St Patrick's Catholic Church Sydney Sydney Architecture Images- The Rocks and the Quay

St. Patrick’s RC Church

  See also St Patrick’s Hall and School


John Broadbent, reworked by  J.F. Hilly 


Grosvenor Street, Church Hill




Old Colonial Gothick Picturesque


Early English Gothic but with decorated Gothic tracery. 


  St Patrick's Catholic Church Sydney
  Image from the book "Sydney in 1848" (it hasn't changed much in 160 years...)
This simple Gothic sandstone church was designed by J.F. Hilly and built in the 1840s on land donated by William Davis, a convict, who took part in the Irish Rebellion in 1798. The church has been the traditional heartland of Sydney’s Irish working class Roman Catholics. Many inner city children were educated at St Patrick’s school. A visit to this recently restored church and associated buildings is a worthwhile detour. 
This area was dedicated by Governor Hunter as a church precinct and is still known as Church Hill. After convicts burnt down the first church near Sydney Cove, St Phillp’s Anglican Church was built here in 1798-1807. The current St Phillp’s which you can see dates from 1848. The former Scots Presbyterian Church was built to replace an older one demolished to make way for the approaches to the Harbour Bridge.
St Patrick's Church opened its doors in early 1844 with work having started on its construction with the blessing of the Foundation Stone by Dr John Bede Ponting, Australia's first Bishop, in 1840. It was the second Catholic Church built in Sydney, yet it is considered to be the cities oldest Catholic Church. Although St Mary's Cathedral was the first Catholic church built it later burnt down and was rebuilt in 1882. 

In 1868 the parish, together with the Church, was entrusted to the care of the Marist Fathers. The Sisters of Mercy, who conducted schools in the parish, arrived in 1864. 

The Church underwent major restoration works in 1999 when it was painstaking restored to its former grandeur. The outstanding features of the Church are its imposing high alter which was crafted in Paris and installed in 1889. The impressive stain glass windows, the oldest of which are found in the sanctuary, were installed in 1849. Most of the statues located throughout the church date from the early 20th century and were imported from France. 

The Church is located at 20 Grosvenor Street, The Rocks. Closest rail station - Wynyard. 
St Patrick's History: 

The history of St Patrick's Church really dates back to 1839 when the Catholics tried to obtain a grant of land for a church. They applied for the land at the top of Church Hill on which St Philip's Church of England now stands. At the time, the first St Philip's stood directly opposite the Davis home, on land which has become Lang Park. However, the government refused this request, and merely made a grant of money. It was the generosity of Davis in giving land behind his house for the church, which enabled the project to go ahead. Most of the land he donated had been granted to him in his own name, and part was registered in the name of his wife Catherine.

The earliest known photograph of St Patrick's, taken by William Hetzer, 1868 when the Marist Fathers were given care of the parish.

The laying of the foundation stone took place on 25 August 1840, after a procession from St Mary's Cathedral. Bishop Polding, as he then was, preached while standing on the foundation stone itself in order to be seen and heard by an immense crowd, as Ullathorne vividly described the scene. Having donated the land, the now elderly William Davis astonished everyone when he came forward and placed a cheque for 1000 pounds on the stone, an incredible sum in those days, matched only by the grant from the Colonial Secretary.

The building proceeded under the architect John Frederick Hilly, using and adapting plans from an English model. The builders were Andrew Ross and Company. During the years of the construction, Polding had visited Rome and had become an archbishop. He performed the solemn opening on 17 March 1844. William Davis had died the previous year.

Jeremiah O'Flynn 

Australia's first free Catholic priest was Father Jeremiah O'Flynn. The previous priests had themselves been convicts. Despite his short time in Australia (1817-18), O'Flynn's ministry acquired a legendary character in Australian Catholic history, and legends can be more powerful than facts. O'Flynn was given approval to come to Australia by church authorities in Rome, but not by the British Colonial office.

The prohibition of O'Flynn's ministry by Governor Lachlan Macquarie, his arrest and deportation, are seen as evidence of the persecution of Catholics. The picture of persecuted Catholics gathering secretly for prayer was used to describe those early years as a "catacomb" era.

When more soberly examined, the facts reveal that O'Flynn was a difficult, testy character, and that the civil authorities had acted quite reasonably. Upon receiving O'Flynn's application to come to Australia as a Catholic chaplain, the Colonial office consulted Dr Poynter, the Catholic bishop of London, about it. Poynter, who had ordained O'Flynn, refused to recommend him. Only after that refusal did they withhold authorization. In the absence of such approval, Macquarie deported O'Flynn in 1818, after showing considerable patience.

