The history of our grand old building began way back in 1881. Formerly, it was St. Malachy’s presbytery.

Father Kearns

Before Fr Kearns arrived in 1875, Nagambie was served by priests from Kilmore. All priests, including Fr Kearns, stayed at the Royal Mail Hotel. Thus, building a presbytery became a priority for Fr Kearns.

Father Kearns

The presbytery was constructed in 1881 through the donations and fundraising efforts of the Nagambie community, which raised 1000 pounds for the project. Fr Kearns also contributed 100 pounds towards the construction as well.

The project was a significant success for St. Malachy’s as they secured the services of Reed and Barnes Architecture. Reed and Barnes were prominent architects who designed landmarks such as the Melbourne Town Hall, Trades Hall, State Library of Victoria, the Royal Exhibition Building, and Menzies Hotel. The design resulted in a grand, sophisticated presbytery that was Fr Kearns’ home for twelve years.

Closing the Presbytery

Over the next 118 years, St Malachy’s presbytery was home to nine parish priests and numerous assistant priests. The final Parish Priest to reside at St Malachy’s presbytery was Fr Chris Reay, who lived there until 2004. After his departure, Nagambie had no resident Parish Priest and was instead administered by the Parish Priest of Euroa.

Demolition Plans

In the 1980s, the parish received quotes to repair issues such as wall cracks, rising damp, and leaking roofs. Unfortunately, the quotes amounted to over $300,000. Since the parish didn’t have that much money, the presbytery was left vacant. As time passed, it deteriorated and became less and less salvageable.

In 2011, Fr. Tony Hill, the Euroa Parish Priest and Nagambie Parish Administrator organised a meeting with the Nagambie Parish Council. During the meeting, the Chancery pressured them to decide what to do with the building. One option presented was to demolish the building, and a loan was offered to them for this purpose.

Saving the Presbytery

The imminent demolition of the building and external pressure prompted the Parish Council to take action to preserve their parish heritage and history.

The Parish Council was able to secure a Heritage Victoria Grant that provided a dollar for every dollar contributed by the parish. Following the footsteps of their forebears, the council began organising fundraising activities such as fairs and catering for nearby rowing events. A grant from the Department of Justice allowed them to install security fencing and lighting. At the same time, a Heathcote Community Grant provided funding for constructing disabled and unisex toilets at the back of the property.

Over the next eight years, the parish secured $65,000 in grants and raised $135,000 through fundraising efforts. In addition, parishioners and local tradespeople contributed many hours of in-kind work to the project. Thanks to these efforts, the presbytery now boasts a new roof and storm-water system, updated electrical system, freshly painted internal plaster, polished timber floors, new carpeting, air conditioning, hot water system, and renovated bathroom and kitchen.

The Moreton Bay Fig

Significantly, a Moreton Bay Fig Tree was crucial in preserving St. Malachy’s presbytery. The presbytery had an extensive cellar that was prone to flooding. To combat this, a Moreton Bay Fig tree was planted in the 1930s to draw water from the underground stream, causing problems for the presbytery. This brilliant low-tech solution helped dry out the cellar. An added bonus was it created a spectacular natural landmark in Nagambie, which still stands next to the building.

A new beginning

St Malachy’s presbytery is now tenanted to Nagambie Lakes Community House, a non-profit organisation. They offer a range of social and educational activities to the Nagambie community. It has been renamed the Kearns Centre in honour of Fr Patrick Kearns. The history will be preserved and continued through the Nagambie Lakes Community House.

The main hall of the Kearns Centre will feature a showcase that references its Catholic heritage. The showcase will display the illuminated address and testimony given to Fr. Kearns by St. Malachy’s parishioners on the eve of his transfer to Heathcote. The testimony is exquisite, covered in Moroccan leather with gold sidings and “terms of endearment”. A bronze commemorative plaque will also be displayed, briefly describing the parish’s history and achievements.

The people of Nagambie believe in creating mutually beneficial situations for everyone involved. It is worth noting that St. Malachy’s presbytery is a building that was constructed by the people, for the people, twice over.