Sydney’s fine tradition: 200 Years of praising God in song

Past and present members of St Mary’s Cathedral Choir with Bishop Richard Umbers. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Two hundred years ago in the penal colony of Sydney, a school teacher from Dublin—Catherine Fitzpatrick—formed a group of choristers to sing during Vespers before the Blessed Sacrament.

Today, the legacy of that group of singers is St Mary’s Cathedral Choir, considered Australia’s finest choir and its oldest musical institution.

During Sunday’s 10.30am Mass, St Mary’s Cathedral was filled with angelic song in celebration of the 200th anniversary of its tradition.

Past members of the Choir joined the current choristers and scholars to sing for the occasion, led by Music Director, Thomas Wilson.

Music Director, Thomas Wilson, conducts the St Mary’s Cathedral Choir. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Present at the Mass were descendants of Catherine Fitzpatrick including her great, great, great grandson, Neil Fitzpatrick. Neil is a direct descendant of her eldest son, John, an original member of the Choir formed to sing Vespers.

Mr Fitzpatrick said he had travelled from Melbourne especially to attend the bicentenary Mass.

“It was really moving,” he told The Catholic Weekly.

Mr Fitzpatrick said he only discovered he was a descendant of Catherine Fitzpatrick about four months ago when he was researching his family’s history.

Descendants of Catherine Fitzpatrick who formed a choir in Sydney in 1818 to sing during Vespers. The legacy of her choir is St Mary’s Cathedral Choir. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

“I was blown away and still am,” he said.

“She must have been a fantastic person because she was very literate, as a school teacher.”

“I think she must have been a very strong person too.”

Neil Fitzpatrick is a direct descendant of Catherine Fitzpatrick. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Catherine arrived in Sydney in 1811 with her husband Bernard, who was transported after being convicted of embezzlement, Mr Fitzpatrick said. The Choir she founded originally consisted some of her own sons and other local Catholics.

Mr Fitzpatrick said Catherine would be “absolutely amazed” if she could see the legacy of her choir today.

Bishop Richard Umbers delivers his homily. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Bishop Richard Umbers who presided over the Mass said the Choir is considered by some as “the best choir in the Anglo-sphere.”

He said Catherine Fitzpatrick had shown “great foresight” in founding a choir before there was even a cathedral in Sydney.

The ultimate aim of such a beautiful choir is to “bring Jesus Christ to everybody” and to “give glory to God,” Bishop Umbers said.

The Choir processes out of St Mary’s Cathedral at the conclusion of Mass. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli
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