Success of the Singleton six

Michael Gilbert CSsR

Michael Gilbert CSsR

Michael is a retired Redemptorist priest

The Redemptorist Order founded in Italy in 1732 is commemorating 140 years in Australia this year.

On April 27, 1882, six professed men arrived in Sydney from London on the Orient liner ‘Sorata’. Four were Irish; two were English. Four were priests and two were coadjutor brothers. Their names were Edmund Vaughan, Thomas O’Farrell, James Hegarty, Henry Halson, Daniel Gleeson and Laurence Watters.

The journey to Australia took seven weeks. Brother Watters spent most of the time in bed with a queasy stomach while Br Gleeson reportedly also had an uncomfortable time. Yet the passage out was not overly rough except for three days in the Bay of Biscay and three days after leaving the Cape of Good Hope.

Following their arrival the bishop of Maitland, James Murray, gave them four choices to begin a foundation – Tamworth, Maitland, Singleton or Morpeth. They chose Singleton which at the time was a small rural city of about 1800 people, 300 of them being Catholic.

 Image: The first six Redemptorists to arrive in Australia.

 

Their first duty was to install the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour in the Church. They had brought it with them from London. They begged her intercession for the success of their venture.

The people of Singleton received them warmly and supported them generously. One practical indication was that an outstanding debt of 1700 pounds – a considerable sum of money in those days – was soon discharged.

The six Redemptorists set up in the presbytery. Living conditions were uncomfortable but tolerable. What became less tolerable was a gnawing feeling of discontent. It did not originate from feeling dissatisfied with the parish because they enjoyed working with the people. It was a spiritual dissatisfaction.

Image: Singleton was the first Australian home for the six Redemptorists. The presbytery was opened in 1876. Within 10 years the group had increased to twelve men.

They felt they were not fully exercising the charism of the Redemptorists. They were called by God to be evangelists – proclaimers of the Gospel – and not pastors – carers of a parish community. The Redemptorists soon travelled to New Zealand followed by the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and in more recent years to China, Samoa and Sri Lanka.

We remember the Singleton Six and the hundreds of Redemptorists who followed them and exercised the ministry of the Word of God over the past 140 years. We recall with gratitude the faithful people who welcomed them, supported them and encouraged this great enterprise.

We gather with the hope that this recollection of the past will renew and refresh our present mission, bring the blessing of Providence on us all.

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