Sesqui-Centenary of Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church, Dover

Decrease font size
Increase font size
Print this page

This church building was blessed and opened on 22 January 1867, this every day, 150 years ago. It is fitting that this sesqui-centenary be appropriately honoured, and the history of this church and community be acknowledged.

This church can claim to be the southern most Catholic church in Australia, as Dover is the southern most town in Australia. Though I have to mention that when I said a Mass at St Brendan’s on Bruny Island, I was informed that, by exact calculation, St Brendan’s could make the claim. However, for the purposes of today we will allow the claim of this church at Dover to be upheld.

The church was blessed by the second bishop of Hobart Town, Bishop Patrick Murphy, accompanied by a number of clergy, including his Vicar General, Dr Dunne, and the parish priests of Richmond, New Norfolk, Franklin, and Port Cygnet.

They had travelled by the steamer, Cobro, from Hobart Town firstly to Franklin where the local parish priest entertained them for the night and next morning, a Tuesday, they set out for Port Esperance, as Dover was then called, enjoying, we are told, the beauty of the river and the rolling hills.

It is worth noting that Franklin was the location of the first church in the Huon, with the first priest being Fr John Murphy. He was appointed in 1855 and Bishop Willson blessed St Mary’s Church, Franklin, the very next year, 1856. Fr Murphy established a rather humble church at Port Cygnet and used to row over the river to the community there. He also built St Joseph’s church at Geeveston. He was responsible for the construction of this church. Incidentally, this church cost the princely sum of £400, though that would have been a good deal of money for the rather small community of Catholic families in this area. The church was designed by Henry Hunter who was responsible for many of the early Catholic churches in Tasmania, including St Mary’s at Franklin.

This is now the oldest wooden building in Dover, having survived among other things a serious fire in February 1893, which scorched it and destroyed the bellcote.

We do have a little mystery of names here. The church was originally under the patronage of St Joseph, but now bears the rather unique title of “Our Lady of Hope”. I can find no information about the change of name and the significance attached to this rather attractive designation of Marian patronage.

I am pleased that this church, which is historically linked to this beautiful but somewhat remote part of the Huon, has been preserved. I take this opportunity to thank those who have worked for its restoration, even though this task remains a work in progress, and I hope further restoration will occur. It is important that we preserve our spiritual heritage captured in our churches, even simple ones like Our Lady of Hope.

It is important that the town of Dover, the most southern most town in Australia, has a Catholic church to serve the local community and be a sign of Catholic presence. I note that when this church was blessed and opened the local community, both Catholic and Protestants, gathered for the occasion. Churches are important for local communities and carry the history and memories of the community. 

Dover has its own history. Beginning as a convict probation station in 1845, it grew up around the timber industry, at one stage having four large timber mills. It also developed a significant orchard industry and now fishing is the backbone of the local economy particularly through the farming of Atlantic salmon. I should mention that I have just returned from Sri Lanka and there, in the centre of the Island, I enjoyed an entrée of Tasmanian salmon (possibly from this very area).

It is my hope that this community, set in such beautiful country with a majestic river flowing by, will be served for many years to come by this humble church.

In the Gospel today we read of the calling of the first disciples, fishermen from the Sea of Galilee. The public ministry of Jesus began at a simple lakeside town. Jesus began among simple people in an isolated location. So let us never discount that great things can come from humble beginnings. Let us not discount Dover as simply a small isolated community at the extremities of the Huon. Nor let us discount the Huon itself. It has a rich and proud Catholic heritage. And it has a capacity for great spiritual fruitfulness.

Let me conclude with a simple exhortation.

Jesus called simple fishermen to become “fishers of men”. Later, he would formally endorse them as his apostles. They were not only to follow him, but were intended by the Lord to become active agents in his work. They were to become the foundation for his Church.

Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium, his Apostolic Exhortation on evangelisation, used the term “missionary disciples” to describe this role. He said that all Catholics are to be missionary disciples.

He stated, “I dream of a 'missionary option', that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation” (EG 27).

This is a bold vision, but one that is critical to the Church in our time. We as Catholics cannot but see ourselves as being missionary. This must become the focus for the Church in our time, in Tasmania, in the Huon, in Dover.

It is my call to each member of the Church. You are to be missionary. We together need to be outward looking and not focused, as the Pope says, simply on self-preservation. The Church, the parish, does not exist for us but rather we as members of the Church exist for the conversion of the world around us.

We are to be missionary disciples.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Sunday, 22 January 2017