Pilgrim Father

New visions. Fresh hopes. Deep faith. All of these, and courage, were embodied by a young Austrian Jesuit, Fr Aloysius Kranewitter, whose pioneering spirit was commemorated at Sevenhill on 20 December,
exactly 175 years after he arrived in the Clare Valley.

At the start of the 175th anniversary Mass at St Aloysius’ Church, Sevenhill on 20 December, from left to right: Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ, Fr Peter Hosking SJ, Fr Kieran Gill SJ, Fr Iain Radvan SJ, Fr Robert Morris SJ and Superior of Sevenhill Fr Brendan Kelly SJ. All photographs of the Mass by David McMahon

 FINDING GOD IN ALL THINGS 

This homily was delivered by Fr Brendan Kelly SJ, Superior of Sevenhill

Across the road from here, in the lounge room of Tappeiner House on the La Storta property, hangs a painting by the Australian Impressionist artist, Frederick McCubbin. The painting, a triptych, is titled ‘The Pioneer’. Its three panels tell the story of a young settler family that made a home and life in the Australian bush.

The left panel depicts the settler and his wife on their “selection”. In the middle of the bush is the wagon with the man starting a campfire. In the foreground, his wife is very pensive. Surrounded by the vastness of the bush, they are alone.

In the centre panel, the passage of time is indicated by the child in its mother’s arms. The now built family home is visible in the background through a clearing in the trees. The clearing shows where the trees have been removed to create a pasture and tillable land. 

“If I were an artist, I think a triptych such as the one by Australian Impressionist artist Frederick McCubbin would capture well what we are celebrating this evening,” said Fr Brendan Kelly during his homily. 

The right panel shows that considerable time has passed, with a rising city now visible in the background. A young man is kneeling and clearing a grave. He is the young boy in the middle panel, and the grave is that of his parents.

The triptych captures a “selection” struggled for at great cost, with the marriage knowing isolation and the hardship of working the land, that has, nevertheless, given birth to a new nation, an emerging city, with new visions and fresh hopes. The pioneer husband and wife have created new life and helped produce a new people in their new land.

The triptych of ‘The Pioneer’ echoes well the words of the Lord from the prophet Isaiah in our first reading tonight where we hear: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

These words are very pertinent for our celebration tonight as we remember with gratitude the arrival of Fr Aloysius Kranewitter and the Weikert party to the Clare Valley 175 years ago to the day.

If I were an artist, I think a triptych such as the one by McCubbin would capture well what we are celebrating this evening. The first panel would portray the arrival of the good ship ‘Alfred’ at Port Adelaide on 8 December 1848, and the reception of the Jesuits, Frs Kranewitter and Maximilian Klinkowstrom, in Adelaide by Dr Murphy, the Bishop of Adelaide. The second panel would present the journey by bullock wagons from Adelaide on 14th December of 40 of the remnants of the original Weikert party of 146, with a solitary Jesuit, Fr Kranewitter, as chaplain, arriving in the Clare Valley and at Clare Village on 20th December. This village had only been established six years earlier, in 1842, with the infant colony of South Australia itself only established in late December 1836. The third panel would see the birth of Sevenhill in 1851. That is a celebration that still awaits us. What, though, draws our attention tonight is the middle panel of the would-be triptych.

It is difficult and hazardous enough to travel nearly four months by sea “to the other end of the earth”, as Kranewitter described it, with sickness, death, storms and stagnant calms, only to arrive finally at a place that is totally new and foreign, to have the party one sailed with “fall to pieces” in Adelaide; and then, within a week, to set off again over rugged terrain with only bush tracks to go by on a journey of approximately 129 kilometres that would take six nights and five days. Part of the tardiness of this trip could be attributed to the untethered, wandering, grazing bullocks having to be rounded up each day!

Bishop Murphy retained Fr Klinkowstrom to minister in Adelaide and he commissioned Fr Kranewitter to go north to the Clare district with the Weikerts, to seek out and assist whatever German Catholics were already living there, and in surrounding places. Clare Village itself was effectively the frontier of the European penetration to the north of Adelaide with a population of mainly Irish Catholics and a few Germans.  It was the Weikerts’ dream to establish a German settlement in the Clare district.

