Restoring hope and a “brand-new start” in Dover
By Catherine Sheehan
The tiny wooden church of St Mary Our Hope has stood in the pretty Tasmanian town of Dover, overlooking the stunning Port Esperance Bay, for more than 150 years. It is the oldest wooden building in Dover, and the southernmost Catholic church in Australia.
After being damaged by a deliberately lit fire in 2017, the historic Catholic church has been lovingly restored and was blessed and dedicated for liturgical use by Archbishop Julian on 26 November.
“The title of St Mary Our Hope is very applicable here because this lovely little wooden church, the southernmost church in Tasmania, has had a number of efforts to improve it, after the fire made it unusable,” Archbishop Julian told the Catholic Standard.
“I’m very grateful to CatholicCare, through St Joseph Affordable Homes, in offering to assist in the restoration of the church and enable it be repainted and the sacristy rebuilt.
“It’s been a wonderful cooperative effort by the parish community.”
This was the second restoration of the church which was also damaged by a bushfire in 1893.
The recent restoration was funded by CatholicCare Tasmania and the work carried out by St Joseph Affordable Homes. The sacristy had to be entirely rebuilt and several broken windows replaced.
“It’s such a great history here, and the fire has given us the impetus, with CatholicCare to get this work done,” said Huon Valley Parish Priest, Fr Warren Edwards.
“It’s a significant thing just for the Dover community to see the Catholic Church well and alive.”
Fr Warren said Sunday Mass would resume at St Mary Our Hope on 2 January.
Parish volunteers helped with repainting the church, including members of local religious order, Little Eucharistic Brothers of Divine Will. Br Gilbert Joseph, Br Stephen Joseph, and Br John Joseph helped to paint the church, clean windows and restore statues. Br Gilbert Joseph said he was proud of the “marvellous work of everybody” in restoring the church.
“Its named St Mary Our Hope because of Port Esperance Bay, with “esperance” meaning “hope”, and there’s also the three islands in the Bay called Faith, Hope and Charity,” Br Gilbert said.
“So this is St Mary Our Hope, and I think at this time, one thing many people need is hope.”
On the same day, Archbishop Julian also officially opened and blessed 15 social housing units adjacent to the church, built through a partnership between the Archdiocese of Hobart and the Tasmanian Government, to assist in housing those on the public housing wait list.
Construction of the one and two-bedroom units was undertaken by St Joseph Affordable Homes, a building and construction social enterprise of the Archdiocese of Hobart. The state government provided the vacant land and also partly funded the development by way of a public tender. CatholicCare funded the remainder.
“The provision of housing is a fundamental human need,” Archbishop Julian said.
“It is also true that having one’s own house provides a sense of a person’s worth and dignity.”
Huon Valley Mayor, Bec Enders, attended the opening and said she was “delighted” by the quality of the units.
“Being able to rent a house at an affordable rate provides a lot of dignity, hope, and ability for people to get up on their feet,” Ms Enders said.
“It is essential to have more affordable housing.”
A tenant moving into one of the new units, Michael, said he had been homeless for six months prior to securing one of the homes, due to the rising cost of rental properties. He described his new home as “absolutely magnificent”.
“This is a brand-new start for me,” he said.
“This is opportunity. I never expected it and it will take me a while to process.
“I’m overwhelmed by the generosity of the diocese and the Council and the government. It gives me a perspective on what can be done through cooperation between government and the Church. It’s truly humbling.”
St Joseph Affordable Homes Chief Executive Officer, Ben Wilson, said this was the agency’s first project in the Huon Valley and there were more projects in the pipeline for the region. Local government had been “very supportive” throughout the Dover project, Mr Wilson said.
“We spent a lot of time engaging with the Council members about what we’re doing here and what we’re proposing for the future as well.”