Celebrating 100 years and an heroic priest

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Fr Thomas Mullins, left, and officers of the Fifth Australian Light Horse Regiment.
Fr Thomas Mullins, left, and officers of the Fifth Australian Light Horse Regiment.

When Fr Thomas Mullins enlisted in 1915 he could little have foreseen the awards and accolades he would attract for his gallantry in action, much less the injuries which would plague him for the rest of his life.

But the Irish-born priest might have expected that the plans he left for a church in the small agricultural town of Barmedman, 450km west of Sydney, would eventually come to fruition after he had gone.

Barmedman will soon celebrate the 100th anniversary of that church – St Joseph’s – which was blessed and opened on 19 March, 1916, by the Bishop of Goulburn, Bishop John Gallagher.

A special 10am Mass will be celebrated on Sunday, 13 March, followed by a morning tea, to mark the occasion. It will preceded by a special anniversary dinner the night before.

Fr Mullins was not present when the church was blessed in 1916, having joined the 5th Light Horse Regiment at Gallipoli as its chaplain in November 1915, going on to serve in additional campaigns in Egypt, Syria and Gaza.

He was the first parish priest of Ardlethan parish, which then took in Barmedman, before it was re-absorbed into the parish of Temora on his departure.

Although his bravery remained unmentioned when he died during a heatwave on 14 January, 1939, at the age of 62, Fr Mullins was heralded for his gallantry during and immediately after World War I, being four-times mentioned in dispatches as well as being awarded the Military Cross.

As the local priest, Fr Mullins had a major role in planning for St Joseph’s Church, Barmedman.
As the local priest, Fr Mullins had a major role in planning for St Joseph’s Church, Barmedman.

One commendation reads: “At Gaza on 26 March, 1917, this padre showed conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. In the severe fighting at the back of Gaza he was all the time up with the men at the front, attending to the wounded. He displayed great fearlessness and was right up in the firing line.”

Fr Mullins contracted malaria in Jordan after the cessation of hostilities.

On returning to Australia he took up residence at the presbytery in Ardlethan, where he remained for the rest of his life, the residence now adorned with olive trees grown from cuttings which he brought back from the Garden of Gethsemane.

He was succeeded as Barmedman’s pastor by Fr Patrick Dwyer, who would later become the first Bishop of Wagga Wagga.

Inquiries: (02) 6976 2121.