Waterloo parish marks 160 years

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Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP displays a new pectoral cross presented to him by Fr Paul Smithers. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

The Catholic community of Waterloo, Rosebery and Redfern gathered to celebrate the 160th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone of the Shrine of Our Lady of Mt Carmel in Waterloo on 16 August.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, who presided over the Mass, said the foundation of the parish in the city’s south was an “extraordinary achievement for the poor colonial Catholics and their friends”.

The “green and cultivated valleys” described back then have been superceded by tower blocks, he observed, and after some separation into separate parishes, the peoples of the three suburbs have rejoined as the one family they were back then.

The Archbishop said he hoped that the coming together of the three parishes and re-imagining of the mission of the Catholic Community of City South “will bear great fruits, including new adventures in Catholic worship and prayer, evangelisation and formation, in early childhood, primary and secondary school education, in outreach to the First Australians, in health, aged care and social welfare, in youth ministry and more”.

School, parish, and community leaders and parishioners past and present attended the milestone event. “I was delighted and amazed to see so many past and present parishioners, and religious who have maintained a great love and affection for Our Lady of Mt Carmel Waterloo,” said parish priest Fr Paul Smithers.

The church began with a promise to God made by the Archbishop of Sydney, John Bede Polding OSB, while enduring a treacherous sea voyage from Perth to Sydney.

Fr Smithers and Archbishop Fisher cut the cake. Photo:: Alphonsus Fok
Fr Smithers and Archbishop Fisher cut the cake. Photo:: Alphonsus Fok

If he survived, he prayed, he would dedicate a church to Our Lady of Mount Carmel on the first hill he saw.

He duly founded the church on the hill closest to St Mary’s Cathedral on 1859. One of Sydney’s earliest parishes, it was later elevated to the status of a shrine and place of pilgrimage.

In 1956 a fire broke out in the sacristy, destroying its contents as well as the woodwork in the sanctuary and a painting of Our Lady of Mt Carmel which had hung above the high altar for 70 years.

Its primary school is one of the smallest in the Sydney Archdiocese and was attended by Australia’s next hoped-for saint, Eileen O’Connor.

Last year it celebrated its 160th anniversary with local MPs and representatives of Sydney Catholic Schools.

On the church’s centenary in 1959, Cardinal Gilroy wrote that, like the hill on which it is built, the Church of Our Lady of Mt Carmel throughout an “era of change” in society “has remained severely unchanged amidst the turmoil that has surged around it”.