A history of St Joseph’s Church takes out local history prize

Winning entry: Damian Gleeson has won the Ron Rathbone Local History Prize for his book on St Joseph's Church in Rockdale. Picture: Chris Lane
Winning entry: Damian Gleeson has won the Ron Rathbone Local History Prize for his book on St Joseph's Church in Rockdale. Picture: Chris Lane

A history of the first St Joseph’s Church School at Rockdale has won the 2017 Ron Rathbone Local History Prize.

Damian Gleeson won the $5,000 prize for his work The Rock of St George: Celebrating the 125th Anniversary of the first St Joseph’s Church-School, Rockdale.

Entrants in the prize, which has run since 2006, were asked to submit a piece of research on the area's history, buildings, organisations, people, parks, natural features or events.

The prize is named after former Rockdale mayor, councillor and historian Ron Rathbone, OAM.

It is the first time the prize has taken in parts of the new Bayside Council rea.

Dr Gleeson said it was a passion project for him, having previously published parish histories of Strathfield, Mortlake, Pyrmont, and Enfield West.

He was commissioned to write the book by St Mary MacKillop Parish priest Father Brendan Quirk, who pointed out that St Joseph's was one of the few churches in St George district not to have a published history.

It was released to coincide with the 125th celebrations of the first St Joseph's Church-School in August.

It took him around 18 months to put together the finished product after scouring the church’s archives.

The book looks at the social history of families, religious, and clergy while integrating the four themes of generosity, loyalty, resilience, and uniqueness.

He said the book not only looked at the achievements of the clergy, but their personal lives as well.

‘’It is important that researchers are both sensitive and record history accurately,’’ he said.

‘’Some of the early clergy struggled with the pressures of the job and from inevitable loneliness.’’

He said his research brought up some surprising aspects.

‘’It was pleasing to explore and document the significant contribution by German-born Australians, especially the Walz family,’’ he said.

‘’Joseph and Johanna Walz, after whom Walz Street in Rockdale is named, donated the land for the first St Joseph's Church-School, and some of their fourth and fifth generation descendants continue to live in Rockdale, which is a rarity when studying local areas across Sydney.’’

The award was announced last week by Bayside Council Deputy Mayor Joe Awada.

For more information on the winning entry go to www.bayside.nsw.gov.au.