Our first Church was built in a few months at the end of 1886 and opened Christmas Day in the afternoon by Cardinal Moran.
The parish area was cut off from Newtown parish. Our first parish priest was Fr. John Doyle – his photograph and diary can be seen in the display case in the Parish Centre.
The Good Samaritan Sisters arrived in February 1897 to begin school in the building during the week and convert it back to a Church on the Sunday.
The Passionists arrived on Nov 21st that same year.
The Carmelites had already arrived and live down in the area known as the Warren (the ‘warren’ of streets behind what is now Woolworths, on the high ground looking out over the river.)
According to the newspapers, the first church was called “St Bridget’s in the Fields” and was named after St. Bridget of Sweden. The arrival of the Irish Passionists resulted in the name being quietly changed to St. Brigid (of Ireland).
Between 1903 – 1911 the population of Marrickville grew enormously and a new church was needed.
The estate “Shrubland” (house and land bounded by Marrickville Rd, Livingstone Rd, Francis St and Fletcher St) was purchased in 1911, as so often, by a middle man because of the anti-Catholic bigotry of the owners.
Fr. Alphonsus Cohen was called from Goulburn in 1915 to be Superior and Parish Priest. His task was to pay off the 17,500 pound debt on the new property and to begin the enormous task of planning and fund raising for the new Church. It was the middle of the Great War.
A fundraising committee, under the patronage of Lady Edeline Strickland, wife of the Governor of NSW, was set up. Their great achievement was an enormous bazaar “A Street in Cairo” held over ten days at the Sydney Town Hall.
Fr. Alphonsus died of exhaustion in the Little Company of Mary Hospital at Lewisham in 1917, just before the Foundation Stone was laid and blessed. The foundation stone can be seen outside the Church in the corner between the old monastery main entrance and the Sacred Heart Chapel.
A number of parish Priests continued the work each for a year or so, Ildephonsus, Betrand and the famous Fr. Francis Clune.
In 1920 the legendary Fr. Casimir arrived and with the exception of four years remained Parish Priest until 1949. Over these years he completed the Church and its interior. He then went on to build the new Schools now named after him – at the time the most modern education establishment in NSW, the largest school complex in the Southern Hemisphere and the only school where it was possible to have a K-12 Education under the one roof for both boys and girls.
The Church was blessed and opened in 1921 by Archbishop Kelly. It could not be consecrated till the debt was paid off and this was forgotten. Fr. Tiernan Doherty CP organsed for the Church to be solemnly consecrated by Cardinal Clancy in
In 1954, in honour of the Marian Year the front façade, Great Rose Window and Tower were added. The original plans called for a second tower on the other side. The present bell tower contains two bells taken from the Josephite Orphange at Leichhardt, now the CEO, and named by Fr. Tiernan Doherty CP – Francis and Clare.
The glorious Brass Tabernacle made by Castle Foundry, Newtown, was commissioned in 1893 for the old church in Despointes St. It was used by the architect Mr. J Barlow as the inspiration for the present shape of the Church and great domes of the Church interior and sanctuary.
The overlapping leaf pattern on the top of the Tabernacle is repeated in the great dome over the baldachino, in the Sanctuary lamps and more recently in the newly commissioned top of the Baptismal font (made by De Metz, a traditional Italian firm).
The architectural style is known as Spanish Mission. The Church is one metre shorter than St. Mary’s, Concorde, but holding more people it is, and after the cathedral itself, the biggest Church in the Sydney Archdiocese.
National Shrine for the Passion
The Church was built as a National Shrine for the Passion and references to the Passion and to the Passionists can be found written everywhere into the decoration of the Church.
There are the great statues of the Ecce Homo, Our Lady of Sorrows and the Pieta. These priceless statues were carved in Italy from Carerra marble.
