Looking towards 10th anniversary of reopening of St Patrick’s Cathedral
|On 19 February 1996, the historic St Patrick’s Cathedral was destroyed by fire.|
Originally published in Catholic Outlook November 2012
In the lead up to the 10th anniversary year of its reopening, Virginia Knight reflects on the role St Patrick’s Cathedral has played at the heart the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta.
I have lived and worked in St Patrick’s Cathedral precinct most of my life. Like so many people in this Diocese, the Cathedral has been a constant presence throughout my life.
I was born in Parramatta, educated at St Patrick’s Primary and Our Lady of Mercy College, and now I work in the Diocesan Office across the road.
The Cathedral was the place where I received all my sacraments, the church I sat in every Sunday morning for Mass and the venue for school celebrations, Reconciliation, benediction and class prayer.
With my schoolmates I sat in its shadow on the weathered sandstone wall every afternoon waiting to catch the bus home.
On 19 February 1996, I watched as our beautiful Cathedral went up in flames. It was a day filled with sadness and despair as I witnessed the destruction of the church that was at the centre of so many of my memories.
Like many people I felt bereft, but filled with the determination to help rebuild the Cathedral. And so began a whirlwind seven years of fundraising activities.
While a team of skilled liturgists, architects and artists began the work of designing a new Cathedral, an equally talented band of parishioners from across the Diocese set about fundraising.
The architects’ brief was to restore the original church as the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and create a new extension large enough to accommodate 800 people. A cloister, new parish hall and the restored historic Murphy House would complete the Cathedral precinct.
The firm of architects Mitchell, Giurgola and Thorp, best known for the design of new Parliament House in Canberra, was engaged to design the new Cathedral complex.
The interior would feature the work of noted Australian artists including sculptor Robin Blau in metal, Anne Ferguson in stone, and Kevin Perkins in timber.
A spiritual centre for a generation of young Catholics
|Our Madonna statue is presently being restored. Photo: Alphonsus Fok & Grace Lu|
The Cathedral reopened with a Mass of Dedication on 29 November 2003. Reflecting on the project, Bishop Kevin Manning said that the rebuilding of the Cathedral united all the people of the Diocese with a common goal and a sense of belonging.
“Our approach to the rebuilding was animated by a sense of sharing and energy and a conviction that the Cathedral would be a place where the living community would worship the living God, and open itself to the city of which it was a part, but from which it would stand apart,” he said.
In the ensuing years, the Cathedral has become the spiritual centre for a new generation of young Catholics celebrating their faith journey within its walls.
Today it stands not only as the symbolic heart of the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta, but as an iconic landmark for the City of Parramatta.
The Cathedral has won several awards, including the prestigious Sir Zelman Cowen Award for Public Buildings in 2004 from the Royal Institute of Architects.
In coming months there are plans for a number of new Cathedral projects. A replica of the headstone of Bridget Egan, who died in 1800 aged five, will be reproduced from descriptions of the decorations and the exact text, and will be incorporated into the cloister area.
The headstone was used as the foundation stone of St Patrick’s Primary and has been affected by erosion due to weather. It is believed to be the earliest decorated Catholic headstone in Australia and has been damaged by exposure to the elements.
In her present home inside the Marian Shrine in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, our beautiful Madonna has been feeling the heat of the Australian summer. Bathed in sunlight and warmed by the heat held in the masonry of the building, she continues to lose her colour and is presently being restored.
The Chapel will have air-conditioning installed to protect the Madonna and the other artworks housed within its walls as well as to provide cool comfort for the faithful.
Funding for these and other projects will once again need the people of the Diocese to come together to turn hopes and dreams into reality.
Keep in touch with events and activities that are planned for the next 12 months through articles in Catholic Outlook and updates on this site.
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