Catholic Beginnings in Australia (1788 - 1850)
History shows that a substancial number of the convicts transported to Australia at this time were from Ireland – but not all of these people were Catholic. However, many of those who were, had found themselves deported for political and religious offences.
It was only at the last moment that an Anglican Chaplain was included to accompany the personnel on the First Fleet. For a number of years after their arrival, all convicts were compelled to attend Protestant worship, which included the Catholic prisoners.
In 1792 the Catholic colony consisted of 300 convicts and a few free settlers. They were without a priest to guide them or a place of religious worship and their petitions to the Governor were not granted. At this stage, the Governor had absolute power (under a British Government) in the new settlement.
A convict priest, Fr Dixon, celebrated the first officially allowed Mass on May 15th 1803 and another was celebrated May 22nd at Parramatta. However, the Governor withdrew permission for further Masses in 1804, as Fr Dixon had been accused of involvement in the uprising of convicts at Castle Hill. As a result, only an occasional Mass was held in secret.
Fr Dixon was returned to Ireland in 1808 and it was not until 1817 that a Fr O'Flynn, appointed by the Pope as Prefect Apostolic of New Holland, arrived in Sydney. Because of the lengthy delays to his application, Fr O'Flynn had left London without the permission and official sanction of the British Government. When his credentials failed to arrive, Macquarie ordered him to leave but the conscientious priest evaded the order and secretly travelled for some months ministering to the Catholic Colony. During this time, Mass was celebrated and Rosary said at the private home of Mr Davis – whose house was on the present site of St Parick's at Church Hill in Sydney town. After Fr O'Flynn's eventual arrest and deportation, the Blessed Sacrament was preserved at the house of Mr Davis where people gathered in secret for prayer.
The departure of Fr O'Flynn caused such an uproar in England that the Government gave letters of sanction to Frs Conolly and Therry for Govenor Macquarie. They arrived on May 3rd 1820 and the Catholic Church was founded in Australia.
Gladesville and the Cedar Cross
Though Gladesville was not settled when Fr O'Flynn was in Sydney, it has a strong connection with that early history of the colony. The story is as follows:
In the Blessed Sacrament Chapel of our church there is a small wooden cross which is a precious link with the early Catholic history of Sydney. In May 1818 Fr Jeremiah O'Flynn was deported under arrest from the colony. The Blessed Eucharist was left in the home of James Dempsey in Kent St. Reserved in a cedar cupboard it became a focus of Catholic worship where the faithful gathered for Sunday devotions until November 1919 when it was consumed by the chaplain of a visiting French ship. From the wood of the cedar cupboard, which was carefully preserved by the Dempsey family, Charles Cavanagh, at the request of the authorities, carved the frontal of the altar in the first chapel of St Patrick's College, Manly, the seminary built by Archbishop Moran in 1888. Charles, a devout man and considering the material a kind of sacred relic, retained some of the wood left over and even the shavings. From the wood he made three crosses which he passed on to his own family. Anna Cavanagh, his daughter and a parishioner of Gladesville, gave them to Fr Byron, the Parish Priest. He in turn gave one (together with the shavings) to the Catholic Museum at St Mary's Cathedral, kept one in the presbytery and placed the third in the Blessed Sacrament chapel where it serves as a fitting memento of the eucharistic faith of the first Australian Catholic pioneers.
(Historical Note: There is some dispute as to whether Fr O'Flynn left the Blessed Sacrament in the Dempsey home or that of Davis, as stated in our main historical section. Some historians compromise saying that it was transferred between the two. Certainly the evidence for the Dempsey house, including that embodied in the above, is very strong.)
Early Development in the Gladesville area
The Parramatta River played an important role in the development of our area. Small cutters sailed between the larger settlements of Parramatta and Sydney Town carrying cargo and providing an alternative means of reasonable transport for those who for example, did not own horses.