Our Passionist Sign can be found above the Great Arch at the Sanctuary entrance and in the glass above the front door. Its words Jesu XPI Passio (or the abbreviation IXP can be found in a number of the mosaics of the Shrines. The initials can be found in the round mosaic medallions of the Sanctuary floor
At the entrance to the Sanctuary is the mosaic of the Pelican, traditional symbol of the Passion as the Mother Pelican is known to feed her young with her own flesh.
The Great Rose Window features symbols of the Passion - Cross, crown of thorns, the Cock, the Scourging Pillar, Spear and Hyssop Stick, and the Passionist Sign in the centre.
Towards the front of the Church there are a number of round sandstone medallions above the pews. These also feature the signs and symbols of the Passion, this time including the Eucharist itself by which the Passion of Jesus is made present again sacramentally.
Incidentally above these medallions are four large square panels that show the symbols of the Four Evangelists, the Lion (St. Mark), the Ox (St Luke), the Eagle (St. John) the Scribe (St. Matthew).
The Sanctuary and High Altar
The High Altar with its relief of Leonard da Vinci’s Last Supper was not moved after the Vatican Council II. It has always stood beneath the soaring Baldachino with its rich mosaics and trumpeting angels.
Originally it had the Tabernacle upon it and a large reredos behind it with a high stand for the Monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament. This meant that during Exposition and Benediction, the monstrance was centered visually in the middle of the golden drape held by the angels in the mosaic on the back wall.
The mosaics are real gold and were made and imported from Venice, Italy.
The terrazzo floor with its intricate designs is the work of traditional Italian artisans from the very early waves of migrations to Australia. The designs incorporate traditional symbols of the Blessed Trinity, the never ending circle of life, and traditional Passionist motifs.
High up on the right is the balcony just outside the wood paneled Monastery Chapel. From this balcony the infirm religious were able to attend mass. Santa appears there each Christmas Eve to the delight of a church full of squealing children
Once, during a seemingly interminable Vietnamese Mass, I started counting the number of crosses to be found in the mouldings, mosaics and carvings on the Sanctuary. I gave up after 120.
The Baptismal Font
The beautiful Baptismal Font was a gift from a former Marrickville Municipal Councilor, William Dolman, in memory of his deceased wife. He was himself run down and killed by a tram outside the Good Samaritan Convent at Central Station a year later.
The original brass panels commemorating his wife that were part of the wooden lid of the font can found mounted and framed on the wall of the Parish Center.
The font was painted and restored by Susanna de Metz and the new lid added. This beautiful bronze cover was made in Italy. It seems the font was originally just terra cotta and was unpainted.
The Mary Chapel
The Mary Chapel is dominated by the reproduction of Michaelangelo’s Pieta.
This is the only life size reproduction of the Pieta in marble in Australia. St. Mary’s Cathedral has a life size reproduction but it is done in stone.
The statue was originally positioned in the alcove at the end of the side aisle of the Church, where the present doorway into the Flower Sacristy is. The statue was meant to be viewed down the aisle framed by its arches.
After a number of years an Italian company was commissioned to move it to its present position using a complex system of pulleys. This very sensitive operation meant the Church was closed and locked to allow the workers to really concentrate.
Unfortunately the lady sacristan, Mrs Dorothy Hudson, had her own key and would always come and pray before the Pieta as she began her work. On this occasion she was overwhelmed in the middle of her prayer to suddenly see the Pieta rise slowly and majestically and begin to float around the Church. She was unsure whether it was a miracle or a breakdown but went home to a much needed cup of tea.
The Life Size reproduction of the Shroud of Turin was added later by Fr. Tiernan Doherty. Originally it was one of two, showing both the face and the back of Jesus. One of our more sensitive superiors thought that the image of the naked back of Jesus was a little unseemly in Church and had the picture removed.