Leaving the Blessed Sacrament

The event on which much of O'Flynn's reputation in Catholic circles depended was his leaving of the Blessed Sacrament after his arrest. It relates very directly to St Patrick's church. Many different church pioneers - Archdeacon John McEncroe, Doctor William Bernard Ullathorne, Archbishop John Bede Polding and others - stated that when O'Flynn was deported he left the Blessed Sacrament in the home of a leading Irish Catholic. It was in his pyx - the small container in which communion is carried to the sick.

O'Flynn had been the only Catholic priest in the country and after his deportation, Catholics gathered regularly for prayer in the comforting presence of the sacrament. It is generally agreed that the sacrament remained until the following year 1819, when the chaplain of a French ship visiting Sydney said Mass for the local Catholics. In 1820, British authorities permitted Australia to receive its first two officially-appointed Catholic priests: John Joseph Therry and Philip Conolly.

William Davis and St Patrick's

Twenty years after O'Flynn's deportation, when St Patrick's was being built, these events were widely known and remembered, and the home where the people had gathered for prayer was publicly identified as that of William Davis, one of those convicted and transported to Australia for his part in the Irish uprising of 1798. Davis married his wife, Catherine, at Parramatta in 1809, and in the same year he obtained a lease for land in The Rocks, Sydney, on Charlotte Place, now Grosvenor Street, where he had built his home.

In 1840, at the laying of the foundation stone of St Patrick's, and at the opening of the church four years later, it was stated explicitly that the sacrament had been preserved in his home. Ullathorne had already recorded the story in the 1830s in a report to Rome, and did so again later in his autobiography, where he said of the Davis home:

'This house may therefore be considered to have been the first Catholic chapel in Australia'

There were variations in the story. This is not surprising: variations are inevitable in any history, especially oral history. In recent years, the sometimes acrimonious debate has focused on the place where O'Flynn left the sacrament. Was it the Davis home, or the home of James Dempsey, a friend of Davis, and another of the 'heroes of '98'? Dempsey's home was on the western side of Kent Street, a little to the north of Erskine Street, less than a kilometre away from St Patrick's. To the present day Descendants of Dempsey have a family tradition that such was the case.

The Davis family have a similar tradition which is no less strong, and which was supported by McEncroe, Ullathorne and Polding, among others. Those are very impressive names, even though it is true that they were 'secondary` sources. These priests knew the people involved and are not to be lightly dismissed. Their public statements were recorded in print between 20 and 25 years after O'Flynn was deported. The Dempsey tradition did not appear in print until 1864 - over 45 years after O'Flynn's deportation and came from only one source. But it is also deserving of great respect as it derives from a primary source. It was recorded by one Columbus Fitzpatrick who was able to say that, as a boy aged eight or nine he had served Mass for Father O'Flynn.

Both the Davis and Dempsey Homes

The Fitzpatrick evidence does make a very strong case for the belief that the Blessed Sacrament was at the home of James Dempsey. But the much longer-standing evidence of the presence of the sacrament in the home of William Davis is far too strong to be rejected. In other words, the attempts by some to disprove its presence there have failed.

However, throughout the controversy it was assumed that the sacrament could only have been at the home of either Davis or Dempsey. Why? One claim advanced was that it would have been against canon law for a lay person to have moved the sacrament.

The claim is not historically correct: no such law applied in Ireland in O'Flynn's time. Instead, there was a long-standing decision by the Irish bishops, made more than a century earlier in the face of English penal laws, that in cases of emergency lay people could carry the sacrament to prisoners about to be executed. Given this fact, it is a considerable presumption to suppose that in the exceptional circumstance they were in, without any priest on the entire continent, the Sydney Catholics of 1818 would not have dared to move the sacrament for what they considered to be a sufficient reason. Because of this Irish tradition, it is also quite possible that O'Flynn left the Blessed Sacrament deliberately.

Moreover, the Davis and Dempsey traditions can hardly be regarded as contradictory in their main element. The Davis tradition is that the sacrament was at the home of William Davis, where people gathered to pray. It gives no basis for denying Fitzpatrick's report that the sacrament was at the home of James Dempsey and people gathered to pray in its presence there also. And vice versa.

