Marian Valley and Penrose Park: spiritual powerhouses

Marian Valley and Penrose Park: spiritual powerhouses

Br Barry Coldrey

Marian Valley via Canungra, is about an hour's drive from both Brisbane and the Gold Coast. Similarly, Penrose Park, near Berrima, is close to the Hume Highway, a similar distance south of Sydney. Each property has around 100 hectares of surrounding bushland.

The Pauline Fathers' shrines are a ministry of the monks of St Paul the Hermit, a Religious Order founded by Blessed Eusebius in 1215 in Hungary. The Pauline monks were introduced to Australia in the Wollongong Diocese from Poland in 1982.

They are a semi-contemplative Order devoted to a life of prayer and service to Jesus through Mary. The life embraces contemplation, Divine Liturgy and devotion to Mary. Their ministry involves pastoral work in parishes, retreats and managing the major shrines as at Penrose Park and Marian Valley.

At these locations, the monks provide spiritual exercises of all kinds for those who arrive constantly by coach and car for Mass, private prayer, retreats, contemplation, renewal and picnics in their extensive grounds.

Marian Valley

A few kilometres from the town of Canungra, the official title of the Pauline Fathers' property is the Shrine of Our Lady Help of Christians, but the place is better known to Queensland Catholics as Marian Valley.

At first sight, as your car plunges down the steep hill into the valley, you could be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled into a 'united nations' of Catholic spirituality. For the Marian devotion of more than a dozen countries is displayed in the individual chapels and shrines spread around the carefully manicured lawns.

Mary is honoured everywhere, in the Sri Lankan tribute to Our Lady Madhu, in the glass-walled Filipino chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and in the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, set deep into a recreated stone grotto.

Australia's contribution is found in its first saint, Mary MacKillop, who welcomes arrivals at the property's entrance and in the beautiful shrine of Our Lady of the Southern Cross, nestled deep in surrounding forest appropriately at the base of a gigantic Moreton Bay fig.

There are separate shrines to the Blessed Virgin from the Eritrean community, South Americans, Italians, Vietnamese, Koreans and many more. New applications are received regularly.

Each shrine or monument offers an explanation of its associated faith story, an outline of the reported visions of Our Lady in their region and accounts of the miracles which followed these sightings.

The chapels and monuments are built and maintained by individual community groups, with the Rector, Father Columba Macbeth-Green, giving his approval, in line with council regulations, for the location and type of shrine or chapel requested. However, from that point, their construction and maintenance is the responsibility of the appropriate ethnic communities.

At the centre of Marian Valley is the main church, known as the Chapel of the Black Madonna, because it houses an authorised copy of the miraculous icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa. The Pauline Fathers have their Head House at Jasna Gora, Poland, where the Black Madonna is located.

In addition, there are the impressive Stations of the Cross, fourteen life-sized sculptures fashioned in Vietnam and shipped to Queensland. The Stations line the path which winds around the property. In fact, even the fence posts and rocks along the way add to the spiritual dimension. Each bears plaques from grateful visitors for favours received.

Since each ethnic group celebrates Mary's national feast on a different day, there are constant celebrations of devotion at Marian Valley with many groups wearing their national costumes.

"More often than not, after the various groups have joined in the Mass or congregated to pray at their own chapels, they'll have a picnic or celebration of their own culture on the lawns. It's delightful", Father Columba observes.

At Marian Valley the three resident monks have strikingly different backgrounds. Father Columba Macbeth-Green is in his early 40s and from New South Wales. In his early days he was a Franciscan friar but later joined the Pauline Fathers. In addition to his management of the Shrine, Father Columba is Chaplain to the Queensland South-Eastern Police Force.

Brother Luke McKay, on the other hand, is from a rural property near Colac in Victoria, while the third member of the community, Father Gabriel Taylor, is the oldest at 60 and from Perth in Western Australia.

While Marian Valley has a strong Catholic and devotional tone, all are welcomed and are encouraged to enjoy the peaceful surroundings.

Unique

Marian Valley and Penrose Park are unique places in Australia whereas it would not be so unusual to find such monasteries in the ancient cities and traditions of Europe, especially Poland, where the Order of St Paul has existed since 1382.

However, in Australia, in a remote rainforest valley in a corner of south-east Queensland once owned by artist William Robinson, Marian Valley is something of a novelty.

All costs associated with Marian Valley are covered by donations and all the work in maintaining and improving is undertaken by volunteers. Indeed Marian Valley is very much part of the local community.

Contact details for the Pauline Fathers: Penrose Park, via Berrima, 9 Hanging Rock Road, Berrima, NSW 2577. Tel: (02) 4878-9192 and Fax: (02) 4878-9351. Email: pauline fathers_at_bigpond.com and website: www.pauline fathers.org

Marian Valley, 2541 Beechmont Road via Canungra, 4275. Tel/Fax: (07) 5533-3617 and email: marianvalley_at_bigpond.com

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