St Joseph’s Rockdale marks 125 years of being a premier parish

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Descendants of the Walz family who were prominent contributors to the early life of St Joseph’s parish, Rockdale. St Joseph’s recently celebrated 125 years of parish life. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Barrie Unsworth, former Premier of New South Wales, with his wife Pauline launched a history book of the community of St Joseph’s, Rockdale, at its 125th anniversary celebration.

The couple belong to the parish community, and the anniversary marked a milestone in the history of the Catholic Church and the Sydney Archdiocese.

The Papal Nuncio of Australia, Archbishop Adolfo Tito Yllana, concelebrated Mass with parish priests, Fr Brendan Quirk and Fr Yacub Barkat, and the vicar general of the Sydney Archdiocese, Fr Jerry Gleeson.

Parish priest, Fr Brendan Quirk, distributes Communion at the parish’s 125th anniversary Mass. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

The launched book, The Rock of Saint George, by historian Dr Damian Gleeson, catalogues the dappled history of Rockdale’s Catholic community; a foundation of faith for the original families and successive waves of migrants up to today.

On the parish’s inauspicious beginnings, Dr Gleeson noted that, in 1885 when Cardinal Patrick Moran first visited St George district, “he encountered a hotly contested Irish-Australian Catholic landscape—not dissimilar to the feuding that characterised his native Ireland”. But the parish community soldiered on.

“Amid the turmoil there was one constant; Cardinal Moran was greatly impressed by Joseph Walz of Frederick Street, Rockdale, and John Downey of Prospect Farm … their loyalty and that of successive generations of Downey and Walz family members continues to this day at Rockdale.”

St Joseph’s Primary students inspect photos of their forebears. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

The church is located on Walz Street and members of the original families still reside in the parish today, with Walz family descendent, Mrs Imelda Leslie (nee Walz), taking part in the celebrations representing a total of 160 years commitment to the community.

The parish established the first regional boys’ school in the archdiocese in 1912. Today the parish is responsible for the co-educational St Joseph’s Primary.

“It is unusual to find descendants of the pioneers still residing in the same Sydney parish [yet] St Joseph’s Primary School is one of the most multicultural schools, if not the most multicultural school in the archdiocese today,” said Dr Gleeson.

Former NSW Premier Barrie Unsworth and his wife, Pauline, launch a book about the history of St Joseph’s, Rockdale. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Representatives from the school, and nearby Marist College Kogarah and Bethany College, also attended the anniversary celebrations.

The ceremony included the blessing of a new church bell, the Iubileum Bell.

– David Ryan