It’s not often that open for inspection details include a welcome to mass, but then the property listing for 57 Stanley Street in Tarnagulla is quite unique.
St Francis Xavier's Catholic Church was built in 1911 and sits on approximately one acre in the tiny township. Scheduled for auction on March 3 by Maryborough Ballarat Real Estate, Saturday’s noon open for inspection will be preceded by mass, with an open invitation to both.
Among the handful of parishioners who’ll attend the 11am service will be Wendy Sutton, who has been a member of the church since she was born. Acting as its caretaker, 72-year-old Wendy cleans the building and prepares it for mass, while husband John also visits on the tractor to keep surrounding suckers and shrubs at bay.
Wendy is part of five generations of the Hancock family who have worshipped at this church, gathering to both celebrate and mourn. “My grandparents, parents, brother and I were all christened and did our first holy communion in the church ... and now my great granddaughter has been christened there,” she said. “My parents, aunty, and cousins were all married there, and our son and a nephew were buried from there.”
Wendy’s Aunty Kath used to live a block from the church and looked after its records (which date back to 1919) for many years, eventually handing the job to Wendy. As a young girl Wendy lived with her family in Murphys Creek, and went to St Francis Xavier's every Sunday morning. “There was a lady down the road from the church who made homemade lollies and ice-cream,” she recalls. “All our cousins were there and my brother and I wanted to play, but if we behaved ourselves we could buy an ice-cream and lollies. Naturally you behaved yourself, didn’t you?!”
According to Wendy, the little church was quite full in those days, with about 60-70 parishioners filling the pews each Sunday. The congregation was made up of people from Tarnagulla, together with nearby Newbridge, Laanecoorie and Murphys Creek.
As was the case with many churches, an ageing population was not replaced by the next generation, and diminishing numbers resulted in the church being closed for a couple of years during the 1970s. It later reopened when a new priest arrived in the parish.
What happens to the church after the auction remains to be seen, however converting it into a private dwelling is one of the possibilities. It’s a transformation that’s become increasingly popular over the years, resulting in some truly spectacular homes. With its large open space, timber floors, leadlight windows and timber-lined ceiling vaulted above the alter, St Francis Xavier's Catholic Church could undoubtedly fit the bill.