St Patrick’s Parish, Parramatta is known as The Cradle of Catholicism in Australia. Why? Because it has the oldest Catholic Parish School in Australia, the oldest mortuary Chapel, the first convent (Sisters of Charity) was here and the first nun was professed in Parramatta. It’s parish registers are full of pioneer names of both priests and laity.
On 19th April 1803 at Government House Parramatta, Governor King’s proclamation was read to the assembled Catholics permitting Rev Fr Dixon to say Mass on a rotation basis at Sydney, Parramatta and Hawkesbury. Parramatta’s first Mass was said on 22nd May.
In 1820-21, Father J J Therry established a school in Hunter Street Parramatta and there has been a school attached to the parish ever since.
Thomas Nugent’s headstone dated 29th April 1824 is the oldest surviving monument in St Patrick’s Cemetery, the land of which was granted to the Catholic Church through the efforts of Father Therry. In 1846 a Mortuary Chapel was built over the remains of Father McCarthy OFM Cap. and on All Souls’ Day Mass is celebrated in this tiny chapel for all those pioneers and early priests who are buried in its sacred ground.
In 1839 at the invitation of Dr Polding, the Sisters of Charity came to the Colony to help the women in the Parramatta Female Factory. Their Convent, the first in the Colony, was across the road from the present Church and on March 9th 1839, in St Patrick’s Church, a novice, Sister Mary Xavier Williams became the first nun professed on Australian soil.
As early as 1822 Father Therry recognised the need for a Church at Parramatta, a subscription list was organised and the grand sum of £109.60s. was raised from the early settlers, most of whom had been convicts and were now respectable farmers. Father Therry’s replacement Rev Fr Daniel Power started building the first church in 1827. It was still unroofed in 1835 when Bishop Polding OSB arrived and when finished became a schoolhouse.
The Foundation Stone for the first St Patrick’s Church was laid on St Patrick’s Day 1836 and was consecrated ‘with all the pomp and formality of the Romish Church’, on May 28th 1837. By 1854 the existing Church was in poor repair and Dean Coffey OFM commissioned a new Church the Foundation stone of which was laid on August 13th 1854. The tower and spire were not added until the 1880’s.
In 1936 a new church was built on the site to meet the needs of a growing congregation. The main body of the church was demolished leaving the tower and spire intact, the stone was cut in half, the windows, corbels and crosses were all reused and a new St Patrick’s emerged looking very similar to the old, but larger overall.
In 1986 St Patrick’s became the Cathedral Church in the new diocese of Parramatta, an area, which stretches in a wedge from Rydalmere to Blackheath. On 19th February 1996 this beautiful though small cathedral was destroyed by fire - only the stonewalls remained. Our Bishop at the time, Very Rev Bede Heather, said then ‘a new St, Patrick’s will rise from these ashes’ and it has.
On November 29th 2003 the new St Patrick’s Cathedral was dedicated. The old St Patrick’s Cathedral is now a Blessed Sacrament Chapel and adjoining it is a large contemporary Cathedral. The design of Mitchell, Giurgola and Thorp incorporates the dictums of Vatican 11 and is beautified with the work of Australian artists and craftsmen and women. As can be seen in its innovative architecture, St Patrick’s the first Australian Cathedral of the new millennium continues its tradition of breaking new ground.