The Maria Goretti Chapel
The Maria Goretti Statue, with its marble screen and originally a white marble altar was a gift from the Cutrupi family. Another early immigrant family, the Cutrupi’s founded the “Orchy” fresh juice company, the first of its kind in Australia. Their son, Frank, was stricken with polio and the family were told he would be permanently crippled. They prayed for miracle to St. Maria Goretti from whose region they came and it was granted – in fact the son went on to play A Grade Football. The altar and statue were given in thanksgiving
St. Maria Goretti was raised in a Passionist parish and received her sacraments from a Passionist priest. After she was stabbed repeatedly and killed, it was the Passionists who took up her cause for canonization.
The Italian Migrants at Marrickville
Some of the first migrants to Marrickville came before the Second World War. The other waves came afterwards. Many Italian men came out leaving their wives and young families behind while they established themselves. Others started up relationships by correspondence and married by proxy, never seeing their wives till they arrived by boat – normally leaving immediately for the Church for their wedding ceremony. Coincidently many of our Italian families have the wedding receptions for their children and grandchildren at Dalton House in Pyrmont, the wharf where the migrant ships from Italy and elsewhere used dock on arrival.
Migrants everywhere met with misunderstanding, and Marrickville was not only no different but here in our parish migrants experienced some of the worst discrimination. Padre Raffaele Tresca CP has been chaplain here for over 40 years. For most of that time the Italians were not really considered part of the parish Padre Raffaele had to pay for his own phones, petrol and photocopying. He was only allowed to do Italian weddings if an Australian Passionist come in to do the vows and take the stipend for the parish. During the early Good Friday processions of the Dead Christ, even our religious used to come out and smile at the ‘quaint’ Italians and their customs. Parish Priests and Provincials would concelebrate Christmas and Easter masses at all the other masses but never think to go to the Italian Mass.
Deep hurts were caused. One of these concerned the Maria Goretti altar. Following Vatican Council II, there was a long period when the tabernacle was removed form the High Altar. The Parish Priest of the time decided to re-install it on a marble plinth behind the High Altar. To get the marble he demolished the Maria Goretti altar with no notice or no consultation, even with the Cutrupi family who were still in the parish!
Through all this the Italian parishioners still held fund raising events, dinners and special collections for the parish. They restored the Calvary Shrine which was meant to be demolished because of its state of disrepair.
The Altar of the Dead Christ
So on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Padre’s ministry and to commemorate the contribution of the Italian parishioners to St. Brigid’s, the Italian community wished to build a new altar at St. Maria Goretti’s Shrine to house the statue of the Dead Christ, the pre-eminent symbol of their presence, carried in procession on Good Friday.
Knowing none of the history and thinking there were already enough images of the dead and suffering Christ in the Church, the Parish Council at the time raised a few questions. Immediately all those years of misunderstanding and discrimination were felt again. However after lots of dialogue the importance and symbolism of this altar and statue in this place was understood.
The Altar was designed and its construction overseen by the De Metz family. The red marble is the same as that found in the Basilica of St. John Lateran.
The Altar of San Lupo
The altar with similar marble to the Maria Goretti altar is dedicated to San Lupo. San Lupo was a French saint but in the Benevento Region of the Campagnia Province of Rome (outside Naples) a town is named after him. Many of our parishioners come from this area, including Padre Raffaele.
The Christmas Crib
This area is also the sight of the other great symbol of the Italian contribution to the parish – the Christmas Crib.
This Crib takes up the whole of the open space, with flying angels, running brooks, waterfalls and animals of all varieties.
The inspiration once again came from Padre Raffaele who has constantly taken ideas and customs from the ‘old country’ to give them a new home here.
Each year the Christmas crib takes a new shape and new animals and people come to be part of Bethlehem. Kelpie dogs, wallabies and kangaroos, dinosaurs, dancing bears and a sleeping Santa can all be found in its nooks and crannies. People form all over Sydney, especially former parishioners, bring their own children and then grandchildren back to see the Christmas crib.
Down either side of the Church are a series of shrines, dedicated to St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows - Passionist, St. Therese of the Child Jesus – Carmelite, the Calvary Scene, the Holy Face, St. Patrick , St. Anthony of Padua and St. Paul of the Cross, founder of the Passionists.
