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SACRED HEART MISSION, THURSDAY ISLAND: FATHER FERDINAND HARTZER

The Queensland Postcard, Australia has a printed blue ‘POSTAGE/ TWO PENCE’ stamp of Queensland which is postmarked with an unframed postmark of THURSDAY ISLAND/ ( )/ 91/ QUEENSLAND. It is addressed to Dr. Sicard, Alby (sic) France, Europe and there is a black double ringed reception postmark of ‘ALBI’ as well as a double ringed red, presumed transit postmark (Figure 1).

The reverse message is headed ‘Thursday Island, 2 Janvier 1891' and the French message has not been translated. There is a purple boxed SACRED HEART MISSION/ THURSDAY ISLAND and it is signed F. Hartzer, followed by initials that are illegible, but refer to his religious mission status (Figure 2).

Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church began its ministries in the Torres Strait when Pope Leo XIII requested that the Sacred Heart Fathers establish a Mission in New Guinea. It was decided by the Fathers that the setting up and servicing of such a Mission would be better facilitated if a site was chosen in the Torres Strait, and Thursday Island was chosen for this purpose. This area which is between Australia and Papua-New Guinea is seen in Figure 3.

On October 24, 1884, Father Andrew Navarre. Father Ferdinand Hartzer and Brother Guiseppe de Santis arrived on Thursday Island to establish the Sacred Heart Mission. The historic church which still stands to-day (but which is uncertain to be the original building), was built only a few years after their arrival. The M.S.C. brothers ran the Mission until January 2, 1886, when the first Sisters were welcomed to the island. They were Sister Paul Perdrix, Sister Madeleine Masselin and Sister Claire Dessailly of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Secret Heart, all of whom were of French origins.

The Sacred Heart Mission had also begun a tiny Catholic School on the closed-in verandah of the convent. Sister Margaret Sweeny, the first Australian, taught the children - a handful of European and Filipino students. The Parish has always been known for the diversity of its parishioners, which can be traced back to its earliest beginnings. The M.S.C. Brothers had also built an orphanage on church grounds, and the constitution, dated June 20 1889, reads: " St. Henry’s Roman Catholic Asylum is a charitable institution where children of every race and denomination are received to be boarded and educated by the Sisters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart are entitled to be received into it....Should parents or guardians for a good motive be unable to pay expenses, children are kept free".

The orphanage continued to be in use until evacuation procedures were in place during World War II in 1942, but it was reopened for a short period in 1948.

From 1870, the year that commercial quantities of pearl shell was taken from the Torres Strait, Filipinos were brought in to dive for shell and to gather beche-de-mer for higher wages than that at home. Missionary Fr. Ferdinand Hartzer wrote of his arrival on Thursday Island in 1884: "We found the place populated by a small number of Europeans and about 400 Catholics from Manila, scattered amongst the various islands. They were fishing for pearls". The majority were young single men from Manila, Cebu, Leyte, Luzon, Masbate, Panay and Samar. Most of them settled on Thursday or Horn Island, sometimes after living for a time on the outer islands, including Darnley, Nepean, Skull, Warrior and Yam Island.

I was surprised by the paucity of biographical data on Father Ferdinand Hartzer, the sender of the postcard from Thursday Island, for one Australian website mentioned him several times after his transfer to the Sydney suburb of Randwick in Avoca Street, and also to the Sydney suburb of Botany, which became his special care. The primary school at Botany had 115 children and Father Hartzer was responsible for 36 children making their first Communion.

I would greatly appreciate much more information on Father Ferdinand Hartzer.

 
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