All-clear for centenary that almost wasn't

Crossley trio (from left) Bill Dwyer, a student at St Brigid’s in the 1950s, Patrick Bushell, also a student until the school closed in 1971, and Mick Lane, who attended until 1953, are helping prepare for the church’s centenary.

Crossley trio (from left) Bill Dwyer, a student at St Brigid’s in the 1950s, Patrick Bushell, also a student until the school closed in 1971, and Mick Lane, who attended until 1953, are helping prepare for the church’s centenary.

MICK Lane can point to any part of St Brigid's Church and find a memory.

On a balmy autumn morning the Crossley man and another dozen volunteers are tearing down cypress branches to make way for hundreds of people due to arrive for the church's centenary celebrations next month.

"I started in the school in this room in 1945," Mr Lane, 74, says, pointing around the church hall.

"I went to school here, I went to all the dances here and I met my wife in the hall in 1956. When we got married our kids went to school here."

Despite marking 100 years, for most people the event is more about the last decade and the fight to keep the church in community hands.

Sitting across from Mick Lane is Dennis Bushell, a bricklayer who needs only to look at the church to appreciate it.

When the Catholic Church decided to close St Brigid's in 2006 hundreds of people farewelled the building, its future left hanging in the balance.

But next month that number will easily be eclipsed.

"We're expecting 600-700 people for the Mass there on Sunday, which is great," Mr Bushell said.

"There's a thousand and one jobs but because we're expecting so many people we've had to cut the trees back and hopefully that might give us an extra 50 carparks."

Even with zero advertising, more than 180 people are already booked for dinner during celebrations on June 28.

"We think we're going to have a massive amount of people and we don't want to be turning anyone away," Mr Bushell said.

The Friends of St Brigid's are also offering an olive branch to the Catholic Church and vice versa. The planned Sunday Mass will be the first held there since 2006.

"The Bishop of Ballarat is coming down to say the Mass on the Sunday at 1pm that still gives people at other Masses a chance to come along," Mr Bushell said.

"We want to get along with the Catholic Church. We see it as a bit of a healing thing."

St Brigid's has its eyes on the future, including fixing the roof and welcoming a new wave of Irish migrants.

"We're trying to welcome all the Irish. There's a lot of immigrants coming in here now who work on dairy farms," Mr Bushell said.

St Brigid's will celebrate a century on June 27, 28 and 29 with markets, Irish music, dance, food and the Mass.

s.mccomish@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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