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'A cup of tea for the priest?'

There was no doubting that the Reverend Felix Schurr walked through the gift door a number of times.


He was a scientist, a musician and a linguist, fluent in a number of languages. He was also a very humble man whose greatest wish was to preach God's word in some of the most far-reaching places on the planet. This included the Australian settlements.


Born in 1827 to Joseph Schurr, a wine-maker, and Magdalena (nee Ehlinger) in Dambach, Alsace-Lorraine in France, close to the border of Germany, he was educated at a Catholic seminary in Paris.


Reverend or Abbe Felix Schurr


At a young age he volunteered to do missionary work on the west coast of Africa, but was struck down with fever so had to return to Paris. After he was ordained as a priest, he headed to the West Indies to work amongst the slaves. Ill health found him again and he returned to Paris, where he was offered a role in Ireland as professor of languages at Maynooth and Trinity colleges in Dublin.


The call to do missionary work, however, was strong on his heart and in 1870 he accepted a position to work across the globe in Armidale, NSW. The area he was responsible for took in the Clarence, Richmond and Tweed areas.


In 1872 he was in charge of the first Catholic church in Casino and in 1874 he saw the first church built at Coraki. In 1877 he opened the first Catholic church in Lismore and then in 1880-82 he assisted in building new churches at Palmer Island, Iluka and Maclean (formerly Rocky Mouth).


Affectionately known as Abbe Schurr, he spent plenty of time in the saddle or later, buggy, as he travelled between the large area that encompassed his responsibilities, often carrying a small organ, believing there should be music in every home.


One reader of the Catholic Weekly fondly remembers the Abbe visiting their home in Myrtle Creek. As they did not have a piano, he sketched a keyboard on a piece of strong cardboard and marked out the sharps and flats in black ink. He numbered all the notes and got the children to practice pieces of music for when he returned.


Whenever he visited a home his first request was always "A cup of tea for the priest?" He would travel from one home to another to offer Mass, teach the children violin, accordion or whatever instrument was available and instruct them on their faith.


Reverend Schurr's grave in Casino, NSW


It is said he encouraged the farmers on the river to grow sugar cane, even financing their early efforts. He was well known for his charity work and generosity, often giving his time and even his boots to those in need.


He died at the age of 73 on 17 July, 1900 in Casino and is buried in the Casino Catholic cemetery. His death was marked with mourning from all quarters of the town. Every shop was shut and households drew their blinds. There was hardly a family in the district that was not represented in the cortege.


References


  • Louise T. Daley, 'Schurr, Felix (1827–1900)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/schurr-felix-4544/text7447, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 3 July 2024.

  • 'Reader recalls saintly life of the Abbe Felix Schurr', Catholic Weekly, Thursday, 3 September, 1942, Page 15.

  • 'The unusual story of a pioneer priest', Catholic Weekly, Thursday, 6 August, 1942, Page 3


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