History of Saint Peter Chanel Parish Church

Pioneering Days 1919-1936

The earliest records show that Berala or Hyde Park as it was known was a distinct and separate section of Lidcombe parish in which Rev Fr. McElligott at the time was the Parish priest. This dates back to around 1919 when Hyde Park had its own Church Committee, bank accounts, school and church societies. Up until this time parishioners travelled to Lidcombe for Mass but on 28 September 1919 Mass was celebrated for the first time in a hall in Third Avenue.

Towards the end of 1924, a school in the church/hall on a half-acre block of land in Regents St was opened. To enable the hall to be used as a school it was necessary to extend it by 25 feet and convert the seats into writing desks. On Monday 6 July 1925, two Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart opened the school with 64 pupils in attendance up to fourth class. By 1926 all primary classes were represented.

The Holy Spirit was working in the new venture and in 1928 the church/hall was moved to Kingsland Road on the land which had been bought in 1926 for £200, a lot of money in those days.

During the early years while still a part of Lidcombe, the money was raised by a fortnightly house-to-house collection. Then in September 1929 Fr. Clancy of Lidcombe introduced the envelope system into Berala.

By 1935 there was a church-school at Berala – a weatherboard building with an iron roof, with moveable partitions, capable of accommodating 300. The church-school was supplied with Mass and benediction outfits.

Building on the Foundation 1937-1946

On 14 July 1937 Archbishop Kelly established the parochial district of Berala and appointed Fr. Maurice Carmody as Priest-in-Charge. The new parish was an amalgam formed from parts of Auburn, Bankstown and Lidcombe parishes.

The parish expanded further in November 1937 when Sefton was annexed to Berala. A hall was used to celebrate Mass on Sundays and was rented out during the rest of the week as a picture theatre.

A year later, Fr. Cornelius Donovan was appointed as Priest-in-Charge on Fr. Carmody’s resignation due to ill health. Only forty years of age, Father Carmody died at St. Vincent’s Hospital on 31 January 1940.

At the height of the Great Depression and every third person was unemployed (Sydney alone had 125,000 people out of work), the new parish of Berala did not stop the religiously motivated parishioners and its pastor on expanding the church. An income from the envelope and house collections keeps the church going. And by 1939 things had improved. The “Berala-Sefton Parish News” commenced publication on 19 March 1939, the object was “to publish the envelope list so that all may see who are shouldering their responsibility in supporting the parish.” There were obviously no holds barred in those days when it came to parish finances.

The official opening of the new church-school at Berala took place on 9 June 1940.The old weatherboard building in Kingsland Road ceased to act as a church-school when the new building was opened. Fr. Donovan said the last mass at 7:00 am Sunday 9 June and offered the mass for “the pioneers, for those parishioners and those who helped to lay the foundations of the Parish.”

On 6 April 1941 saw the first Confirmation held in the parish. Archbishop Gilroy confirmed 100 children and 10 adults that day.

Over the next few years Fr. Donovan oversaw further development of the parish. A few blocks of land were bought for church purposes. Mass was normally offered at Berala at 7:30 am and then at Sefton at 9:00 am. Baptisms were scheduled for 12 noon on Sundays and there were evening devotions at Berala at 7:30 pm.  And in October 1946 Cardinal Gilroy gave approval to Father Donovan for two regular Sunday masses at Berala, commencing at 7:00 am and 9:15am.

Years of Development 1947-1956

Keen to keep costs down, on 13 August approval was given by Cardinal Gilroy for building of a new convent worth £6,590. The presbytery had still not been built at this time. And it was intended that when the new convent was completed, the old one would be used as a presbytery.

Building of the convent was slow as there were many delays for bricks and then tiles in post-war Sydney. On 23 October 1949, Cardinal Gilroy blessed and opened the new convent in Regent Street where the Berala community finally had its permanent home, the new convent.

At the same year, 1949 the moves by the Sefton parishioners to form their own parish created the boundary between the two parishes. This boundary was marked by the water pipes to Potts Hills.

