Congregants from Lithgow, Hartley, Penrith and St Mary’s gathered at St Bernard’s Catholic Church in Hartley on Monday to celebrate the man whose story binds those parishes’ histories.
Father James Phelan, who immigrated from Ireland in 1852, was St Bernard’s resident priest for 20 years from 1858 to 1878.
He went onto serve as parish priest in Penrith, retiring in St Marys, where he was the suburb’s first resident priest. His property became the site of Our Lady of the Rosary Primary School.
Father Brendan Murphy, who is the current priest at Our Lady of the Rosary, gave mass at St Bernard’s on Monday, celebrating 160 years since Fr Phelan was first stationed at Hartley and 120 years since his death in St Marys.
“He came here [Hartley] when there were few if any tracks, definitely not any roads, and he used to travel through the bush on horseback through a large area,” Fr Brendan said.
“There were 40 homes where people would go to celebrate mass.
“I’m pleased that our people recognise what a great man he was. He’s the one that has brought us here today.”
One visitor to Hartley on Monday was Sister Kathleen Luchetti of Kandos, whose great-grandparents were married by Fr Phelan at St Bernard’s Church.