Kranewitter says that he very gladly undertook the assignment given to him. He describes the journey from Adelaide to Clare Village as follows:

“… It was midsummer, all the grass was dried up with the heat and the sun burnt fiercely, though the heat of it was tempered by a slight cool breeze. Even in our own Tyrol (in Austria) it is more fatiguing to travel on foot in the summer heat than it is here. The heat is not so oppressive, since it is freshened by a prevalent sea breeze, and heavy dew falls every night, although often for months on end there is not a drop of rain. On the 20th we arrived at Clare Village, and took up our residence in a perfectly new house which an Irish Catholic had built on a section of land a little off the road in a low-lying valley …”

The house to which Fr Kranewitter refers was a single storey, five-room, windowless dwelling that the Weikerts rented from an Irishman who had returned to Adelaide. Its ruins are in the vineyards of the Knappstein family, near Neagle’s Rock, south-west of the present-day Clare township.

It was from here that Fr Kranewitter, isolated, like our pioneers in the McCubbin triptych, with meagre material resources, without a horse for some time, and with little English, would begin his missionary activity, which in ensuring years would grow and flourish (third panel of the triptych). The beginnings were humble and marked by considerable poverty, which nonetheless caused Fr Kranewitter to draw upon a deep well of what he described as “patience, courage and hope”. In Austria, at the time of his ordination, he wanted to be sent wherever the need of priests was greatest. Well, his wish had come true, and his ensuing steadfastness and perseverance were anchored in his great trust in God’s providential love.

The beautiful and fertile country that Fr Kranewitter and the Weikerts settled on is home to the Ngadjuri people, who had traversed, lived on, and cared for this land for over thousands of years. Their territory extends from Gawler in the south to Quorn, Koonamore and Bimbowrie in the north, from Burra in the east to Crystal Brook in the west. It is estimated that Ngadjuri territory embraced approximately 30,000 square kilometres. Despite the conflicts that occurred throughout the Clare Valley, Fr Kranewitter and Franz Weikert enjoyed a peaceful and respectful relationship with the Ngadjuri, a contact and friendship that has continued through to the present day.   

The gospel reading today tells of a God who promises a young girl new life in the form a child to whom she will give birth and who will be no less than Immanuel (God-with-us). He will be the one to save our humanity from its wretchedness. He will be the one who will bring lasting peace and freedom to the world.

The whole story as it will unfold within the next week is a preposterous one! It is scarcely credible, especially in a world that seems so hellbent on destruction, such as we are experiencing in our present time. Yet, the promise is made to Mary, and she accepts to play her part. She believes – “Let it be with me according to your word.” This belief will prove costly. Mary and Joseph will travel, and she will give birth to Jesus in isolation and amidst great poverty. She and Joseph will need to flee their own country for the sake of Jesus’ life and their own lives.

In Fr Brendan Kelly’s words, “The promise is made to Mary, and she accepts to play her part.” To the right of the altar of St Aloysius’ Church is this historic and unique crib, designed and crafted in Austria in the 19th century. It was brought to Sevenhill by Brother Francis Poelzl SJ. Photograph by David McMahon.

This story is a story of faith, resting in the assurance that ‘nothing will be impossible for God.’ It is the story of every believer, wrestling with the seemingly impossible and holding on to, at different times – both tenuously and strenuously – patience, courage, faith, steadfast perseverance and hope.  It was the way of Mary and Joseph and so many other faithful ones, who went before and came after them, down the ages. And it was the way with Aloysius Kranewitter, who left all and gave all to love and serve God and his fellow human beings, no matter where the place or however the conditions.

Tonight, we remember with affection and gratitude Fr Kranewitter and the beginning of the Jesuit presence in the Clare Valley, and we remember all those, too, especially the Weikerts, who supported and helped the nascent mission that was subsequently to grow and mature out of Sevenhill. Thanks be to God!

Beside the steps to the main entrance of St Aloysius’ Church after the Mass (left to right): Celebrant Fr Brendan Kelly SJ and Concelebrants the Most Rev Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ, Fr Kieran Gill SJ, Fr Robert Morris SJ, Fr Peter Hosking SJ and Fr Iain Radvan SJ.

St Aloysius’ Church, photographed here on the morning of 20 December, has served the Parish of Sevenhill since its completion in 1875. A magnificent example of Gothic Revival architecture, it is surrounded by vines and gardens. Photograph by David McMahon.

In the words of the photographer, Jesuit-educated David McMahon, “To shoot this at St Aloysius’ Church in Sevenhill on the morning of 20 December, I invoked what I call the ‘screaming hamstrings pose’. This happens when someone who is 183cm tall has to crouch to achieve an unusual but deeply meaningful angle. This enabled me to align the IHS sign in the south transept of the church with the distant trio of stained-glass windows in the north transept.”