Tracing the steps of an Aussie hero

Ronan Reilly, second from right, and fellow walkers set out from St Thomas of Canterbury Church. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Ronan Reilly, second from right, and fellow pilgrims set out from St Thomas of Canterbury Church. Photo: G. Portelli

A group of young Sydneysiders took to the city’s streets in a pilgrimage walk on 16 March to honour its first Catholic bishop (and then Archbishop) Bede Polding.

Local university students were joined by families and visitors from interstate for the annual walk which traces the route of Archbishop Polding’s funeral procession in 1877.

That procession drew around 100,000 to pay their respects, a record attendance which remains unbroken in the country.

Beginning at St Thomas of Canterbury, Lewisham at 10am, the group stopped at St Joseph’s, Newtown, Sydney University’s St John’s College, St Benedict’s Broadway, before ending at St Mary’s Cathedral Crypt where Archbishop Polding is buried.

At each stop they prayed hours of the Divine Office, and were provided a BBQ lunch by the Sydney University Catholic Society.

Related article: First Eileen O’Connor, next Archbishop Polding?

The group of Polding supporters regularly update a blog (inthosedayes.blogspot.com) and Facebook page to raise awareness of his legacy in the hope that one day he will be officially recognised as an Australian saint.

Earlier this year Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher OP approved a commemorative card which includes some brief information about the cleric’s life and a prayer to holy bishops.

“The more people who are aware of and connected on the topic of Archbishop Polding, the more chance we have of exposing the wonderful stories of his life and his legacy,” said pilgrim walk organiser Ronan Reilly. “What was special about Archbishop Polding was his vision and willingness to set aside prejudices of his time.”

The Archbishop preached against the sectarianism which was rife at the time and also campaigned before parliament for the welfare of Indigenous Australians, he said.