Igniting faith in inner city Sydney

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Drawing on the Go Make Disciples Archdiocesan Mission Plan, Fr Paul Smithers is launching an exciting new chapter for one of the city’s foundational Catholic communities. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Drawing on the Go Make Disciples Archdiocesan Mission Plan, Fr Paul Smithers is launching an exciting new chapter for one of the city’s foundational Catholic communities. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

The Sydney Archdiocese has announced its newest parish and it’s only minutes from the CBD.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP formally recognised by Decree the creation of the new Parish of Sydney City South under the Patronage of Our Lady, St Joseph and St Vincent de Paul.

Merging the parishes of Rosebery, Waterloo and Redfern after close consultation with the various communities brings the total number of parishes in the Archdiocese to 133. Prior to this, the most recent church community was created in 2016 with the amalgamation of North Sydney, Lavender Bay and Kirribilli forming Our Lady of the Way Parish.

“Mergers can be difficult and painful but…are necessary if we want to continue to be viable” – Fr Paul Smithers

Occupying just 4km of land, the new inner-city parish comprises a unique demographic of government housing, exclusive private real estate and everything in between. Also significant to the community is Australia’s next saint-in-waiting Eileen O’Connor who not only lived in the parish, but went to school and worshipped there.

Sydney City South Parish Priest Fr Paul Smithers said the amalgamation was an exciting time for him and his inner city community to address the changing needs of the area.

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The priest known for his signature moustache and socks to match, said that while he knows he has his work cut out, he also believes the amalgamation is necessary to provide his community with meaningful relationships with Jesus.

So much so, he has embarked on a personal pilgrimage to individually bless a street every week until he has offered prayers for all 140 of them within the parish.

“Renewing the Church and bringing our community together as one really is such a great opportunity for us all and for me, letting every street know they are being prayed for is a good start,” he said.

Australia’s next saint-in-waiting Eileen O’Connor not only lived in the parish community, but went to school and worshipped there.
Australia’s next saint-in-waiting Eileen O’Connor not only lived in the parish community, but went to school and worshipped there.

“How often do parishioners have the opportunity to be involved in how their Church operates, we have spent a lot of time consulting our community and listening to how they want their Church to be.

“We have to accept that merging parishes will possibly become more common but it is also so we can continue to go make disciples and renew our parishes.

“We constantly need renewing and that’s not a bad thing, just as St Francis did it in his day in his Church that was struggling, he infused it with a real sense of spirituality, life, liturgy and evangelisation and that’s what we are trying to do here.

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“When Churches were originally built in the inner city they were positioned so people could walk to them, now people have cars and there’s good public transport so if it happened today we certainly wouldn’t put a church in Redfern, Waterloo and Rosebery, it just wouldn’t make sense.

“All three parishes are walking distance from each other, Waterloo to Redfern is 800 metres and Waterloo to Rosebery is 1.9kms. Geographically we are a small parish, and when other priests say it’s a ‘super parish’ I point out to them they probably have a bigger geographical area than I have with all three put together.

“Mergers can be difficult and painful but at the end of the day they are necessary if we want to continue to be viable and just as important be alive.

“Fr James Mallon, who wrote Divine Renovation said ‘any major change will mean that people will leave but other people will come in as a result of that change’ and that is proving true.

Fr Smithers and Archbishop Fisher cut the cake at a celebration at Waterloo in 2019. Photo:: Alphonsus Fok
Fr Smithers and Archbishop Fisher cut the cake at a celebration at Waterloo in 2019. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

“Already we are seeing new faces in the community which is very pleasing.”

Using a “cradle to grave” philosophy, the new parish aims to cater to people in all stages of life with the building of a much-needed early childhood centre, a new primary school as well as renovations to the existing church buildings.

Fr Paul said his focus is on encouraging the whole community to experience the church again, not just the 400 parishioners from his three churches.

“We have a diverse community here and we need to respect the uniqueness of that, whether that’s the indigenous spirit, people who are gay, the working class families or those struggling on the margins,” he said.

“We are all about being welcoming, these people live in the parish and they are just as welcome as anybody else, you can’t ignore a large chunk of your parish because they are gay.

“It is an exciting change as it brings together the renewal of parish structures, not for their own sake, but in service of new forms of outreach and a greater, enlarged sense of community…” – Daniel Ang

“At the end of the day we want to create a welcoming and hospitable environment for everyone.” Fr Paul has been in the parish since December 2017, arriving as parish priest of Rosebery and administrator of Redfern and Waterloo.

A former Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate, he was incardinated as a Sydney archdiocesan priest, as he felt he was called to city ministry. He believes the Church in Sydney is in need of renewal and a big part of that is implementing the Go Make Disciples mission plan under the direction of the Sydney Centre for Evangelisation’s Director Daniel Ang.

“It is an exciting change as it brings together the renewal of parish structures, not for their own sake, but in service of new forms of outreach and a greater, enlarged sense of community which Go Make Disciples seeks to foster,” said Mr Ang.

“Our Sydney Centre for Evangelisation will be supporting the new community in this new chapter for the people of Sydney City South, with new ministries and opportunities for spiritual formation on the horizon.”

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