At the weekend, it was my great privilege to drive to Booborowie for the decommissioning of St Dymphna’s Catholic Church. It’s not every day one gets to go to the deconsecration of a church, and in fact, this was my first.
Booborowie is a small place, about three hours drive north of Adelaide, and as we drove up, it got drier and drier. It was 34 degrees Celsius, hot for April. There was dust in the air, and the paddocks and hills were brown. We’re all waiting for rain, in the city and the country. But the sky was clear blue and it was beautiful.
The church is a small stone building, built in 1903 in place of the Booborowie Station Wool Shed which had been used for Mass for some years. The Irish played a key role in building and sustaining this ‘humble’ church that was built ‘in keeping with the requirements of the congregation’. Irish names dominate – Finlay, Kelly, Hogan, Cousins, Quinn, Murphy, O’Dea, Byrne, Farrelly, Ryan. As the bishop said, tongue firmly in his cheek, a pluralist multicultural society up here in the mid-north of South Australia!
The church was packed. The bishop and six priests celebrated Mass, and then, one by one, several parishioners carried out the key artefacts from the church. These included: a purple stole used when hearing confession; the lectionary used for the readings at Mass; the church missal carried out by a descendant of the donors; the baptismal register carried by the last child to be baptised in the church; the record of funerals; the baptismal font; the thurible used at the last funeral; the tabernacle; the altar stone; and finally, the crucifix. As the last of the congregation left the church, the bishop and priests processed down the aisle, and the door was closed.
Afterwards, everybody gathered outside the church for a group photo, a tradition at every momentous event in the church’s history over the last 115 years.
And then we repaired to the Booborowie District Soldiers Memorial Hall where we enjoyed strong cups of tea, sandwiches and savoury muffins, and the best cream sponge cake I’ve had in a long time.
And who was St Dymphna? Well, I’m glad you asked. Dymphna was born in the 7th century. Her father was a king and pagan, her mother a devout Christian. After her mother died, things fell apart for Dymphna, particularly after her father proposed marriage to her. Dymphna, who had taken a vow of chastity and piety, was horrified at this incestuous proposal, with her father appearing to have taken leave of his senses. She fled to Belgium but eventually, her father found her in Geel and beheaded her with his sword, making her a Christian martyr at the age of fifteen. Dymphna became the patron saint of people with a mental illness or neurological disorder, those who are nervous or emotionally disturbed, and those who are the victims of incest.
Note that when she was on her way to Belgium, it is believed she took refuge for a night in the Abbey of Kildalkey, Co. Meath, which happens to be just a few kilometres from my home town of Trim. This ancient abbey was later dedicated to St Dymphna, as was the holy well close by. The well, known as St Dymphna’s Well, has the cure for headaches, and a sign nearby says that a headache is cured when a ribbon is dipped in the water and tied around the sufferer’s head. For many years, the well was closed, but twenty years ago some of the local community rebuilt and re-opened it. As luck would have it, I visited a few years back and took lots of photos. You can see that the well is still in use, with many devotional items at the walls, a name picked out in white pebbles, and coins in a watery plate mimicking a well. The ruined abbey is just behind the wall in the graveyard.