Closure of St Mary's Church, Franklin

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > Closure of St Mary's Church, Franklin

5th Sunday Year C
10 February, 2013
Closure of St. Mary’s Church, Franklin

I might be wrong in making this claim, but I think it is very likely that I came to this church before any of you here today. During my early childhood, I often came to visit a great aunt, Auntie Annie, and her husband Daniel Ryan, who lived on a property just a few hundred metres further down the road towards Geeveston. I recall that the Parish Priest at the time was Fr. Leo Sherry and there were Sisters of St Joseph in the Convent, conducting the school at the time. It would not have entered my head that I would be the one, over 60 years on, who would be overseeing the closure of the church, but that is what is happening today.

There can be no doubt that there is sadness in the hearts of all of us as we assemble in this church for the last time before the final gesture of closure at the conclusion of the Mass. Maybe a future purchaser will put the building to another use, and we might be back to see what developments have taken place.

The town of Franklin, as we know, has a long history, going back to the time of Governor Sir John Franklin and his wife Lady Jane. Franklin was then the most important settlement on the Huon River, and a busy port, from where the products of the locality were shipped away, mostly up to Hobart. This building is over 150 years old, and it was built according to a design of the noted architect, Henry Hunter, who was a student of Augustus Welby Pugin.

Over a number of years now, some serious discussions have taken place about the future needs of the parish. Although Franklin is going through something of a revival, it is not the centre of activity in the Huon Valley as it once was and the three buildings on the site, the church, the presbytery and the convent, in recent times, have clearly been in need of very serious renovation for some considerable time.

Many communities in Tasmania have had to face the consequences of the movement of people the decline in the rural economy and sadly, the decline also in the number of people actively participating in the life of the community. Schools have closed, shops have closed, halls have closed and other religious communities have made similar decisions as well.

I know that the process of consideration of the future needs of the parish began a number of years ago, back in the time of Fr. Graeme Howard. He was the one who instigated the strongly consultative process which has gone on during the intervening years, one which Fr Greg has taken up energetically since he came to the parish four years ago. The final decision may be one that none of us wanted to make, and it may not be the one what we would have preferred, but things cannot just be left to go on, because there are consequences as a result of that inaction as well.

This church of course is a heritage building, so the negotiations that take place about its eventual alternative use, will have to be carried out according to those requirements. As with the proceeds from the sale of the presbytery and convent, all monies will immediately be allocation to the construction of the planned new church in Ranelagh which will be more than adequate to serve the needs of the area.

If we turn to the readings of the particular Sunday, we find that both Isaiah and St. Peter were struggling with what today we would term “low self-esteem.” Isaiah had a vision in the temple in Jerusalem and he becomes acutely aware of the holiness of God. When his attention turns to himself, however, it is not much of a vision: he says “What a wretched state I am in, I am lost.” However, Isaiah does not stay around the temple nurturing his own depression. He accepts the forgiveness of God when it is offered. His conviction of the reality of God’s forgiveness frees him to respond to God’s challenge.

He is no longer occupied with his own unworthiness. God’s forgiveness has released him for mission so that he can offer himself: “Here I am, send me.” Something of the same story is told in the Gospel. Peter and his companions, all professional fishermen had been out all night, when the fish were more likely to come to the surface. But still they did not have any luck. And then they were told by someone who was not in the profession to put out again, this time in the daylight, and as we say, the rest is history.

Peter recognises the hand of God in what happened and at the same time, he is aware of his own sinfulness. His advice to Jesus was to move on, and to have nothing to do with the likes of him. But Jesus was having none of that. It was not his way to put distance between himself and the people. In fact his approach was the very opposite.
As in the case of Isaiah, once the barrier of  lack of self-esteem had been overcome, Peter, too was ready for an important mission.

There is an important lesson for us here. God simply does not ever write us off, no matter what our past has been like. He believes that all of us have a future as well as a past. St Paul also learned the same lesson and he was given an important mission as well. He was able to say “Christ died for our sins.” Jesus thought we were worth dying for.

If the readings are indicating strongly that we have a future as well as a past, then that is a very important message for us today. I wish to acknowledge the sadness that many of you feel, the disappointment that things have come to a point such as this. There are people here today and others from the past, who have expended considerable time and personal effort in maintaining this building and the community which has gathered here each week. We acknowledge you, salute you, respect and thank you.

What we need is the conviction and courage to see things through. We have to stay around while the plans for a new church take final shape and come to fruition. Sunday worship will not be in this building, but there are other locations, all within relatively easy access these days. There you can still join in the celebration of the community by hearing together the Word of God, and celebrating together the death and resurrection of Jesus, as we are doing today.

Just before I conclude, I wish to remind you that we commence the period of Lent on this coming Wednesday. It is any early start this year, and again there will be a focus for us in supporting Project Compassion. The theme this year is “Open the doors into the future” which comes from one of Pope Benedict’s letters on the theme of hope. The face of Project Compassion this year is a 12 year old girl Ditosa from Mozambique. Her parents have both died from Aids, and the grandmother and aunt who care for her and her little sister are both HIV positive and too weak to work.

What gives her hope and opportunities is a project funded by Caritas Australia known as the Matuba Children’s Centre, where Ditosa can learn new skills, where there is proper sanitation and hygiene, and where the participants are able to grow vegetables for their own use and for sale.

I am very grateful for the contribution to Caritas Australia here in Tasmania of $350,000 last year, part of a wonderful nationwide result of over $10.3 million, the first time that amount has been achieved. That happened during my last year as Chairman of Caritas Australia, so I can rightly claim to be a $10m man. I commend the spiritual significance of Lent, and the support of Caritas to you yet again this year.