Facelift for Ashfield’s grand old lady
Fr Gerry Scott
By Marilyn Rodrigues
Fr Gerry Scott remembers jumping over his back fence in Alt St, Ashfield, to go to St Vincent’s Primary School each day.
He was an altar boy at the parish church.
And as a student of De La Salle College, Ashfield, during World War II he was trained with the other students to use the basement in St Vincent’s presbytery as an air raid shelter.
Now he is one of 14 Vincentian priests of the Ashfield community, seven of whom live in the parish presbytery, a grand old building dating back 111 years.
The old dame has had a nip and tuck here and there, but a major restoration project will see the presbytery shaping up even better than new by Christmas.
She deserves it, says Fr Gerry, partly because the building has not had a crack, or even termites, in all that time.
Ashfield deserves to have its heritage preserved and the building’s ageing residents need some modern comforts and safety features too, he says.
The presbytery renovation is part of the Vincentian community’s plan for continued ministry from a solid foundation laid in 1892 with the beginning of the parish.
The Vincentians had been introduced to Australia in 1885 by the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal Patrick Moran, who laid the presbytery’s foundation stone in 1892 and formally opened it in 1894.
Its main purpose was to be a mission house, a base from which the priests could go out preaching, running retreats and missions throughout Australia and Oceania.
At first, eight priests and three brothers lived in the grand and spacious presbytery - the first of 160 men to do so over the years.
“They could have up to 12 all together at any one time, and a good number of them would remain at the parish,” says Fr Gerry.
And so it is today.
Seven Vincentian Fathers live in Ashfield, including Fr Gerry and the community’s superior and parish priest, Fr Brian Spillane, who also grew up in Ashfield.
Seven other priests of the community work in pastoral missions in other areas, such as Fr Michael Walsh, who is a Sydney prison chaplain, and Fr Laurence McNamara of the Catholic Institute, Strathfield. The rest work in nursing homes, the seminary in Wagga or in the US.
The Vincentian congregation is paying the $2 million presbytery restoration costs.
“We began saving for this purpose about 15 years ago,” says Fr Gerry.
“It’s the first overall renovation of the building, and it is being done within the limits of heritage regulations.”
A lift and an emergency exit are among additions to the presbytery.
Each bedroom will have its own ensuite, heating and cooling unit plus water heating, to reduce overall energy use in the huge building.
Its century-old verandahs will be made safer, too.
Some ground floor rooms will be made into multi-purpose rooms for the use of parishioners and other groups.
“Opening the presbytery up for wider use than just for the priests is all part of our looking to the future, as well,” says Fr Gerry.
The presbytery restoration is part of a $10 million major restoration and building process in the parish.
De La Salle College had work completed in 2001, the church was renovated last year and work on St Vincent’s Primary School was celebrated with a re-opening ceremony before Easter.
Work on Bethlehem College is continuing, and eventually the parish hall will be brought up to date too.
“This should ensure the mission of the overall Church in St Vincent’s parish, Ashfield, for decades to come,” says Fr Gerry.