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Finishing the Cathedral

Cathedral1955 350px

In July 1953, Bishop Stewart wrote a pastoral letter to ‘the clergy and faithful’ of the Diocese of Sandhurst. The letter outlined his decision to complete the building of the Sacred Heart Cathedral. He indicated that building would be undertaken by a small group of workers under a superintendent and be spread over an unspecified number of years. He made no mention of cost but later a figure of 300,000 pounds was mentioned.

It was evident to many that the only way that the building could be funded was by using funds from the Backhaus Estate. This consisted of a large property holding of the pioneer priest, Dr Henry Backhaus who died in 1882, and who left this to a charitable trust, the beneficiary of which was the Catholic church in Bendigo. However, the problem was that at that time the income from the trust was only about 15000 pounds annually and a significant amount of this was required for purposes other than completing the cathedral.

A few months after writing his pastoral letter, Bishop Stewart also wrote to the trustees of the Estate. At that time the trustees were Mr Frank Hill, Mons F X Thomas and the Sandhurst Trustees Company which acted as the manager of the estate. The bishop expressed a view that the returns from the estate were below normal commercial returns at the time. Later events indicated that the bishop was also very dissatisfied with the general management of the estate.

It appears that there was then some further interaction between the parties and this resulted in an action in the Supreme Court of Victoria that ultimately extended over a period of eight years. The case commenced with the trustees asking the court for a determination on a number of matters. One sought approval to sell certain properties and to apply the proceeds to the Bishop of Sandhurst for the completion of the Cathedral. Another sought approval to transfer certain properties to the RC Trust Corporation for the Diocese of Sandhurst. A third sought power for the trustees in the future to sell further land with a value less than 10,000 pounds subject to the consent of the state Attorney General and the ‘clergyman of St Kilian’s church’. (The Attorney General was involved because the trust was a charitable one.)

During deliberations in 1956, the Judge directed that a Scheme for the Administration of the Estate be brought into court by the Trustees. In the meantime, the court gave approval for the sale of some 35 parcels of land in Bendigo and 14 parcels in country areas. Much of the land was unimproved in nature. In some cases, where properties contained buildings they were in such poor repair that they had been condemned under the Slum Reclamation and Housing Acts. The sale raised about 25,000 pounds which was of the order of what was required for one year’s funding for the cathedral extensions.

The Scheme of Administration was intended to provide a mechanism for the management of the estate. This had been lacking previously and was a significant reason for Bishop Stewart’s dissatisfaction. It appears that there was considerable disputation about the details of this scheme and it took a number of years for it to be finalised

The court also gave approval for certain allotments to be transferred from the estate to the RC Trust Corporation for the Diocese of Sandhurst. These contained church buildings of various types, eg the Axedale church and buildings on the St Kilian’s site and Marist brother’s school site, in addition to the Axedale Catholic cemetery. Many years later, these allotments have not been transferred, perhaps because the RC Trust Corp was required to hold them on the same trust as the Will.
One clause in the scheme of management, allowed the trustees in future to sell individual parcels of land with a value not exceeding 10,000 pounds, provided that they had obtained the consent of the ‘clergyman of St Kilian’s church’ and the state Attorney General.(Because of inflation, this value has been changed twice, once in 1975 to $120,000 and most recently in 2007 to $1million.)

With the exception of some incidentals, income received from the Backhaus Estate provided the funds to finish building the cathedral. This took some 24 years and $3.06 million.

Our picture, taken by the late Bill Webster, shows Bishop Stewart (seated at right) and the Mayor of Bendigo, Cr Snell (at microphone) at the rear of the cathedral (under where the spire is today). The occasion commemorated the re-laying of the foundation stone by Cardinal Gilroy on16 October 1955.

Information source: The Enterprising Life of Dr Henry Backhaus, by M J Nolan (2008)

by Mal Nolan
Sandhurst Diocesan Historical Commission

Acknowledgement of Country
The Diocese of Sandhurst recognises the traditional custodians of the lands upon which we live, serve and worship.
We acknowledge the people of the regions of our Diocese.
We respectfully honour and acknowledge their ongoing custodianship and their connections to the land, waters and animals. We pay our respects to their culture, their Elders, past, present and emerging, for they hold the memories, the traditions, the culture and the hops of their peoples.
We express our gratitude in the sharing of this land, our sorrow for the personal, spiritual and cultural costs of that sharing and commit ourselves to actively working alongside First Nations People for healing, reconciliation and justice.