Prior to 1951, housie was regularly held in the original church-school in Kingsland Road. In July 1951, the Paradance Hall at Lidcombe was hired to run a housie program on Wednesday nights. This new venue provided a significant financial contribution to the parish. An achievement considering the extensive building program of the past few years, the amount spent on church, school and property improvements.

The number of Sunday masses had increased to three—6:00 am, 7:00 am, and 9:15 am and there were six nuns teaching the 400 pupils enrolled in the school. During the year there were nine marriages and 48 baptisms.

On 11 November 1953 a special celebration was held to commemorate the Twenty-fifth anniversary of Mass being said after moving the Church-hall from Third Avenue.

Greater activity in the parish marked the enrolments in the school which had grown to 500 and two new classrooms were built.

On 13 June 1954 the  canonisation of St. Peter Aloysius Maria Chanel was marked fittingly by the first Solemn High Mass in the parish.

Two years later, in September 1956 the Catholic Education Office served notice that Berala was to have the Regional Intermediate School for the area in 1957. The parishioners and most of all, Fr. Donovan was delighted of the good news.

The Boom years 1957 -1976

It was during 1956 that seeds were sown for the next major milestone of the parish’s development – the building of a new church.

In October permission was given to construct a new church. Fr. Donovan deposited the deeds of one of the blocks of church land with the bank as security and plans were made for the old convent to be demolished to make way for the new church.

In the same year, building was taking place in other areas as well; approval was granted in February for the erection of an additional classroom including desks, and approval was also given to spend on the extensions to the convent.

Work on the new church begun in February 1958, and by July 140,000 bricks had been laid. On 15 March the following year, the new church was completed and opened. In addition, the new church gained second place award in the same year for lighting in the buildings such as churches, offices and factories.

The local paper at the time described the church as having been “contemporarily designed in the basilica style. A slight Norman influence is evident in the repeated use of flat arches over the doorways, along the side walls, and in the general ceiling pattern.”

Its position on the top of the hill in Kingsland Road meant that it could be seen from as far away as Villawood and Bankstown before the surrounds became fully developed. It has become a well- known landmark and was used as a reference for giving directions to newcomers and visitors to Berala and Regents Park.

Seeing the success of the Planned Giving System in neighbouring parishes, by October 1960 it was discussed and its implementations in Berala had some local opposition at first. A major change in the parish program who had the full support of Fr. Donovan who regarded it as important that “we all share the burden in the building a new Parish Hall and a High School.”

The program and the scheme commenced on Sunday 19 March 1961. This structure of the program was very similar to our present envelope plan; each pledge represented the wage-earner’s giving for the next 156 weeks; envelopes were supplied and then collected at Mass every Sunday and a strong Continuation Organisation was set up to carry on the pledge payment program.

There was a great rejoicing in June 1961 when Fr. Donovan proudly announced that the Church debt was liquidated. And later that year the building of three additional Home Science classes and a new Parish Hall were granted.

The year also established the new parish of St. Joseph The Worker at South Auburn. It sits in the land that had previously been purchased in Wellington Road two years before.

The Jubilee Hall was to be the major project for the Silver Jubilee Year of 1962. On 15 July Cardinal Gilroy presided at a High Mass before blessing the foundation stone of the new Jubilee Hall. The Mayor of Auburn officiated on 9 November 1962 to celebrate the opening.

It is in this same year when Fr. Donovan initiated the Sunday mass bus service to transport parishioners from the Auburn end of the parish to Mass. He provided special passes for those who could not afford the fare.

On 11 April 1963 the building of the Girl’s Regional High School at Berala was approved as part of the major scheme being undertaken by the Church throughout the archdiocese. The parishes in which the schools were located were asked to carry as much of the outlay as possible. The construction was carried out strictly in two stages.

In 1964 the Liturgy was marked by the introduction of the English Mass and a Sunday evening Mass. There were also a few structural changes to the church that year; in November a new St. Vincent de Paul stall was built near the Church door.

