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The Bishop's Letter: A new vision for St Patrick’s Cathedral precinct

The present site of St Patrick’s Cathedral and the surrounding area
The present site of St Patrick’s Cathedral and the surrounding area.

Bishop Anthony Fisher OP

Right next door to St Patrick’s Cathedral in Parramatta is a series of buildings from the old King’s School. Derelict for several decades now, and surrounded by hoardings and security gates, these heritage buildings are like a ghost town right in the middle of Parramatta.

Many people believe the Catholic Church owns the entire block but, in fact, we have less than one-quarter of it. For decades, the Diocese of Parramatta has had discussions with successive state governments about how this land and these building might be put to various good uses, compatible with the history and zoning for religious and educational purposes.

Some of the more beautiful buildings are now government offices. There are some suggestions that the rest might be renovated, at public expense, so the area becomes an arts precinct. Or it might just remain as is, becoming increasingly dilapidated.

Commemorating our past

The Parramatta precinct bounded by Victoria Road to the north, Marist Place to the east, the Parramatta River to the south and O’Connell Street to the west is one of great historical and community significance.

St Patrick’s has been the principal place of celebration for the Catholic community of Western Sydney since the convict days. The old church became a cathedral when the Diocese was established in 1986.

It was destroyed by fire in 1996. It was restored and extended and in 2003 it reopened as the new cathedral. There is a hall, presbytery and limited parking there as well.

I believe that by drawing together St Patrick’s and ‘old King’s’ there is a unique opportunity to develop the precinct to serve the educational, welfare, recreational and spiritual needs of Parramatta and Greater Western Sydney.

Dreaming of a better future

After two centuries of presence in the Parramatta district and on the eve of the silver jubilee of our Diocese, I would like to suggest that the Catholic Church could do some great things with the site.

We were the first to propose that a Centre for Arts and Culture might be housed in one of the buildings. We are willing to work with local and state governments on that and already have good links with the arts community in Western Sydney.

But Western Sydney has some even more pressing needs. If the whole site were entrusted to us we could provide:

  • A range of community services and other charitable works;
  • Counselling for gambling, substance abuse and family support;
  • Youth services;
  • Refugee support services;
  • A full range of education services, including early learning, pre- and after-school care;
  • Immersion experiences for trades students from our secondary school trade training centres;
  • A centre for performing arts students from our schools’ ‘Captivate’ program;
  • Tertiary education and adult learning;
  • Civic, sporting and recreational spaces; and
  • All within a Catholic pastoral environment and the greater Parramatta community.

Our commitment

The rebuilding of St Patrick’s Cathedral following the devastating fire and the restoration of the old presbytery, Murphy House, demonstrate the commitment of this Diocese to maintaining, restoring and responsibly using the lands and heritage buildings within its care.

We have the commitment and experience to develop the precinct around St Patrick’s in a way that responds sensitively to heritage, townscape and spiritual values, and provides wide-ranging benefits to the people of Western Sydney, including the poor for whom we have a special responsibility.

Talk with your fellow parishioners, school parents, parish priest and principal about how the Church can contribute to the ‘social capital’ of Western Sydney. Let us pray that our state government will give us the opportunity to help the whole community in Parramatta and beyond.

« Return to Catholic Outlook September 2010