Stained glass window controversy breaks at Crookwell

FAITHFUL: St Mary's, Crookwell parishioners Richard Cromack and Mona McIntosh want a stained glass window installed. Photo: Louise Thrower
FAITHFUL: St Mary's, Crookwell parishioners Richard Cromack and Mona McIntosh want a stained glass window installed. Photo: Louise Thrower

A holy war is erupting at Crookwell where some parishioners are at loggerheads with the Catholic Church hierarchy over a stained glass window.

They are also claiming the parish, administered from Goulburn, is controlled in an “autocratic” way with little consultation.

Longtime worshipper Richard Cromack and others want the parish to “honour” former parish priest, the late Father Peter Murphy’s wishes.

In 2014 Fr Murphy purchased for $150,000 a large German gothic style stained-glass window, formerly housed in a church at Coolac, using parish funds.

Mr Cromack said the parish and the Archbishop approved the purchase.  

“He wanted to install them at St Mary’s to replace the window, which was destroyed in a large fire in 1958,” Mr Cromack said.

“That was his vision and it was agreed to and all we’re asking now is that Canon law be followed and his intentions honoured.”

A stonemason also agreed the installation was possible, replacing a boarded-up section.

But Mr Cromack claimed the parish’s finance committee, urged by Mary Queen of Apostles parish priest Father Dermid McDermott, now wanted to sell the windows for up to twice the purchase price.

“They have been buffaloed,” he said of the committee. “They didn’t know what they were agreeing to because they haven’t even seen the windows.”

Fr McDermott rejects the claim. A vote will take place on the window installation after Masses this weekend.

Mr Cromack has written to Archbishop Christopher Prowse and the Apostolic Nuncio in Canberra with his concerns.

He said the Archbishop had not replied and the latter had put the ball back in the parish’s court.

Mr Cromack said other parishioners agreed with him, but it was not necessarily a widespread view. 

He attributed this to few having seen the window, which had since been placed in storage in Goulburn.

Fr Murphy died in 2015 after a 30-year tenure as parish priest.

Mr Cromack said several decisions about the the church’s layout and financial expenditure since had been made with little consultation. Mr Cromack claimed parishioners were becoming disaffected and weekly collections had dropped as a result.

“We want our own parish priest and to go back to being independent,” he said.

“That way we will make money and we’ll survive. We won’t survive the way money is being wasted now.”

But Fr McDermott rejected suggestions any decision had been made not to install the window, despite discussions at Parish Council and finance committee level.

“The decision was made to put the matter to the parish for a vote. That will occur this weekend,” he said.

“...The trouble is, it will cost at least $50,000 to install. The finance committee is of the opinion that with other work to do [including disabled access and toilets], we can’t afford to do it now.”

If parishioners endorsed the installation, the committee would still have to decide when it could be done.

Fr McDermott believed the window, depicting the Good Shepherd, did not match the church. He said a Gundagai party had offered $150,000 to buy the window back and had paid a deposit. But there was no binding agreement to sell.

“They are beautiful windows but they don’t match anything that’s there. I’d like to see a window put in but you have to be realistic about what you can afford. The whole sanctuary has to be reordered too,” he said.

“If someone can raise $50,000 for the installation then I’d say go for it.”

He told The Post moves to improve consultation were underway, including the appointment of a Parish secretary and parishioners’ connection to the diocesan computer system. He stressed that while a parish council and finance committee didn’t exist before, they did now.

The late father Peter Murphy purchased this stained glass window from the old Coolac Church for $150,000 to be installed at St Mary's, Crookwell.

The late father Peter Murphy purchased this stained glass window from the old Coolac Church for $150,000 to be installed at St Mary's, Crookwell.