Looking back ten years ago to the pioneering days of the Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in Thurgoona, NSW, I remember very well the long hours of planning and work to establish this new parish. As a newly ordained priest, I recall standing on the virgin soil where only gum trees and native scrub flourished. This block of land was purchased for the purpose of establishing a new parish in the Diocese of Wagga Wagga. "There you are; now build your church", said Bishop Brennan.
It was rather a daunting task, perhaps I was feeling a little like David facing Goliath. But sitting there looking at it was not getting the job done. This was to be a church dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The successful completion of such a complex project depended not only upon the hard work of a team of volunteers, but even more upon the faith of the community - a faith which grew and became steeped in devotional practice to the intercession of Our Lady.
Together, the community of Christ the Priest and the Parishioners undertook a risk bigger than Texas known as the "Highway to Heaven Truck Raffle". There was no room for the faint hearted, chook raffles were a thing of the past, the parish was on a mission, a mission to honour the Immaculate Heart of Mary, so that wherever we went in our fundraising work we took devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
The "Highway to Heaven" covered all parts of Australia. The priests and people took to the highways giving us a close connection to those men in the transport industry whose generosity laid the foundations of our church. We purchased a Kenworth Prime Mover valued at $369,000.00 with a humble parish bank balance of $10,000.00. On the morning of the draw we sold $10,000.00 worth of tickets. Our faith proved us right and we were able to commence the construction of the church.
The first Mass on the site for the new church was celebrated on the back of a semi-trailer with a canvas canopy to shade the altar, and was attended by 400 people whose enthusiasm was reflected only by the scorching heat.
Work continued from dawn to dusk, the bob-cat ran hot. Blisters, splinters, aching backs and tired limbs were all part of the project, as we pushed through barriers that were in our way. Every week women and children would arrive with sausage sizzles, scones and refreshments; yes we were all on target and Our Lady poured out many blessings on each family.
Another major fund raiser was required to continue the development. For the second "Highway to Heaven" we decided to raffle a Western Star truck. Once again we took to the highways with our message of good faith. Fuel stations, field days, markets and any venue that would have us soon discovered that there were many ways and means of spreading the gospel. Finally we achieved our aim, and it was back to the construction site where the labourers were few and weary, but the spirit was strong.
Finally, on 8 September 2003 with the parish complex complete it was time to hand over to Our Lady the keys to her new church. Bishop Gerard Hanna officiated at the consecration of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, a day that saw the new church packed with people full of joy at the completion of this extraordinary work of faith. The Marian Centre, Presbytery and Church were all complete with car parking facilities and landscaping ready for use.
One of the most amazing aspects of the parish is the generosity of the benefactors. Donations of Statues, Crucifix, Altar, Pews etc. - all have a story to tell of how they got there!
The motto of our parish is "Show me your faith, and I by my works will show you mine" (James 2:18). Every Saturday men and women continue to gather for the 'working bee', with a pioneering spirit which continues to motivate the faithful in giving witness in a visible way to the love of God in their hearts.
Work for Our Lady has been rewarded with many blessings. We are now obliged to pass on our blessings with a new project for the people of East Timor. This project is called the "Fly-Away to Heaven", but I will leave you to think about this one, hoping that you will join in our flight!
Fr John Fowles ccs