Readers unfamiliar with St. Benedict's Broadway, Sydney might care to also see:

St Benedict's as it was built - the long nave had to be shortened to accommodate the 1948 widening of the Parramatta Road ,in the foreground.

Father John Joseph Therry

Father Therry of whom His Eminence speaks with admirable candour below, was indeed a great hero of the Church by any measure. He had born the heat of the day for many years, and it is true he was not always easy to get along with. But the cause was sensitivity and volatility and never arrogance, as the following story shows.A young Priest ordained only a few years, Dr William Bernard Ullathorne  O.S.B.( 1806 -1889) was appointed Vicar General for the Colony of New South Wales and Van Dieman's Land in 1833. He had been ordained Priest in September,1831. In less than 2 years he had responsibility for the whole of Australia as it would become, but was not yet. Born in 1806, he was about 27!

He arrived in the Colony unannounced. He already knew a great deal about the personalities and difficulties of the colonial Church via the Vicar Apostolic in London and others. He was well aware of Father Therry's reputation. Let him tell the story, he has just arrived from Van Dieman's Land ( Tasmania) and goes straight to the Priest's house, but finds Father Therry is away, travelling back from Parramatta:

"....Father Therry arrived whilst I was having some dinner and was at once, as his housekeeper had been, very patronising, spoke to me, as she had done, of my very youthful appearance for a Priest, and offered me, no doubt with kind intention, every assistance in his power to settle me in some part of the Colony. I knew that his first impulses were sound, so after the cloth was removed and we three Priests (VR: Father McEnroe was also present) were left by ourselves, I produced the document constituting me Vicar General and shewing me to be exclusively possessed of jurisdiction in New South Wales. He read it and immediately went on his knees. This act of obedience and submission gave me great internal relief....." He goes on to demonstrate that Father Therry whilst indeed volatile, was always respectful of his Authority.

I hope you will forgive that little bit of background.

150th Anniversary of the Consecration of St. Benedict's on 24/2/1862
By + Cardinal George Pell
Archbishop of Sydney
24 February 2012

Today is the 150th anniversary of the first consecration of a church in Australia when the English Benedictine Archbishop John Bede Polding consecrated St. Benedict's church. I am wearing his ring and carrying his crozier for this Mass.

The first temporary structure was almost complete in December 1836 under the leadership of Father McEncroe.  In July 1845 the foundation stone of our church designed by the renowned English architect Augustus Welby Pugin was laid by Archbishop Polding.  In 1856 the spire was completed.

The Catholic story of this church has followed many twists and turns.  Originally the district was populated by poor Irish immigrants and the first priests were English Benedictines, who used to ring their church bells as Archbishop Polding passed by on his return from his months of missionary visitation on horseback; to welcome him of course, but also to warn the priests at the Cathedral of his approach.

At one stage there were three Catholic schools on this site and many of us remember the derelict buildings and small congregation before the arrival of Notre Dame University.

In those days the Church building had to be paid for before a consecration could occur and to be admitted to the Church for the eight-hour consecration ceremony, everyone had to pay ten shillings!

The old consecration rite included Exposition of Relics, sealing of each set of relics; chanting of Matins and Lauds; singing of Prime; sprinkling outer walls and ground with holy water; entrance procession; ritual placing of ashes at the cross formed on the cathedral floor; tracing of the letters of the Greek alphabet in the mounds of ashes, along one arm of the cross; same again with the Latin alphabet on the other arm; blessing of holy water with salt, to which wine was added; consecration of all the altars; procession around the interior three times to sprinkle all the walls; and a variety of other ceremonies, involving singing Litany of the Saints, incensation; unction of all the stones to be fixed to the walls.  They concluded with a Pontifical Mass of the Dedication.  Later, Vespers and Benediction.  ETC!

Such lengthy ceremonies demonstrate to us the usefulness of liturgical reform.  Not even Ezra after the return from exile to Jerusalem continued the reading of the Law for eight hours.  We are told the people escaped lightly as the reading only went from early morning till noon.

What was the old Church trying to say with its eight-hour ceremony?  I think they were ramming home to their congregation and especially to the participating bishops and priests, those most likely to be captured by repetition, that the Church building is holy, a sacred place, a gateway to heaven, where God is worshipped through Christ and the faithful obtain the medicine of immortality.

They did too much, at least by our standards, but we have swung too far in the opposite direction.  We are losing our sense of the sacred.

Sometimes in a Church before Mass, there is more friendly chatter, "community building", than there is in many homes where they eat together ranged around the television set.  This is our loss and a grievous loss. 