The official opening of the Regional Girl’s High School and the convent extensions on 23 July 1967 climaxed 3 decades of parish building—all in the lifetime of one Parish Priest.

In August 1970 the blessing of the new marble altar facing the congregation marking the beginning of an era and the Traditionalists among us were severely jolted by the change in the format of worship.

It was not until Saturday, 15 June 1974 a major event for the parish took place—the celebration of Fr. Donovan’s Golden Jubilee. A general Parochial Mass was celebrated and the Jubilee culminated on Sunday when the Jubilee Mass was presided over by his Eminence, Cardinal Freeman.

During February, March and April 1975 the Parish was looked after by Fr. John Rivett and Fr. Kevin Burton until the appointment on 1 May of Fr. Peter Galligan as the new Parish Priest.

Sadly during these years Fr. Donovan’s health was deteriorating and in March 1975 the parish bade farewell to their beloved pastor on his departure to retirement at the St. John Vianney Villa, Randwick. Nine months after, on 30 December Fr. Cornelius Donovan, aged 78 passed away.

Years of Consolidation 1977-1987

The building of a church, schools, convents, and eventually a presbytery, were essential in order to provide a good environment for the worship of Christ and the education of the children. By 1977 most of the major building development of the parish had already taken place and the times were set for consolidation of the parish’s development.

Extensions to parish property were by no means finished. More land was purchased adjacent to the Hall to provide room for playgrounds since three new primary school rooms were to be erected on part of the existing playground. And on 30 April 1978, new Primary School buildings were blessed.

The following years were spent mainly on the repair and maintenance of Church property and buying of additional adjoining land, as it became available, to allow for future expansion.

The altar society was re-established and developed into organisation and format which exists today. It was at this time, too, that a selected group of parish men were encouraged to train and become instituted as acolytes. These men and others who have since become acolytes have been of valuable assistance to the priests.

In July 1980, Fr. Galligan was transferred to Sans Souci and Fr. Bob Anderson was appointed administrator. On 20 August 1980, Fr. Graham Kings was appointed Priest-in-Charge who is Berala’s first Australian-born priest.

The 1980s saw a number of vocations to the priesthood and religious life come from the parish such as Fr. Michael Foster who had grown up in the parish and ordained to the priesthood at St Mary’s Cathedral on 16 August 1980. On the following day Fr. Michael offered his first Mass in the parish. Michael was ordained a Deacon at this parish on 2 December 1979 by Bishop Bede Heather.

Greg Brett followed Fr. Michael two years later and on 20 August Greg was ordained as a Vincentian Father in St. Peter Chanel , the first ordination held in the Parish Church. Perhaps the biggest change so far in its history occurred in 1985 when the Syrian Catholic Community in Sydney shared the Berala Catholic Church for the celebration of their Masses. And so Monsignor Michael Berbari took up residence in the presbytery in August 1985.

On 10 August 1986 Fr. Kings and a number of his fellow Jubilarians held special Parish celebrations sharing an important event in his life with the parishioners. The community rose to the occasions with special gifts and a luncheon prepared by the ladies in the Parish hall afterwards.

Fr Thomas about the Church Dedication

Relic of St Peter Chanel

“On the last and most important day of the festival, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone is thirsty, he should come to Me and drink! The one who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him.”” (John 7:37-38 Holman Christian Standard Bible) When Jesus said this, he may have had a few scriptural passages in mind. Isaiah reminded the people of Israel and said “The Lord will always lead you, satisfy you in a parched land, and strengthen your bones. (Isaiah 58:11). Zechariah spoke about God’s providence that covers both the whole world –east and west- in every season. “On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it toward the eastern sea and the other half toward the western sea, in summer and winter alike. (Zechariah 14:8) When we the parish of St Peter Chanel and St Joseph borrow Jesus’ words, “streams of living water will flow from within” to be our parish motto, we are mindful of the streams of spiritual blessings flowing in the name of Christ.

