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First Eileen O’Connor, next Archbishop Polding?

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Bede Polding Pilgrims in front of Saint Benedict’s, Broadway PHOTO: David Ryan

Pilgrims devoted to keeping alive the legacy of Australia’s first Catholic bishop and then Archbishop of Sydney took to the streets despite traffic, crowds, and scorching heat in Sydney’s CBD on St Patrick’s Day.

Organiser Ronan Reilly led the first Bede Polding Walk through Sydney streets since its hiatus in the early 2000s.

Mr Reilly discussed Archbishop Polding and the walk with The Catholic Weekly.

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The walk follows the route of Archbishop Polding’s funeral procession in 1877.

What was remarkable about the procession at the time was the size of the crowd that turned out to pay its final respects to the late archbishop.

“About 100,000 people lined the streets of Sydney in 1877 to view Polding’s funeral procession.

“To this day no other funeral in Australian history has ever received such a number; it is estimated that 10 per cent of the New South Wales population were present on the street,” he said.

This remarkable phenomenon hints at Polding’s immense impact on the early formation of Australian Catholic identity. The route traces Polding’s funeral procession between Saint Mary’s Cathedral, the construction of which Archbishop Polding initiated, and Saint Thomas Beckett Church Lewisham, where he was originally buried before being moved to the Cathedral Crypt. Polding, an English Benedictine from a recusant family, endured tireless travel in the Australian bush during his ministry.

Photo of Archbishop John Bede Polding OSB 1794-1877

“From his biography, it is estimated that the total kilometres Archbishop Polding travelled around Australia would be the same distance as to the moon and back,” Mr Reilly said.

The 1877 procession included the sung monastic office of terce, sext and none at various churches in Sydney including Saint Benedict’s Broadway and St John’s College Chapel- all established by Polding.

Vespers were sung at the Cathedral crypt in the presence of Polding’s burial plot.

Pilgrims praying at the tomb of Archbishops Polding and Vaughan at St Mary’s Cathedral Crypt PHOTO: David Ryan

By resurrecting interest in the walk, Polding supporters hope to raise awareness of his legacy and hope one day he will be recognised as an Australian saint.
The diverse group of pilgrims included local university students, mothers, and visitors from interstate.

Many parishes on the East Coast of Australia have a church consecrated by Polding, a street named after him, or some historical connection to the man.

His legacy includes not only buildings but the seeds of Australia’s distinctive Catholic culture. It was Polding who instituted Our Lady Help of Christians as patroness of Australia and campaigned against prevailing prejudice for the welfare of indigenous Australians subject to colonial brutality.

He also advocated for reconciliation between the British establishment and the Irish convict working class in light of an Australian identity apart from Old World politics.

To participate or for more information contact the Facebook page: Archbishop John Bede Polding OSB.

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