I am going to conclude by reading excerpts from the sermon preached at the consecration by Archpriest J.J. Therry, but before that, I want to say a word or two about Therry.

Even by the harsh and exotic standards of early New South Wales, Therry was a remarkable character.

He fought with all of his religious superiors and many of his peers; he fought with the colonial authorities and travelled incessantly to serve his poor, ignorant and often convict flock.  Transportation had only stopped in N.S.W. in 1840 but continued in Western Australia until 1868.  Convicts could be punished with 300 lashes.

Therry finished up a rich man with some confusion about what was his and what belonged to the Church.  Among other things, he donated the land for Riverview College to the Irish Jesuits rather than to the English Benedictine bishop.  I am sure that it is misleading anti-Jesuit propaganda which alleges that a cordon of Jesuits surrounded him as he was dying less any approach him to change his will.

On one occasion he rode through the night to be present for the execution of a Catholic convict.  He arrived in time to help.  Unfortunately, the Protestant minister who was assisting some other unfortunate wretches also under sentence fainted.  Therry was not impressed.

After his dismissal from the post of official chaplain Governor Darling summed up his formidable rival.  If we remember that Darling was an Englishman, who did not admire the Irish, he still captured much of the truth.  The Governor wrote that "Mr Therry is a man of strong feelings and not much discretion.  He is evidently disposed to be troublesome, and, constituted as this colony is, might be dangerous ...  He is indefatigable in his endeavours to preserve his influence among his countrymen and is constantly going from place to place with this view.  From the similarity of character, he can hardly fail to succeed ..."

For an account of some elements from the sermon also useful for us, I quote from the account in "The Empire" of February 25, 1862.
"At the conclusion of the Mass, the Very Rev. J.J. Therry, Arch-priest, preached the consecration sermon, turning his face to the people and addressing them in English".  All the prayers, of course, were said in Latin by the priest with his back to the people, "facing God".
Father Therry began by praising
"St. Benedict, one of the 'little ones' referred to in the words of the Blessed Saviour-humble and teachable.  He then related the early history of St. Benedict, who came to Rome to get learning, but meeting at school vicious youths, to shun their evil example fled to the wilderness.  St. Gregory said of him that he (St. Benedict) was scienter nesciens et sapienter indoctus, because he preferred purity of manners and piety to learning without these.  From the example of St. Benedict, [Father Therry] recommended that youth should be sent to schools presided over by the clergy.

"The very reverend preacher reminded his hearers of the holiness of the consecrated temple, and of the sin of profaning it.  He appealed to the example of the two sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, who were struck dead for profaning the altar of God, and of Heliogabulus, who by the order of his king Seleucus demanded of Onias, the sovereign pontiff, the treasures of the temple.  No sooner had Heliogabulus insulted the High Priest, than a horseman appearing in the temple trampled him down, and two other horsemen of extreme beauty perpetually followed him, and harassed him, until Onias interceded for him in prayer, and he was forgiven.

"And Solomon's splendid temple was not so dear to God [Father Therry explained] as that [St. Benedict's] in which they were seated.  They had not, indeed, the ark of the covenant, the tables of the law, and Aaron's rod; but they had what was more precious in the sight of God, they had then the body and blood of His Son....  The very reverend preacher reminded his hearers that they, the whole company of the faithful, were the living temple of God.  As their beloved archbishop had consecrated the church to God, he called upon them to consecrate themselves to God as his temple, to shun all sin which defiles the temple, and not to let the sufferings and labours of Christ be in vain as to them; for Jesus loved them, and gave himself for them".
In these words we find the secrets to Therry's religious influence.  He was a great priest, heroic in his hard work and sacrifices, genuine in his faith and devotion to Christ and the Church, even as he fought with all and sundry with undiminished zeal until the end of his life.  His faith is the ancient faith, our faith, the source of Catholic vitality.

We thank God for all the blessings granted in this Church over 150 years in times good and bad, happy and sad.  The Church now lies at the heart of a young, expanding Catholic university; a wonderful symbol.  We thank God for this.

We pray that the worshipping community here in St. Benedict's will remain for decades and decades to come as a source of faith, hope and love, sending out streams of living water to the university and to the surrounding parishioners.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Cardinal George Pell, then Metropolitan Archbishop of Sydney
his geographical responsibilities were rather less than those of
the 27 yrs old Dr William Ullathorne!

Yes, we might say that Cardinal Pell is "a tough cookie" but it is a compliment for the man who says that

 "All I do is teach what the Catholic Church teaches and do what the Catholic Church does, and let the chips fall where they may." 

God Bless him - if only Cardinal Ouellet could find us more like him, what a transformed Church we would have in Australia.


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