St Peter Chanel and St Joseph is a very young parish born of two streams. It was constituted on 13 July 2013. The formation of it can be likened to the Murray Darling River which is life-giving for many farmers. Two streams of Eucharistic communities united to continue the flow of grace from Christ. St Joseph the Worker Parish Auburn South and St Peter Chanel Parish Berala were two worshipping communities in their own rights. After fifty years of parish life, the St Joseph the Worker Community was in need of some urgent rejuvenation. After over nine decades of coming together as a Eucharistic Community and 75 years of history as a parish, St Peter Chanel also could do with some rejuvenation. It was my pastoral duty to bring these two streams together, which I was able to do with the help of ardent and generous parishioners from both sides. Eventually, to streamline the pastoral and liturgical activities, the Parish chose the Church on the Hill, St Peter Chanel, as the sole Sanctuary for it. In the process of this merger, the St Joseph the Worker Church became another strong stream of grace. The new parish of the Maronite Diocese made St Joseph the Worker another Icon of strong Catholic presence in the area.

The southern stream of St Peter Chanel also went through stages of transformation. The beginning of Berala Parish goes back to a small church in Third Avenue Berala where Sacraments were celebrated for eight years from 1920. It was a time of great need as those who survived the First World War were relying on the Lord for recovery from the depression the war had brought about. Through sacraments and charity, the faithful thrived as a sign of God’s goodness. Soon the people of God elevated themselves both spiritually and geographically. The parish built a Catholic School on the top of the hill and the school hall became the sanctuary for the sacraments and venue for the fellowship activities.

The atrocities and disasters of another World War (WWII) did not dampen the spirit of the faithful. They trusted in the Lord who said, “streams of living water will flow from within”. Such unwavering faith of the faithful helped them not just to survive the terrible war-time depression, but flourish into a great Christian witness. The enthusiasm and joy of the faithful was so profound, that the construction of a new church which started in 1957 was completed within a year and blessed in 1958. The very luminous design of the church reflects the joy of the faithful who drink from the streams of the living water that is flowing from within.

The Church Building may be static, but what St Peter Chanel Church is building is not a static icon. After sixty years of its existence, visitors still consider this as a very new church building. I remind them that it is not just a well-maintained building; St Peter Chanel Church represents ongoing spiritual formation and benefits. When the sanctuary had to be reorganised in the light of the Second Vatican Council, the Altar (to be anointed with Chrism by Archbishop Anthony Fisher on 11 August this year) was built. This Altar is not just another piece of furniture. This Eucharistic table also tells the story of the generosity, devotion, and sacrifice of a pastor who cared for his flock. That Pastor was Father Cornelius Donovan. At a time when money was hard to find, parishioners made a collection and gave it to their dearly loved priest so that he could go for a well-deserved holiday in his homeland of Ireland. But Father Donovan had other priorities. He sacrificed his holiday and invested the gift from his parishioners to build the present Marble Altar. The Altar on which the Chrism is to be smeared on the solemn dedication day is reminiscent of great generosity and sacrifices of a dedicated pastor. Like the Altar, just about every item in the St Peter Chanel Church tells stories of dedication, generosity and sacrifices. I have been personally witnessing such great generosity, joy, and dedication of many people for over seven years. Now I can confidently say that the ‘streams of living water have been flowing from within the Church of St Peter Chanel.’

The Dedication of the Church is not unlike the initiation of a Christian faithful. Through Baptism we commence our discipleship of Christ. Through Holy Communion we strengthen and celebrate our bonding with the body of Christ. When we come of age, at the Sacrament of Confirmation we are anointed with the Holy Chrism to be sealed with the Holy Spirit and become a missionary of Christ to others. When Cardinal Gilroy blessed this Church in 1958, it commenced its role as a true house of God. Through a multitude of Eucharistic celebrations, the SPC Church bonded the faithful with Christ. Now the church is debt free and has come of age to be anointed with Chrism. Hereafter, we as the church people must take our mission of Christ as seriously as ever. We are all set to commence a new stage of evangelisation ministry. Let the world know that the ‘streams of living water are flowing from within this special place of worship!’.