No leap of the imagination is needed to suggest that both traditions are correct. The simplest explanation accounting for all the important facts is to suggest that the sacrament was at both houses at different times, and was carried from one to the other - by a lay person, of course. Anyone who would argue against this explanation must disprove one of the two strongly-based traditions. No one has yet done so.

Why would the Sydney Catholics have moved the sacrament? A likely reason for the action would have been to divert government attention possibly being paid to the regular gatherings of Catholics for prayer in the same home. Irish Catholics had experienced such unwelcome attention from English authorities in their homeland. Moreover, their only priest had just been arrested and deported: they would have felt sure they had sufficient reason to be untrusting of Macquarie.

The pyx itself and other O'Flynn items remained in the possession of the Davis family. This fact seems to indicate that the Davis home was the last to which the pyx was moved. If it is assumed that the sacrament was moved only once, it seems reasonable to suppose that O'Flynn left the pyx in the home of James Dempsey, and that it was later moved to the home of William Davis, where it remained.

Through a member of the Davis family who became a Sister of Charity, Mother Gertrude Davis, O'Flynn's pyx and some of his other liturgical possessions came into the possession of the Sisters of Charity. They can be seen at the archival-museum of the sisters at St Vincent's, Potts Point. In the light of the above, it seems reasonable to hope that the Davis/Dempsey controversy can be laid to rest.
(For more info on the Dempsey story, see the St. Mary’s Cathedral page)

A Great Pioneer Priest 

In 1857, Archdeacon John McEncroe was appointed in charge of St Patrick's as the first parish priest. McEncroe was one of the great pioneer priests in Australia, to which he came in 1831 after some years in Carolina in the United States. He was the major force in helping establish an Australian Catholic newspaper - initially under various names in the early 1840s, and then as the famous Freeman's Journal which appeared for nearly a century from 1849.

The Davis home was still standing when McEncroe was appointed. The biographer of William Davis says that John Davis remained in the house at least until 1860. McEncroe purchased the house and land the following year. He used the site to build two stone terrace houses extending right up to the Grosvenor Street corner. Completing them in 1863, he leased the one on the corner as a shop, and lived in the second, nearer the church. Stonework of his building is still visible in the courtyard beside the church, framed in the red brick of the convent wall.

In 1868, McEncroe died. It was his wish that the Marist Fathers succeed him in caring for St Patrick's. At his funeral, the Benedictine Vicar General, Austin Sheehy, took Marist superior Victor Poupinel aside and offered the care of the parish to the Marists. Poupinel happily accepted.

Joseph Monnier became first Marist parish priest of St Patrick's in 1868. By this time he was very well known. He was the first priest to undertake home missions in Australia and in the previous two years had travelled widely in eastern Australia. There was some opposition to the entrusting of this most Irish of churches to French priests, but Monnier soon found complete acceptance from the parishioners. The Marists took over the two terrace houses which McEncroe had built and made them into one presbytery.

The Marist Fathers

The Church Hill parish has been in the care of the Marist Fathers since 1868.

The Marist Fathers were founded in France, gaining approbation by the Holy See in 1836. The founder of the Marist Fathers is Father Jean Claude Colin. The Marist Fathers congregation is one of a number of Marian congregations that were born in France about that time. In fact, the vision of the early Marist founders was that there be one Marist group made up of men and women, Priests, Brothers and Sisters. Rome did not agree with that vision and subsequently four Marist groups came into being, the Marist Brothers, the Marist Sisters, the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary (SMSM) and the Marist Fathers.

Marist Fathers first came to Oceania at the end of 1836. St. Peter Chanel was a member of that group. Marist Fathers first came to Australia in 1843, not primarily to engage in pastoral work, but to set up a supply base for the Oceanian mission.

The first parish priest of St. Patrick's, Archdeacon John McEncroe, became friendly with the early Marists who had established a house at Hunters Hill and on his deathbed requested that the Parish of St. Patrick's, Church Hill be entrusted to the Marists. That was in 1868. The Archbishop agreed and the parish has been cared for by the Marists ever since. Father Joseph Monnier was the first Marist parish priest.

Initially, Marists in Australia were members of the Province of Oceania. Later they became attached to the New Zealand province. It was not until 1938 that Australia became an autonomous Marist Fathers' province.

At that time a Marist seminary was established at Toongabbie in western Sydney.



The website of the Marist Fathers in Australia and Japan can be found here.