Mass in the Snowy High Country
A LARGE shovel greets Fr Peter Miller at the door of the aptly named Our Lady of the Snow Church in the Perisher Valley.
It’s another mid-winter weekend where he negotiates a large dump of snow which often covers the building’s entrance.
Naturally it can be very slippery in the winter months.
The Perisher Church is just one place of worship for Catholics in the Kosciusko High Country. The St Mary MacKillop Chapel (Pope St John Paul II Ecumenical Centre) at Thredbo also caters for snow and high country enthusiasts on the Eastern side of the mountain range.
The local priest, Fr Miller, is based at Jindabyne.
It has been his home for the past 21 years and is a long way from where he grew up on the wide-open plains of Ungarie.
For someone who is not overly fond of the cold elements, Fr Miller, sure does embrace his unique ministry.
“I always a bit early so as to prepare for Mass and the first thing I do is turn the electric heaters on,” he said.
“They take a while to warm up but naturally they make it a lot more bearable in the winter months.”
Once the heaters are on, Fr Miller also sounds the very audible electric Church bells.
They are a most prominent within both villages and the high decibels are required to remind those in the distance on the slopes that the Eucharist is being offered.
On snowboards and skis
Parishioners in the ‘Snowys’ are a very transient community.
There is virtually a different congregation each weekend owing to the strong ski tourist factor.
They can be seen arriving on foot, some by snowboard or by skis, while in the lead-up to Mass, children can be seen playfully throwing snow at each other.
Fr Miller, also looks after four other churches including St Columbkille’s at Jindabyne, St Joseph’s Berridale, St Thomas Moonbah (1893) and Our Lady Star of the Sea Dalgety (1878).
These churches occasionally see snow, while the reality of black ice on the road at other times, means the high country priest makes his way around in a four-wheel drive.
“Every so often when a blizzard hits it means the road closures are in-force and you can’t get through,” he said.
Aside from being mindful of kangaroos and wombats in his way, Fr Miller, is sometimes confronted by having to share the road with the occasional deer or wild brumby.
As part of his ministry in the high country, he also visits the Cooma prison as its Catholic chaplain.
“I enjoy visiting the gaol because it is a different aspect of ministry and one that can be very rewarding,” he said.
Further down the mountain, Cooma also attracts the white stuff occasionally and is a major hub for the snow and high country crowd.
It means that parish priest, Fr Mick MacAndrew, and his assistant, Fr James Onoga, also ‘say Mass in the Snow’, particularly at Cooma, Adaminaby, Bombala and Nimmitabel.
To see Mass times for the High Country parishes and missions of Cooma and Jindabyne go to http://cgcatholic.org.au/parishes-and-mass-times/
Our Lady of the Snow: Pray for us!
The Snowy High Country Mass Centres
St Columbkille’s, 24 Kosciusko Rd, Jindabyne
Sun 8-8.25am Reconciliation and on request at other times
John Paul II Ecumenical Centre/ Mary MacKillop Chapel, Crackenback Drive, Thredbo
St Joseph’s, Cnr Mary and Oliver Streets, Berridale
1st, 2nd, 3rd & 4th Sun 10:30am
Our Lady Star of the Sea, Cooma Street, Dalgety
5th Sun 10:30am
St Thomas, Barry Way, Moonbah
Please phone presbytery for summer Mass times
Our Lady of the Snow, Kosciusko Road, Perisher
5pm every Sunday starting at the long weekend in June, continuing to the end of the long weekend in October