St Thomas Aquinas Springwood Parish

The spirit of the Mountains is still shining brightly


Catholic Outlook November 2013 Blue Mountains Story
The fires have left a landscape of blackened trees with leaves burnt to a crisp. Photo: Virginia Knight

By Virginia Knight, Catholic Outlook November 2013

In the past few months I have written about my trips as a journalist to the Blue Mountains with a contentment bordering on euphoria; how I find these journeys inspirational through the beauty of nature and spiritually reviving for my soul. 

Today it is a bit different.

For the past week we city-dwellers have been bombarded with images of the bushfires ravaging the Mountains, destroying hectares of land and property, leaving families with nothing but the clothes on their backs, the precious companionship of each other, their friends, and the compassion of the community.

Fr Bob Sheridan at Blackheath

Today I am on my way to meet Fr Robert Sheridan in Sacred Heart Parish at Blackheath atop the Mountains.

At first all is green and lush, and it is reassuring to see vehicles coming towards me from the opposite direction.

But all too soon, the thriving country I drove along only weeks ago is a landscape of blackened trees with leaves burnt to a brown crisp; where once undergrowth flourished, the dusty earth is littered with exposed burnt rocks.

As bush gives way to settlement, the scenes are more heart wrenching, and although I do not deviate from the main road, everywhere there are signs of the inferno that has swept through the area.

I reach Blackheath without incident and Fr Bob greets me with a friendly smile. There is a bite to the wind and he advises me to rug up as I express my surprise at how cold it is. “Cold! This isn’t cold,” he chuckles.

Sacred Heart Parish community

Catholic Outlook November 2013 Blue Mountains Story
Fr Bob Sheridan outside St Paul’s, the oldest church in the Blue Mountains. Photo: Virginia Knight

Fr Bob has been the Parish Priest of Sacred Heart for the past five years. It is a vast parish that extends down towards Lithgow and into the Megalong Valley. It takes in some of the areas that have been burnt by the fires including Mt Victoria, Mt York, Blackheath and Mt Wilson.

While he celebrated his 80th birthday earlier this year, Fr Bob is one of our most active priests, visiting parishioners in the far-flung areas of his parish and travelling to Mt Victoria and down into the Megalong Valley to celebrate Mass on Saturdays. 

At present he is concerned about some of his parishioners in areas where access has been restricted and he means to attempt to visit them after we check on the church at Mt Victoria.   

St Paul’s, the little timber church atop the Kanimbla Valley is, Fr Bob informs me as he pulls out the huge iron antique key to open the door, the oldest church in the Blue Mountains.  

It still has the original timber altar and tabernacle and although it could be best described a ‘boutique’ church seating only 50 is regularly in use for weddings and filled to capacity for Saturday Mass. 

He proudly displays the new garden surrounding the church and its signage and points out that at present it is safe, unless the fire crosses the highway or a blaze ignites in the Kanimbla Valley behind it.  

“If I notice smoke coming from the valley I will be on my way down to check on the church (historic St Joseph’s) and our parishioners. The rest of the time the phone helps me to keep in touch,” he said. 

Continue reading at the Catholic Outlook Site

The Diocese has launched an emergency appeal to assist those affected by the fires. It is being co-ordinated by CatholicCare Social Services Parramatta. 

Donations to the appeal can be made through CatholicCare Parramatta’s website:

People directly affected by the fires should contact CatholicCare Parramatta for support tel (02) 9933 0233.

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