Even in the early 1800s the British Government could not envisage New South Wales ever being a free settlement and the whole area was still Crown Land. The earliest Conditional Land Grants in the Gladesville area were to William House and John Boody in 1795 and Ann Benson in 1796 whose grant was along the river front. A large grant in 1799 to William Poven covered the area from Victoria Road to the Field of Mars Common (then the Ermington area). Here, Governor Phillip had given small grants to eight of his officers in the Marines. These people were among the first land owners in Australia. John Glade was considered a late commer to the district in 1836 when he was granted a parcel of 50 acres of land. The whole district was named Gladesville in 1861.
Catholic Growth (1845 - 1900)
Also during this time, there were small bands of French settlers arriving in the Colony one, group taking up land in the Hunters Hill area. Their Catholic inf luence was enhanced by the arrival of French Marists Fr Dubruel, Fr Rocher and a lay Brother in 1845. They eventually settled in the area after purchasing land and house from the Salter family of Salter Street which still bears their name today. On this property another house was built as well as a small Chapel which was used as a Church for the Catholics of the surrounding district. This group of buildings was known as the Priory, and was situated in the grounds of Gladesville Hospital.
This property however was required by the Government for extensions to the Hospital in 1853, so a grant of land was given in exchange on the northern side of Torbon Creek, where the Villa Maria Church and Monastery now stand. By 1856 the Marists had built a small Chapel and were ministering to the Catholics of Hunters Hill, Gladesville, Ryde, Ermirgton and Rydalmere. In 1868 the Fathers extended their ministery to incorporate St. Patrick's, Church Hill, in Sydney.
In 1850 Ryde become a Parish and although Hunters Hill was not actually a Parish as such, the Marists continued their work there as well as in Gladesville and Woolwich areas. By 1870, they were so f irmly established, that this area become a Parish also and was known as Villa Maria. Gladesville remained part of this Parish for 50 years until the Catholic population had grown to such an extent that the people petitioned for their own Church and school at Gladesville. Their request to the Parish Priest at Hunters Hill was denied but Archbishop Kelly agreed with the proposal. A letter the Bishop received from a resident stated that he 'considered it a disgrace' that there wasn't a Catholic Church in Gladesville. Archbishop Kelly then transferred Gladesville from the Villa Maria Parish to Ryde Parish and the responsibility for the building of a Church and school was given to Fr Gell, the Parish Priest of Ryde.
Our Lady Queen of Peace beginnings (1900 - 1950)
Fr Gell was known as a man of great generosity and he advanced money available to him through his family to purchase the land for the Church and school at Gladesville. The site chosen was on the corner of Victoria Road and Westrninister Road where the Church and old school (now the Fr Gell Hall) is situated. Including a cottage, it was purchased for £3,177/15/11. The first part of the Church was completed and dedicated by Archbishop Kelly on October 13th, 1925 under the title of Our Lady of Peace. (Fr Coughlan later changed the name to Our Lady Queen of Peace.) In the same year the f irst stage of the school was completed and the Sisters of Mercy, who came from Ryde each day, commenced teaching in the new school. Further additions were made to this building in 1929.
Fr Gell later wrote to Fr Coughlan and the people of the Parish in l948:
"I had the privilege of erecting several buildings for the service of religion but the Church and school at 49 Gladesville gave me more satisfaction than any others... 1 had the happiness of giving Our Lord a home in G1adesville and I felt sure He would one day give me a home in heaven... 1 remember getting my old friend Monsignor Moynagh of Rozelle to help me choose a site for the new Church.
By the 1930s the community had grown and incorporated a number of people from Italy. In 1931 a choir gallery was erected by voluntary labour and in March of the some year the Apostolic Delegate unveiled the statue of Our Lady of Terzito (La Madonna del Terzito) which had been imported from Italy. This began a special devotion which continues today. As a child at school, I recall this grand feast of Our Lady and how it was celebrated with a huge procession around the block on which the church stands. Along with hundreds of people from the Italian community (who often travelled some distance) all the different sodalities of the church were represented in full regalia and the statue was carried most solemnly along with the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance.
The first Mission in the Parish was conducted in October 1949 by Redemptorists, Frs M. Boland and L Middleton. To continue the influence of the Mission, Fr Coughlan informed the Bishop that beginning Saturday 18th October 1949, there would be a novena of nine successive Saturdays in honour of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. Father requested permission for Benediction to be held as part of these devotions. The novena was a tremendous succes as Fr Coughlan later reported that despite inclement weather, the church was crowded every Saturday night at 7pm. Once again the Parishoners displayed great devotion to Our Lady, as these devotions were continued for many years the church always packed and the singing could be heard over a block away!
