Hundreds of people, including bishops from all around the country, filled Sydney’s beloved St Patrick’s Church Hill on Sunday 6 May for an historic Mass commemorating 200 years of the preservation of the Blessed Sacrament in Australia.
Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, who presided over the Mass, pointed out that the site of St Patrick’s could be considered the birthplace of the Catholic Church in Australia.
“You might even say that the Church in Australia was born here as the laity raised an irrepressible cry for the sacraments.”
Con-celebrating the Mass was the newly-elected President of the Australian Catholic Bishop’s Conference, Archbishop Mark Coleridge, the out-going President of ACBC, Archbishop Denis Hart, the Pope’s Apostolic Nuncio to Australia, Archbishop Adolfo Tito Yllana and St Patrick’s Parish Priest, Fr Michael Whelan SM, and numerous bishops from around the country.
Fr Whelan welcomed those present and recalled “the lay faithful” two centuries earlier who had “kept the Eucharistic faith alive against the odds.”
In his homily Archbishop Fisher recounted the story of Irish priest, Fr Jeremiah O’Flynn, who in May 1818, left behind the Blessed Sacrament with the Catholic laity of the colony of Sydney, before he was deported back to England.
Fr O’Flynn had been the only Catholic priest in the colony at the time and his departure meant the Catholics of Sydney were left without access to the sacraments.
The laity treasured the Blessed Sacrament that Fr O’Flynn left behind, praying before it in their private homes, on the site of St Patrick’s church today.
“So it is that Archbishop Polding described this site as the place where our religion was cradled and concealed, its mysteries worshipped,” Archbishop Fisher said.
“In a colony with no Catholic priest for Mass, that preserved sacrament naturally became a focus of Catholic life. It fell to the laity to keep daily vigil before it, recite the Rosary, teach catechism there to their children, and pray Sunday Vespers. They dreamed of the day they would be free to have both priests and sacraments in this country.”
For the occasion, Archbishop Fisher wore the ring, cross and crosier that had belonged to Archbishop Bede Polding, who had laid the foundation stone of St Patrick’s in 1840.
Following the Mass Archbishop Fisher thanked all those involved in organizing the bicentenary Mass and he encouraged those present to have hope for the future of the Catholic Church in Australia.
“The Church of Australia which began here all those years ago could never have imagined what was ahead for us 200 years later. They probably thought that they were doomed, that things were desperate, that they might never have the sacraments or a priest. And look at what was built in the generations after.”
“We’re going through hard times as they did, but God who is always faithful, even when we fail, promises great things to us as well. We have great hope for the future of the Church in Australia, as they did.”