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Instruments of divine mercy for 150 years

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Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP (left) unveils the plaque commemorating 150 years of the Marist Fathers at St Patrick’s Parish, Church Hill, as Parish Priest, Fr Michael Whelan assists. PHOTO: Patrick J Lee

For the past 150 years the Marist Fathers have cared for the historic Sydney parish of St Patrick’s Church Hill with their distinct Marian spirituality and their desire to be “instruments of divine mercy.”

Members of the Marist family from far and wide came together on Sunday 16 September for a special Mass to celebrate the sesquicentenary of their pastoral care of the parish.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, who presided over the Mass, said the 150th anniversary commemorated four significant events in the history of the Parish—the death of the first Parish Priest, Archdeacon John McEncroe in 1868, the offer made by Archbishop Polding to the Marists that they take over pastoral care of the parish, the decision of the Marists to accept that offer, and “welcome and collaboration that the congregants then and ever since have given to the leadership and service of the Marists.”

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Parish Priest, Fr Michael Whelan SM, said it was with “a great sense of hope and joy” that the parish community and the Marist family had come together to remember the passing of the beloved first parish priest, who he described as “a great man.”

Archbishop Fisher celebrates Mass with the Marist Fathers at St Patrick’s Church Hill for Sesquicentenary. PHOTO: Patrick J Lee

In his homily the Archbishop spoke of the distinct spirituality of the Marists, known formerly as the Society of Mary.

“The Marists were from the beginning men who strove for that unity between the inner and the outer, the spiritual and the material, the leader and the follower… which is exemplified most perfectly in their patron, Mary our mother.”

“We give thanks to the Marist fathers and their wider family who have contributed so much to the spiritual growth of Sydney and of Oceania,” Archbishop Fisher said.

Following the Mass, a plaque was unveiled in St Patrick’s courtyard, naming the space as “Davis Courtyard” in honour of William Davis, a devout Catholic in the Colony of Sydney on whose land the church was built. Davis, who was transported to Sydney in 1799 as a political prisoner from Ireland, had donated the land for the building of St Patrick’s church as well as a significant amount of money.

Descendants of William Davis—Andrew and Nicola Davis—unveiled the plaque.

Nicol and Andrew Davis unveil the plaque naming St Patrick’s courtyard after their ancestor William Davis, who donated his land for the church to be built on. PHOTO: Patrick J Lee

Andrew Davis told The Catholic Weekly it was a “great honour” to have the courtyard named in honour of his ancestor.

Mr Davis’ sister, Nicola, said she was moved by the Mass and dedication of the courtyard.

“I think it’s terrific. I love the plaque and I love the fact that our ancestor gave the money and the land [to the Church] when the government said he couldn’t.”

Vicar of the Marists’ Australian Province, Fr Peter McMurrich SM, who has written a history of St Patrick’s Parish, said the founder of the Marists, Father Jean-Claude Colin, had asked members of the order to strive to be “instruments of divine mercy.”

Left to right at back: Justin Taylor SM, Sr Janice Ruff SMSM (Provincial of Marist Missionary Sisters), Michael Whelan SM (Parish Priest), Michael Jones FMS, Boba Barber SM (Provincial of the Marist Fathers, Australia), David Kennerley SM Provincial of the Marist Fathers, New Zealand), Jim Carty SM, Des Murphy FMS. Left to right at front: Paul Pidcock SM, Cath Lacey SM (Unit Leader, Marist Sisters, Australia), Margaret Woods, Fidelis McTeigue SM, Kevin Conroy SM, John Worthington SM. PHOTO: Patrick J Lee

“From the time our priests have been here, they’ve tried to be instruments of mercy particularly in the confessional. From as early as the 1870’s priests were reporting that people were coming here from other parishes particularly to receive the sacrament of reconciliation.”

Author of a biography of Fr Jean-Claude Colin, Fr Justin Taylor SM, said the Marist spirituality based on Mary and Jesus could be summarised in three words—“hidden and unknown.”

“The Holy Spirit is able to work more easily through people who are not clinging to their egos, ambitions or hurts. That is the inspiration behind the Marists.”

Vicar of the Marists’ Australian Province, Fr Peter McMurrich SM, signing copies of his history of St Patrick’s Parish. PHOTO: Patrick J Lee
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