Our Lady Queen of Peace becomes a Parish
With the handing over of responsibilities for Catholic ministry to Fr Gell, the boundary separating the Parishes of Villa Maria and Ryde was altered to Meriton and Junction Streets, which meant that the major part of Gladesville was transferred back to Ryde.
Gladesville continued to be served by Priests from Ryde until 27th November1946, when it was made a separate Parish and Fr R.B. Coughlan was appointed Parish Priest, and a cottage was rented for him at 9 Hepburn Avenue. The boundary line separating it from Villa Maria, Hunters Hill, remained the same; the boundary between Gladesville and St Charles, Ryde, became Tennyson Road, Orient and Nelson St and Pittwater Road as far as De Burgh's Bridge.
By 1948, the Church had become overcrowded at each of the two Masses on Sundays which were held at 7arn and 8.30am. Fr Coughlan requested permission of Cardinal Gilroy to increase the number of Masses to three, another Mass to be said at 10am. He wrote to the Cardinal:
"The Church is very small and its capacity is overtaxed... The difficulty should be overcome, not by enlarging the Church, but by increasing the number of Masses."'
Fr Coughlon also made a request for an assistant Priest, which would allow for four Masses each weekend as well as help him with Parish duties regarding funerals. Father had explained that he had ministered at 112 f unerals in 12 weeks! Added to this was the fact that the cemetery was over 4 miles away and transportation was a problem. The Jesuit Fathers at Riverview had helped occasionally with the Sunday Masses. The Cardinal not only gave his permission but wondered whether a car would be essential.
In 1950 a building was purchased at 11 Pittwater Road which would provide ample room for both the Parish Priest and an assistant. The request for an assistant was reiterated and a temporary appointment was made in December 1950 with a permanent appointment in February 1951
Compiled by Lynette Byatt
"The Early History of Gladesville" by J W Milne
In the Priests’ Sacristy there are photos of the three Parish Priests who have served the Gladesville community since it acquired its own Church and School in 1925. They are photos of Fr Edward Gell, Fr Richard Bede Coughlan, and Fr Brian Byron.
Fr Gell was the Parish Priest of Ryde for many years. At that stage Ryde took in the area which is now the Parish of Gladesville. It was Fr Gell who built the Victoria Rd end of our Church and also the first school in 1925. In recognition of his work we have named the refurbished old school as ‘The Father Gell Centre’. Visitors from Ryde have sometimes expressed regret that there is no such memorial to him in the Parish of Ryde where he served so long.
In 1946 Gladesville was erected into a separate Parish with Fr Richard Coughlan as its first Parish Priest. He bought the building in Pittwater Rd and made it the presbytery. There he exercised his ministry, having great impact by the force of his magnetic personality on all with whom he came in contact. He was loved by parishioners and by his curates who were envied by those with less benign Pastors. He drew many into the love of the Australian bush by founding the Catholic Bushwalkers. He was also given the job by the Cardinal of being the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Radio Station 2SM which flourished at that time. During his ministry he extended the Church and built the new school. The Church was filled for two separate Masses at his Requiem in 1979. He is buried in the Priests’ Circle at the Field of Mars Cemetery.
Fr Brian Byron was inducted as the new Parish Priest by Cardinal James Freeman on the Feast of St Vincent de Paul, in 1979. He had been in the Parish since March 1975, first as curate, then from the end of 1975 till 1979 as Administrator to Fr Coughlan. During his ministry he added the Prayer Chapel to the Church, re-furbished the old school, extended the new school, and upgraded its administration. He also acquired, developed, sold and exchanged properties in Oxford St to give us the present configuration of the Parish plant. He also oversaw the implementation of Vatican Council II, introduced the Parish Council, Acolytes and Ministers of Communion, Prayer Leaders, and the Children’s Liturgy of the Word.
Information courtesy Fr. Brian Byron
To keep track of the latest news and upcoming
events, bookmark our home page