The first Fr Hayes at St Kilian’s

HayesPanel 350pxDean James Bernard Hayes – Dean being his church title – was a pioneer priest in Victoria who spent a few years in Bendigo during the time that Dr Backhaus was away in the period late 1863-mid 1867.
Readers familiar with St Kilian’s church will be aware of a large bell that hangs in a steel tower at the front of this church. The bell was a memorial to Dean Hayes who died in 1868.

Fr Hayes was born in Cork, Ireland in 1814, joined the Augustinian order and studied for the priesthood in Rome where he was ordained in 1837. He then ministered in Ireland until 1852 when he met Bishop Goold, also an Augustinian, who was visiting from Melbourne to recruit priests for his diocese. As a consequence, Fr Hayes returned to Australia with the bishop, arriving in 1853. Most of his time was then spent in the Geelong region.

Dean Hayes came to Bendigo to take charge of the region after the departure of Dr Backhaus. In November 1864, he blessed the new church of St Augustine at Myers Flat, near Eaglehawk.

Although he was frequently away in other areas in this period, he became very well known. Both Archbishop Polding of Sydney and Bishop Goold held him in high regard and in mid 1865, he was confirmed by Rome as bishop of the newly created diocese of Armidale in New South Wales.

At that time a number of new dioceses were being established in New South Wales and there was a power struggle going on among various bishops and priests over appointments of bishops to these dioceses. After nomination as bishop, Dean Hayes was victimised in malicious reports to Rome and although subsequently exonerated decided not to accept the appointment. Another factor involved in this decision was his poor state of health.

A news report in June 1866 describes the celebration of the Feast of Corpus Christi at St Kilian’s.

Dean Hayes celebrated High Mass, assisted by Frs O’Dwyer and McCarthy and then took part in a procession with St Kilian’s school children around the church grounds.

The report mentioned that the Dean carried the chalice that had recently been sent to the church from France by Dr Backhaus. (It seems likely that the reporter confused the chalice with the monstrance, also sent, since this was commonly used in processions).

In April 1867, Bishop Goold left Melbourne for Europe and Ireland, and Dean Hayes went with him. By August they were in Ireland and went their separate ways. In the meantime, the Dean’s health had continued to deteriorate and he ultimately died from pneumonia near Dublin on June 3, 1868, aged 53.

It appears that Dr Fitzpatrick, who was in charge during Bishop Goold’s absence, assumed  that Dean Hayes would not be returning to Bendigo and just after  Dean Hayes departure overseas had sent Dr Backhaus, then working in Adelaide, a telegram offering him his old position back. This was immediately accepted.

In Bendigo, plans had been made to obtain a church bell in memory of Dean Hayes. The bell arrived by train and at the Sunday Mass on June 27, 1869, Dr Backhaus invited everyone to accompany the bell from the railway station the next day.

A problem then arose as the horse that was to pull the wagon containing the bell (which weighed about 1400kg) refused to move! The report noted that Dr Backhaus was the only person able to get the horse to pull the wagon to St Kilian’s!

The formal consecration of the Dean Hayes bell took place on Sunday, August 8, 1869. Bishop Goold was present along with several other priests and a “numerous congregation admitted by ticket!”  The bell was hung on a frame in the centre of the church and garlanded with flowers.

A large tablet, designed by architects Vahland and Getzschmann, and made by Birtwistle and Finn, had also been erected in the side wall of the church.

This was some 2.5 metres in height and contained a “white marble panel set between two round columns of dark marble with square bases and carved caps, the tops of which form the base of decorated pinnacles with sunk panels”.
The head of the tablet was carved and moulded with oak leaves and raised tracery. In the centre was a photograph of the Dean placed between sealed glass sheets, the whole being surmounted by a cross.

The marble panel contained a very long inscription, in Latin, which translates as follows:
IHS ( Greek: JESUS)
In memory of the Very Reverend James Bernard HAYES, from Cork, ordained priest of St Augustine; born 20 August 1814, raised to the dignity of the priesthood on 25 March 1837. Came to this diocese in 1853 and was pastor of the Geelong church and rural Dean from 1856 to 1864. Performed other duties, officiating at the church at Bendigo until 1867. Nominated first bishop of Armidale by the Holy See in 1865 but renounced this; returned to the Lord on 3 June 1868 near the city of Dublin. He was a man of gentle character and learning with a zeal for souls. May the Lord grant him rest.

Our picture of Dean Hayes is in the form of an engraving. Also shown is the surviving marble memorial panel.
A note on the subsequent history:
It is presumed that the impressive memorial tablet was removed from St Kilian’s stone church, which was located in the current car park, when this church was demolished in 1888. No reference has been found to its ever having been relocated to the existing wooden church, and the only part of it which appears to have survived is the marble panel with the inscription. For many years, this was fixed to the brick wall at the side of the grave of Dr Backhaus in St Kilian’s grounds. About the early 1980s, it was removed and is currently in storage.

The large bell, which is still in use, was hung in a wooden tower next to the stone church and was later installed in the existing steel tower, provided by Mrs Jane O’Connell (nee Halfpenny) who was Dr Backhaus’ housekeeper, in front of the existing church in 1894.

by Mal Nolan
Sandhurst Diocesan Historical Commission