St Pat’s, a new beginning
Fr John Boyle, then dean of the cathedral, looks at the devastation caused by the fire
By Jane Favotto and Sr Vivienne Keely
The objective of the new St Patrick’s Cathedral in Parramatta is “to return to the idea of a church structure that can be a true House of God, to the extent that it serves the local assembly in which God dwells”, says Bishop Kevin Manning, Bishop of Parramatta.
The new cathedral - built on the site of its predecessor - will be dedicated in a Mass on Saturday, November 29.
Bishop Manning says that the cathedral’s primary significance is that it is not a nostalgic recollection of the past but a statement of the meaning of Church as liturgical assembly, as well as the ecclesial role of the Eucharist and the other Sacraments.
The greatest single change in church buildings since the Second Vatican Council “has been a shift in emphasis to the Church as a living entity”, he says.
“In previous times it was the building that determined liturgical worship. Today it is the other way around.”
St Patrick’s was established as a Church community in 1827, but Parramatta had already been playing a significant role in the history of the Catholic Church in Australia since the 18th century.
In 1792 five Catholic lay people petitioned Governor King to appoint a priest to minister to them.
And on April 20, 1803, all the Catholics of the colony were summoned to Government House in Parramatta to hear a proclamation by the Governor that he had appointed Fr James Dixon, an Irish convict priest, to care for them.
Fr Dixon celebrated the first official Catholic Mass in Sydney on Sunday, May 15, and the next one in Parramatta on Sunday, May 22, at an unknown site.
Since that time four different churches have stood on the site of the present St Patrick’s Cathedral.
Fr Dixon’s appointment was withdrawn following the Vinegar Hill Rebellion at Castle Hill in 1804.
In 1820 Fr John Joseph Therry arrived in Parramatta.
He set about obtaining a grant of land for a Catholic church and established the first Catholic school in Australia in Hunter St, Parramatta.
The first church on the St Patrick’s site was begun by Fr Power in 1827.
It was still unroofed when Bishop Polding arrived in 1831 and, when finally completed, was a schoolhouse.
The 1836 church was built according to the design of AWN Pugin.
Bishop Polding laid the foundation stone on St Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1836. The church was consecrated on May 28, 1837.
By 1854 the existing church was too small so Fr Coffey commissioned a larger church, but without the tower.
The foundation stone of the site was registered on August 24, 1846, and laid on August 13, 1854.
Dean Rigney added the Pugin Tower, whose foundation stone was laid on November 10, 1878.
The tower was consecrated on St Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1880. The spire was blessed in January 1883.
To meet the demands of a growing congregation, a new church was built in 1936 to seat 700.
It incorporated the existing tower and spire. The foundation stone was laid on May 26, 1935, and the church opened on May 31, 1936.
In 1986 the diocese of Parramatta was established and St Patrick’s Church was designated a cathedral.
Bishop Bede Heather was the first Bishop of Parramatta.
The cathedral was destroyed by fire on February 19, 1996.
Jane Favotto is editor of Catholic Outlook, the newspaper of the Parramatta diocese, and communications manager of the diocese; Sr Vivienne Keely CHF is the author of Dixon of Botany Bay: the Convict Priest from Wexford and research officer with the diocese of Parramatta