In the decorations of these shrines, in the tile work and mosaics there are many beautiful motifs and symbols. Various, usually anonymous parishioners adopt a shrine as their own and keep it clean and decorated with flowers.
In the shrine of St. Therese can be found a motif of roses, the flowers she promised to shower down from heaven. Also can be found the Carmelite Crest, a reminder of the central place the Carmelites played in the life of the Parish.
For over 100 years the Carmelites lived, first in the Warren until they were evicted; then in rented premises till Fr. Francis Clune CP raised funds to build the Carmelite Monastery, now St. Marouns’ School and College. Over all this time mass was celebrated daily by the Passionists for the sisters. The sisters prayed daily for our parish needs. Many young women joined the Carmel.
These cloistered Sisters, with no radio or television and very limited contact, were renowned for knowing more about what was going on in Marrickville than the Parish Priest.
St. Paul of the Cross Shrine
At the entrance to this Shrine can be found the extraordinarily beautiful brass gates. These gates were originally part of the Altar rails at the entrance to the Sanctuary. Since the Second Vatican Council they were kept permanently opened and so were never seen.
The Chapel of the Saints
As the various waves of migrants came to St. Brigid’s they brought their own saints and devotions. Their statues and images were often placed on shelves or stands or hung on walls so that the shrines began to look like piety stalls.
In 2000 the former Baptistery in the bell tower was converted from a store room to a shrine dedicated to the memory of Fr. Stanislaus Cross CP. A new urn with sand was installed so real candles could be lit. (All the original candelabra around the shrines of the Church were changed to electric to avoid the extraordinary damage being done to the statues and walls of the Church. As it is this Chapel has to be repainted every second year.)
To be found in this Chapel are:
St. Michael the Archangel – the patron saint of the Vietnamese of Marrickville
The Risen Christ – Italian
Our Lady of the Snows – carried in procession on her feast by the Portuguese
Our lady of La Vang – Vietnamese. La vang is place, like Lourdes, where Our Lady is known to have appeared and many miracle sof healing occur. During the Vietnamese War this shrine was heavily shelled and destroyed. The Church and actual statue of Mary remained untouched.
Santo Nino – Filipino. Known to many as the Infant of Prague, this statue was all that survived from the destruction by storm of the first Spanish Fleet, floating to shore to become a main symbol for the Filipino Church. His feast is celebrated in January when all the families bring their own statues from home to be blessed.
St. Maroun – the hermit after whom the Maronite Lebanese Church is named
St. Charbel – also the hermit and most loved of all the Lebanese saints
St Rafqua – a nun who suffered terribly. Her diseased eyes were removed under surgery without anesthetic.
St Anthony Namtulla – a teacher of St. Charbel
St. Peter Chanel – beloved of the Tongan and other Pacific Island parishioners
Padre Pio – Italian
Blessed Pope John XXIII
Icon of the Passionist Saints – showing all the different Passionist Saints and blesseds; the open foreground of this painting is meant to represent us gathered into their company
St. John Baptist De La Salle –with the Passionists and Good Samaritans, the De La Salle spirituality is one of the three foundations of the parish
John Bede Polding, founder of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, who still work in our schools.
The Choir and Grand Organ
Music and song are central to the life of St. Brigid’s, from the earliest days. Our choirs have sung with symphony orchestras, performed all the great Gregorian and polyphonic masses, been broadcast weekly live on the ABC land line.
