Catholic Beginnings in Australia (1788
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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.
courtesy Fr. Brian Byron
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