Norbetines’ 50 years of sacrifice in WA

13 May 2009

By The Record

The Norbertine community celebrates fifty years of love, sweat and humility.                     


New arrivals on a mission: From left, Fr Stephen Cooney, Fr Peter O’Reilly (Prior), Fr John Reynolds.


By Darlene McGoorty
Whilst Norbertines throughout the world celebrate the 875th anniversary of the death of their founder St Norbert, the parishes of Queens Park/East Cannington and York celebrate 50 years of Norbertine presence in Western Australia.
The community will have a special anniversary Mass to mark the occasion on Friday May 15 at St Joseph’s Priory Church in Queens Park, followed by supper and a pictorial exhibition in the Fr Peter O’Reilly Centre at St Norbert College.
On May 11 1959, Fr Peter O’Reilly, and Fr John Reynolds O.Praem, both from Holy Trinity Abbey, Kilnacrott in Ireland, arrived in Fremantle at the invitation of Archbishop Prendiville to begin a Norbertine Community.
Fr Steven Cooney O.Praem arrived from Ireland via America later that year and the three priests went on to establish the first Norbertine foundation in Australia.
The request to establish the order in Australia originally came from the religious community in 1955.  It was not until 1958 however, after a further request had been made, that arrangements began to take shape.  
Fr Peter O’Reilly was appointed Prior of the Australian mission and on May 17, 1959 was appointed parish priest of St Patrick’s Church in the country town of York,  about 100km east of Perth.
Some months later, The Record reported the Norbertine Fathers’ ‘providential’ purchase of “Kerry Downs” – a ‘magnificent farm of 2,500 acres, 10 miles from York just off the Northam road for the price of 44,000 pounds.’ 
Kerry Downs was formally blessed and opened by Archbishop Redmond Prendiville on September 2, 1962 and became the site of the priory.
The Fathers, in addition to their religious prayer life and working the land, were responsible for the parish of York, supply work in local country towns, missions and retreats. 
Part of the original plan was the intention to establish a Catholic boy’s school, but there was little need for a school in York since there were already Catholic schools in nearby towns.
It was from York that the Norbertines were invited to open a boy’s school in the parish of St Joseph’s in Queens Park by Archbishop Prendiville and diocesan priest, Fr Jeremiah O’Farrell.
Building began in 1964.  Four classrooms and the priory were built and Abbot Colwell O.Praem came out from Ireland to officially open the new school on February 7, 1965. 
With him came Fr Laurence Anderson O.Praem who was to be the school’s first headmaster.
St Norbert College, comprising one class of 28 grade six boys began to grow steadily.  Over the next four decades, a library, science, blocks, sporting facilities, a theatre, computing centres and a gym were to spring up, satisfying the demands of an ever growing school population.
When Fr O’Farrell retired as Parish Priest of Queens Park in 1977, Fr John Reynolds was to become the first Norbertine to assume responsibility of the Parish. 
The year 1978 saw further extensions to St Norbert Priory and on July 27, 1979, Archbishop Launcelot Goody formally entrusted the care of St Joseph’s Parish to the Norbertine Canons, a year also marked by the ordination of the first Australian-born Norbertine, Fr William Fitzgerald O.Praem.
Archbishop Goody lent further encouragement to the Norbertine Community of Queens Park when he transferred some Archdiocesan land to the Canons for the building of a monastic church adjacent to their priory. 
Dedicated on the Feast of St Joseph on March 19, 1991, the priory church was the result of extensive work and symbolises the strong links between the Norbertine Canons, local parishioners and St Norbert College. Since parish and priory would be sharing the new building, the Norbertines changed the title of their priory from St Norbert to St Joseph.  In 1994 the Parish of St Francis in East Cannington was entrusted to the care of the Norbertines and in 1995 the two parishes were amalgamated, operating as a single parish.
In 1995 the Norbertine community was raised to the status of an independent and autonomous canonry and on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, they elected their first prelate, Fr Peter Stiglich O.Praem.
The Norbertines have not only been a strong presence in the life of the College and in the parish communities of York and Queens Park, but have also served in the Parishes of the Holy Family Church in Maddington and Santa Clara Church in Bentley, not to mention the many country parishes in the areas surrounding York.
The journey of the Norbertines in Western Australia to date mirrors that of their order’s founder.
The Norbertine Order, one of the oldest religious orders in the world, began in the Valley of Prémontré in France by a small group of men gathered on Christmas Eve, 1121. Led by St Norbert, who came from Xanten in Germany, they committed themselves to God, to one another, and to the apostolic way of life, building an abbey at Prémontré. After a life of service to the Church, Norbert died in 1134 leaving behind an example of ministry minded priests living in community.  Many centuries later, Norbertine communities of priests and brothers and communities of religious sisters can be found throughout the world.
For 50 years the Norbertine Canons in WA have followed in the footsteps of that tradition and have been a vibrant presence in the communities they have served.  They have been men of vision and it is only when we look back over their achievements, their work and their apostolic ministry in the last 50 years, that we truly understand how blessed we have all been to be part of this remarkable journey.
If you visit the St Joseph’s Priory, you will notice the stained glass coat of arms of the Norbertine Canons on the door of their main entrance. The Latin inscription reads ‘In Medio Ecclesiae’ which means ‘In the Midst of the Church’.  We give thanks for 50 years of Norbertine presence in our midst.

Darlene McGoorty works in Catholic Education and is a parishioner of St Joseph’s Church, Queens Park.

A Solemn Pontifical Mass will be celebrated by Archbishop Barry Hickey at 7.30pm on Friday, May 15 in St Joseph’s Priory Church at 135 Treasure Road, Queens Park, followed by Supper and a Pictorial Exhibition in the Fr Peter O’Reilly Centre at St Norbert College.  This exhibition will then be on display in the Chapter Room of St Joseph’s Priory from Saturday May 16 until the Solemnity of St Norbert on  Saturday June 6 and will then be taken to St Patrick’s Church, York where it will be on display for two weeks..