In the 1930’s a young fifteen year old girl, Southern Hemisphere Champion organist, began playing at her first mass. Over 70 years later, Connie is still playing at St. Brigid’s. She was joined by Fr. Stanislaus Cross who came to Marrickville for a week and stayed forty seven years. With Connie they laid the foundations of the music still being sung today. The present Chief Organist is Valerian Rego, whose family came to Australia from Burma. Connie began to teach Valerian and at fourteen, Valerian played his first mass. Valerian has himself been playing now for 30 years
The Grand Organ The Bryceson instrument had been built as a grand residence organ (possibly for Nathaniel Holmes of The Hall, Primrose Hill, London), but was purchased second-hand in 1874 by William McQuade jnr. for relocation to Australia at his family residence, ‘Bomera’, Potts Point, Sydney. It remained at ‘Bomera’ until 1908, when it was moved to the adjoining residence, ‘Tarana’ by William’s brother Frederick: upon Frederick McQuade’s death in 1919, it was advertised for sale and subsequently purchased by St Brigid’s where it was installed by local organ-builder Charles Richardson for the opening of the church in 1921.
With a thousand or more pipes, experts say that the sound is better than that of St. Mary’s Cathedral. It is however in great need of repair and restoration.
Blessed Bernard Mary Silvestrelli: As you enter the Sacristy you pass the painting of Blessed Bernard Mary Silvestrelli. An extraordinary man, Fr. Bernard Mary was the Superior General who sent the Anglo Irish to Australia in 1887 at the request of Cardinal Moran. He was also a a student with St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Virgin at the time of St. Gabriel’s death.
Painting - St. Paul of the Cross: In the Sacristy itself there is the enormous painting of our Holy Founder, St. Paul of the Cross. This painting was a gift of Blessed Bernard Mary to the new mission to Australia. It hung behind the High Altar of the original St. Brigid’s in Despointes St. A painting of a saint that was a gift from a saint.
Gold Chalice: There is much beautiful brass ware and gilt and gold vessels kept in the Sacristy. Of particular note is the rather plain looking chalice. This chalice is reputed to have been made from the wedding rings of the early women of the parish when we needed our first sacred vessels.
Carmelite Monstrance: Also particularly beautiful is the ornate gilt and silver Monstrance. This Monstrance was a gift form the Carmelite Sisters, an expression of their gratitude to the Passionists when finally they moved to Varroville in the 1980’s. This glorious monstrance was brought from France with the first sisters to come to Australia n the early 1880’s.
The Calvary Shrine
The beautiful Calvary Shrine is another notable landmark in Marrickville. It is a site for many processions, gatherings and blessings by the Italian, Vietnamese and other communities. More importantly perhaps is that is functions as a second church for many parishioners who come before and after the main Church is closed. It is always decorated anonymously with flowers and plants. Often at night cars will drive around the driveway, stop in front of the shrine will someone will get out and pray and then continue on their way.
It was erected by a famous atheist bookmaker in memory of his very Catholic wife in the 1920’s. It was the scene particularly of the famous Maria Goretti Processions – an annual feast that drew school children in their thousands from all over Sydney.
During the Forties and Fifties it gradually fell into disrepair and many wanted it taken down. The newly arrived Italian migrants got together and themselves restored and refurbished the Shrine. Today it is hard to envisage how we even thought of pulling ot down.
Our Lady’s Garden and the Statue: Mary Mother of All Nations
Our Vietnamese parishioners had asked for many years for a statue of Our Lady to be placed outside the Church around which they could gather to pray as they do in Vietnam.
Eventually permission was given and with our architect, Mr. Joseph Casonova and with the help of artist and sculptor, Daniel Dominguez, the brass statue was fashioned. It was modelled on the statue of Mary Queen of the World in the square outside Saigon Cathedral. The features were inspired by the Renaissance Della Robbia Madonna’s in Florence. It was blessed and consecrated by Bishop Geoffrey Robinson in 2006
Shrubland Hall behind the Church is also a well known landmark. This very practical working hall is used by both schools, play groups, for ethnic group meetings, Tongan and Samoan fundraisers, Italian dinners and Spaghetti nights.
It is well known by an older generation for the Shrubbie dances, a main feature of life in their 1940’s, 50’s, and 60’s, when the Marrickville CYPO was in its hey day. With the famous Whitman band, many marriages had their beginnings at these dances.