The late 1860’s,
‘The spiritual wants of the of the small flock in Southport were attended to by visiting priests’ with long intervals between visits. Fr. Denis Fouhy came from Brisbane to celebrate Mass at Binstead’s of Upper Coomera; O’Hanion’s old Hotel in Southport; and Dolan’s in Tallebudgera. Fr. Schurr, Fr. Healy, and Dean Doyle were other early visitors.
However, the history of the Church in the Southport area rightfully commences with the first priest to visit the area on a regular basis, Fr. Benedetto Scortechini, one of a group of Italian priests invited to work here by Bishop James Quinn of the Diocese of Brisbane. With few roads, and only horseback as his means of transport, it is remarkable that this young man found the time to establish churches at Yatala in 1875, Tallebudgera in 1878, and Southport and Nerang in 1882.
The New Parish of Southport
Our parish was officially designated in 1892, and the first resident priest was the Rev. Dr. Michael Patterson. With the co-operation of Archbishop Dunne, land and buildings were purchased. The Church was built by Mr. L. H. Thams, a leading local building contractor in 1903, and was recently demolished to give way to a department store. One of the early weddings celebrated in the ‘new’ Church, was that of Joseph Gooding and Sarah Dolan.
Dr. Patterson died suddenly in 1903 and was succeeded by Fr. McCarthy as the second Parish Priest of Southport. In 1905, because of the growth of the area, he had to enlarge the old Church, and remained in charge of the Parish until Fr. F. Burton took over in 1908. During those years the normal eight hour journey by sea from Brisbane to Southport could be replaced by a rail journey to Beenleigh followed by a twenty-five mile coach journey.
In 1918, Fr Goggin suceeded Fr McCarthy and was Parish Priest until his death in 1931. During this time, the parish of Southport was sub-divided and new parishes established.
“The Catholic Advocate” of November 27, 1921, in reporting a visit to Southport by Archbishop Duhig says: “His Grace Archbishop Duhig announces that he has subdivided the large parish of Southport, forming a parish at Coolangatta, and another at Beenleigh. The Coolangatta Parish will be in charge of Rev. Leo Carlton, and Beenleigh in chagre of Rev. John Humphries, late of Warwick”.
Father Meeagh became parish priest on January 25, 1932, and was assisted by Fr Quinn. The South Coast Bulletin of 29th January, 1932, records their arrival and welcome:“Mr. T. Flood Plunkett, MLA, voiced the welcome of the parishioners to the two priests and expressed pleasure at the Foundation of such distinguished Order at Southport”.
1934 was an important year for the Church, as it was in this year that Star of the Sea Convent commenced secondary schooling for both girls and boys. The Primary section was separated from the Secondary section. Much of the burden of Secondary Education was borne by The Sisters of Mercy from that time until the opening of Aquinas in 1964.
Archbishop Duhig, in 1935, officially opened St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church at Upper Coomera, and a small church was established at Surfers’ Paradise to cater for the local residents and the growing number of regular holiday-makers from “the metropolis”. It wasn’t to be until 1946 that Surfers’ Paradise would become a separate parish in its own right.
Southport Parish, Post-war
For Southport, the fifties were years of development and expansion. Population grew rapidly, and with the new affluence and better communication of the post war era, new homes were established and building and business activity of all sorts increased. Many new community facilities were provided. Sub-Senior and Senior classes were introduced at Star of the Sea as Co-educational classes.
Indeed the decade of the fifties was a period of fund raising for new building ventures. Many people were trying desperately to make up for what they had lost during two world wars and a depression by ensuring that their children would have the best of everything materially available. Money was raised for a new church, and for extensions to Guardian Angels’ School.
The Post-war baby boom continued. Art Unions would soon replace the Chocolate Wheel on the beach, the solution to fund raising in an earlier era. A monster Fair was held on 31st October 1953 to commemorate the golden jubilee of the erection of Guardian Angels’ Church. In September 1955 , the plans for the new Guardian Angels’ Church were displayed publicly. The following month a fete raised £1,410 towards its cost. It was to cost £47,000, and have a seating capacity of 500 in the nave and 56 in the gallery.
History may record the 60’s as one of the most significant decades in the history of the Church. At least it will acknowledge that era as producing many important, fundamental changes in practices and attitudes within the Church. It was the era of Vatican II. Mass was now said in the vernacular; the altar was turned around so that the priest faced the people; more and more ministries were performed by members of the laity; and the liturgy of the word took on a new signifance for many Catholics.
Southport Parish records show that our Community was ready to move with the times. It was in 1965, mid-way through the deliberations of the Vatican Council, that Frank Cullen was commissioned to design the new Labrador Church with the Altar facing the people.
One of the biggest developments undertaken during the sixties was the establishment of Aquinas College, the much needed secondary school for boys. November 1963 the foundation stone was laid by Archbishop Sir James Duhig, on the land of a former forestry reserve. The Christian Brothers had given a guarantee to staff the school, and it opened its doors in 1964.
In a tribute to Fr. Turnbull’s contribution during his first stay as Parish Priest, the Gold Coast Bulletin of November 10th of that year said of Father that he “…was always approachable and patient with a jovial personality and pleasent manner. A man of vision and inexhaustable energy, he set in motion a new finance insurance scheme in the parish this year.”
Father Turnbull was instrumental in providing a basic structure for the Southport Parish which we still follow today.
Southport Parish Future
Southport Catholic Parish is now one of the largest Catholic Parishes in Australia, indeed it is large by world standards! We now encompass areas from Runaway Bay to the North and Surfers Paradise in the South.
We have three churches, a highly respected College , Aquinas College, a well regarded Primary School, Guardian Angels’ and De Paul Villa our home for the love and care of the aged and aged infirmed within our community. All are housed at the Southport Catholic Precinct at Ashmore on Queensland’s Gold Coast.
Like everything on the Gold Coast more is being demanded of us, especially in the area of social care and welfare. It is in this area that there needs to be significant development in the future and, with God’s help, we will be able to further the reign of God here on the Coast.
Now, in 2000, the Parish looks toward the future. Recent years have seen vast changes in the mobility and stress level of the people of the Southport Parish. The challenge of ministering to a mobile community, and a rapidly changing church, are no less in significance than those facing our early pioneers. With Confidence and Joy, we face the future.
– Author: Jim Slingsby