Wee Jasper’s Our Lady of the Rosary Church which was built by the community for the community 65 years ago, will be deconsecrated on 7 August.
Although the church has been closed since the start of the pandemic and rumours about its future were rife before then, the confirmation of its closure and possible sale has disappointed locals who claim there has been little communication from the Catholic Church.
Secretary of the Wee Jasper Community Association Mel Reynolds said the way most locals found out about the church’s fate was “distressing”.
In a letter dated 9 February, 2021 to the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn, the association wrote: “It is with great sadness that we heard about the proposed sale of the church, not directly from the Catholic Church itself, but from valuers assessing the sale of the property and associated land. Given the Wee Jasper community’s involvement with the church, we found this to be both insensitive and a little disrespectful.
“The Wee Jasper Community Association is aware that the church is in a poor state of repair and requires significant restoration work to ensure it continues to stand for the next 65 years. We are concerned that the sale to private hands could mean substantial changes to the church and effectively finish its life as a community asset and a place of faith and healing. We would ask the Catholic Church to reconsider its sale and the loss to the Wee Jasper and Yass Valley community of this rural asset.”
Back on 6 September 1954 it was better news when the Yass Tribune Courier reported the opening of the church:
“Community effort built new Wee Jasper Church. A magnificent community effort by people of all denominations has given to the small township of Wee Jasper a charming little church, set in picturesque surroundings, where Catholic parishioners will worship once a month. Built of split cement brick, giving the appearance of a grey rock surface, and furnished with beautiful cedar, much of it more than 100 years old and resurrected from sheds and a boiler room. The total cost will be only 2000 pounds, thanks to the amount of voluntary work that has gone into its creation.
“The Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, which will be blessed and opened on September 19 by the Most Reverend E. M. O’Brien, Archbishop of Canberra-Goulburn, stands at the top end of Wee Jasper township, on the left-hand side of the road to Tumut. It is a majestic setting, backed by high rugged hills and surrounded by gum trees. The church’s foundation stone reads: Built by the united effort of the people of this district.”
Ms Reynolds said the community understood the village and population was changing and that church attendance was on the decline, but she said the way the village found out about the closure was distressing.
“Even more so because we believe this could be one of the last remaining community churches in the Yass area,” she said.
“But apart from anything else, this place is the spiritual centre of the community and it is important for the people of this community to be treated with dignity and respect. This place tells our stories – of being born, married and death. It deserves better.”
Ms Reynolds said the Wee Jasper Community Association did not receive confirmation of the closure and possible sale of the church until 2 June this year.
For local Mick Carey, the Wee Jasper Church is and has always been, part of his life. The first Careys moved to Wee Jasper in the 1860s.
His father and grandfather helped build the church, making the concrete blocks themselves on site. He was also married there.
“It didn’t cost the Catholic Church a cent to have it built,” Mr Carey said. “The community did everything.”
Again, the Yass Tribune Courier of 5 March, 1953, was the first to spread the good news – Catholic Church for Wee Jasper. It reported that the Wee Jasper Rodeo and Bushman’s Carnival netted more than 600 pounds “which will be devoted towards the building of a Catholic Church at that centre. Prior to the rodeo the Carey family had contributed in cash and promises.”
Ms Reynolds said she received an invitation to the deconsecration event on 7 August but had declined. “As I’m not really a local – I’ve only been here seven years – I’ve gifted it to someone else who is more of a local.”
Mr Carey, who had also been invited to the 7 August service, said he would attend, but with mixed feelings.
“I just want to see it looked after,” he said. “I don’t really care who buys it or what it’s used for as long as they look after the place.”
Since the death of his uncle in 2005, Mick has been looking after the church grounds mowing them regularly. He’s following the family tradition of looking after the church – his mother used to clean it and arrange the flowers.
Asked what he thought about local rumours that money from the church’s sale would be used to build a business centre in Yass, Mr Carey said he would rather not comment.
Region Media contacted the Catholic Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn for comment on its future plans for the Wee Jasper church but was told the relevant spokesperson was on leave. It referred us to Father Peter My at Yass but he declined to comment.