Conflict erupts over Vic country church

The Koroit Catholic parish in rural western Victoria plans to sell the hundred-year-old St Brigid's church hand-built by Irish pioneers but locals want to turn the heritage property into a historical and cultural centre.

The Warrnambool Standard reports that the two-hectare block with its distinctive red brick church, hall and tennis courts is earmarked for sale, leaving a community group scrambling to find $300,000 to retain the property in public hands.

But the Friends of St Brigid's group wants to transform the site into an Irish precinct with a historical and genealogical centre and language, music and dance classes.

Ballarat Bishop Peter Connors confirmed he had been asked by Koroit parish priest Fr Eric Bryant to sell the buildings.

Experts will be sent to inspect the building's condition and Bishop Connors said he was unable to comment on the property's asking price.

He yesterday said he was being realistic about the amount of money a community group could raise and that the money collected from the sale would be invested in the Koroit parish and not given away.

The Friends of St Brigid's group plans to outline its vision to the Irish ambassador Mairtin O'Fanin when he visits the south-west next month.

Friends of St Brigid's secretary Teresa O'Brien said ancestors who donated and built the church by hand would turn in their graves if they thought the community meeting place they created in 1914 was being lost to developers.

"It's a deep cultural thing that goes all the way back to Ireland. All the mob came out here on the boat post-famine, they had family die in Ireland," Ms O'Brien said.

"They had nothing. They came here and settled, lived here and died here. They worked really hard growing spuds and onions - and the next generation, the next generation.

The group has raised $10,000, collected $20,000 in grants and applied for another $130,000 in grants to renovate the buildings and conduct a feasibility study.

Irish rebellion on Crossley hill (The Standard, 6/6/07)

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Ballarat diocese

7 Jun 2007