Founding Fathers of Catholicism in Australia honoured

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Saint Mary’s Cathedral interior – a Church established by the work of Irish Catholic priests who ventured to New South Wales to minister to the faithful on the Australian continent PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

The founding fathers of the Catholic faith in Australia will be honoured by the Sydney Archdiocese via live-stream Mass on Sunday 3 May at 10:30am from Saint Mary’s Cathedral.

The day marks the 200th Anniversary of the arrival of Australia’s first sanctioned priests – Irish-born Fr John Joseph Therry and Fr Philip Conolly. The priests sailed from Cork on a convict ship to celebrate Mass in the New South Wales colony after decades of hostility from the NSW government; public Mass was forbidden despite the growing number of Catholics among the soldiers and convicts.

Archbishop of Sydney, Most Rev. Anthony Fisher OP will lay flowers at the burial place of Fr Therry in the crypt.

The burial place of Fr John Joseph Therry – founder of St Mary’s Cathedral and one of Australia’s first official Catholic priests – fittingly buried in the Cathedral he helped build PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

While Fr Conolly moved onto ministry in Tasmania, Fr Therry spent more than forty years as a priest in Sydney and left a remarkable legacy including helping to establish the first church where the Cathedral now stands.

the only Catholic priest on the Australian mainland

Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney the Most Rev. Terry Brady, who has an affinity to Fr Therry’s story, works at the same church where Fr Therry spent many years in Sydney; St Augustine’s in Balmain.

Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney Rev Terry Brady “[Fr Therry] is a great personal inspiration to me and to many Catholics in Sydney” PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

“He is a great personal inspiration to me and to many Catholics in Sydney,” said Bishop Brady. “For five years, Fr Therry was the only Catholic priest on the Australian mainland and he became famous for travelling to remote communities on horse-back.”

Items of Fr Therry placed on his tomb including his collar and vestments as well as chalice PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

“He was tremendously hard-working and resilient and really laid great foundations for the Church in Australia.”

a great commitment to social justice

Bishop Brady also spoke of Fr Thierry’s advocacy for the fair treatment of Indigenous Australians. “Fr Therry also had a great commitment to social justice, pleading with Governor Darling to ensure that Aborigines could access education and a good standard of accommodation,” he said. 

Fr Therrys friendship with the Indigenous Australians a lasting legacy in the Sydney Archdiocese with the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry Community in La Perouse where Aboriginal Australian Catholics celebrate their unique heritage PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Australian Catholic Church historian, Fr Edmund Campion said Fr Therry’s legacy to the Church was profound.

“When he first arrived in Australia, he said he’d only stay here for four years, but instead he ended up staying for a remarkable 44 years and he really became the Church for the Catholics living here at that time,” said Fr Campion.

Uluru, Northern Territory. Fr Therry would travel far on horseback to minister to Catholics in the outback PHOTO: Joanna Penn, cc by 2.0

“Even though Catholics in the remote outback didn’t see him often, they knew he was here and he was dedicated to them and would minister sacraments to them, including the last rites when they were near death.”

The Mass will be live-streamed via the St Mary’s Cathedral YouTube channel Sunday 3 May at 10:30am via this link.

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