eucharist of the requiem or other sacramental occasion to follow in the day or the week.
A concelebrated Eucharist at Lourdes Home on 3rd June 1993 had marked the 65th anniversary of Father McMorrow's priesthood. After regular visits from parishioners and the devoted care of Father Peter Dorfield, he died in 1999. The reverence, dignity and affection of his final farewell reflected the place he had occupied in the lives and hearts of his parishioners.
Father Dorfield had celebrated his 25 years of ordination two years previously, in 1997. His remaining years at St. Anthony's till 2008 were a time of consolidation of his unfailing concern, and the fulfilment of his dream to realise the potential of the church itself. He succeeded in transforming it into an open, beautiful place of dignified liturgy and welcome.
The church was not large enough for the Eucharist and parish farewell to Father Peter at Easter of 2008. A large area of the school grounds became an adequate venue, lovingly prepared by many members of ‘his’ Community, for worship, thanks and good wishes.
Father John Peard ended a long period of ministry in the far west of the Diocese to become the next parish priest of St. Anthony's, where the energetic commitment of Pastoral Associate Trish Zeller and the functioning parish teams had prepared for transition. Under Trish’s leadership extending over the previous 5+years, the St Anthony’s Community became ‘home’ to a growing number of Refugees and Migrants from Sudan and other areas, many of whom are still with us, with others moving on, following their integration into the wider Toowoomba community.
Parishioners welcomed Father Peard's pastoral concern and strong spirituality, but a new problem was emerging. The parish house had become a hub of activity at the expense of remaining a suitable and private Priest’s residence. It was a building that needed much repair. A suitable residence for Father Peard was there found and purchased, in nearby Friend Street.
After general Community discussion, decisions were made to – demolish the parish house; pursue an offer to purchase the parish Hall in Stephen Street (eventually abandoned); and construct on the site of the former presbytery a true ‘parish house’ that would meet all existing needs.
Such a resource near the church building is the next dream of St. Anthony's. It recognises the expressed conviction that, despite dwindling attendances and the geographical size of Toowoomba West, the best sign of church life remains in a visible, closely knit, active community. Its completion would fittingly mark the 60 years during which there has been a St Anthony’s Community at Harristown, and give new life to the Parish motto – A place at the Table for all.
Written by Parishioner Doreen O'Sullivan