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High hopes for rail trail to ‘holy place’


A new $2.1m walking and cycling trail in the South East has been backed by the Adelaide Archdiocese in the hope it will encourage more pilgrimages to Penola.

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Archbishop Patrick O’Regan has written to the Wattle Range Council offering his support for the 25km Coonawarra-Penola Rail Trail and its connection to Father Julian Tenison Woods Park which is owned by the Archdiocese.

This follows negotiations between the Penola parish and the council on the project, including the potential relocation of the park’s sculptures. The parish’s rejection of this proposal was endorsed by the Archbishop.

Fr Woods and St Mary MacKillop co-founded the Sisters of St Joseph and opened the first Catholic school in the State in a stable at Penola in 1866.

Construction of some sections of the walking and cycling trail has commenced but Wattle Range Council chief executive Ben Gower said the council was awaiting a traffic management report concerning the inclusion of Father Woods Park.

The park is located on land gifted to the Archdiocese by local farmer Jack Gartner and borders the Naracoorte-Lucindale Council area. That council is constructing a nature-based trail through the forest to the Naracoorte Caves, which would link up with the Coonawarra-Penola Rail Trail.

Mr Gower said the traffic management study would address any safety issues associated with running the trail across the Riddoch Highway from Father Woods Park.

The project involves bitumising the rail line, constructing toilets and seating along the trail and at the park, and erecting interpretive signage.

Mr Gower said the park was the “perfect spot” to start the new trail due to its location and historical significance.

It is located across the road from what is known as the Fr Woods tree, marking where the priest used to say Mass, although Mr Gower said records showed the original tree was struck by lightning.

In 2010 the late Archbishop Philip Wilson rededicated the park and unveiled tree sculptures depicting various aspects of the life of
Fr Woods including his work as priest-educator travelling on horseback over vast distances of the South East and his scientific and geological achievements.

In his letter to the council, Archbishop O’Regan said the site played a significant role in the life of Fr Woods.

“It is in this area that he would come to stay with the McArthur family for some rest and from here he could launch himself further in his mission territory,” he wrote.

“The Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide is committed to ensuring that the park remains a worthy and dignified memorial to the work done by Father Julian Tenison Woods.

“The park inspires people to visit the township of Penola to find out more about the life and work of Australia’s only saint, Mary MacKillop, who together with
Fr Julian Tenison Woods began their education work there in 1866.

“The park’s connection to the Coonawarra-Penola Walking Trail will also encourage and facilitate easier walking pilgrimages for those who wish to make a pilgrimage to Penola. The pilgrimages are part of our Catholic tradition in which groups of people set out on a journey to a Holy Place.

“Penola has the reputation as one of these ‘Holy Places’ in Australia because it is where Mary MacKillop lived and began her mission which has now made her famous as a canonised saint of the Catholic Church.”

Archbishop O’Regan said he hoped the connection between Father Woods Park and Penola via the rail trail would make it much easier to promote and encourage pilgrimages to Penola.

A local newspaper article said the rail trail project was part of a larger project to create a Great Aussie Camino that would emulate Europe’s popular Camino trail.

A company called the Aussie Camino was registered in 2014 by Victorian school teacher Luke Mills. The Camino starts in Portland, Victoria, where Mary lived until leaving for Penola in 1860. Three private operators are now running the walking pilgrimages with a number of groups booked for 2022.

Marie Valenzuela, coordinator of the Mary MacKillop Penola Centre, said it was hoped the council would consider improved signage for the centre and the Mary MacKillop Stable School Park as part of the rail trail project.


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