By Ben Smith, Catholic Outlook, March 2017
On 17 March we celebrate St Patrick’s Day. It is celebrated in more countries than any other national festival. In Ireland, 17 March is a public holiday. Celebrations also occur in Great Britain, the US, Canada, New Zealand, Argentina, Russia, the Caribbean, and in various parts of Asia.
St Patrick’s legacy has had a profound impact on the founding of Catholicism in Australia and in the geographical area that is the Diocese of Parramatta, established in 1986.
His legacy inspired many Irish-born priests, brothers, religious sisters and lay people to be pioneers in setting up parishes and schools in our Diocese.
Many people of Irish descent played their part in the 19th and 20th Centuries in building on these foundations to help make our Diocese what it is today.
Fr James Dixon, an Irish convict, celebrated the first officially sanctioned Mass on Australian soil in 1803. The second and third Masses that he celebrated in the colony were in Parramatta and Windsor respectively.
Another Irish priest, Fr John Therry, arrived in Sydney in 1820 and covered many miles on horseback to minister to Catholics in the colony, especially in the Parramatta and Windsor areas.
In 1839, a group of Sisters of Charity from Ireland arrived in Parramatta to set up a convent on the land where Our Lady of Mercy College is now located. They performed a vital ministry to female convicts living in terrible conditions at the Female Factory in Parramatta.
In 1888, a group of Sisters of Mercy arrived from Callan, Ireland. They played a critical role in founding many parish-based primary schools as well as some secondary schools in the Diocese and further afield.
Their work extended beyond education to include visitation of the sick and in more recent decades has expanded into a number of other areas to minister to poor and vulnerable people.
A number of other teaching orders originating from Ireland have had an impact on the Diocese. The Patrician Brothers have founded three high schools in the Diocese. The Christian Brothers have also founded and run schools and their Winbourne property at Mulgoa has been used for training brothers and more recently as a retreat and conference centre. The Presentation Sisters and the Holy Faith Sisters have also founded schools in our Diocese.
Irish-born lay people also played a pioneering role in setting up the Church in the Diocese. James McCarthy, a convict from Northern Ireland who settled on a farm at Castlereagh near the Nepean River, supported the practice of the faith. McCarthy Catholic College at Emu Plains has been named in his honour.
Aside from Australia, St Patrick’s missionary example has inspired many Irish missionaries over the centuries to go to places across the globe. The religious communities and schools that Irish missionaries established are still playing a role across the Western world and also in Africa, India, Asia and South America.
While St Patrick’s Day has a special significance to those in our community who were Irish born, the day is also an occasion to celebrate the amazing sacrifices of the priests and religious men and women who left their green shores to establish and grow parishes, schools, religious communities and other outreach structures across the globe.
Despite the wet weather, the St Patrick’s Family Festival on Saturday 18 March from 2.00pm-5.00pm will still proceed in an adjusted format. The rides for the event have been cancelled but the music, dancing and food will still be on offer. The event will now take place in an indoor/covered section of the St Patrick’s Cathedral Precinct at 1 Marist Place, Parramatta. Parking will now be available in the overflow car park accessed off Victoria Road on the corner of Victoria Road and O’Connell Street.
On Saturday 18 March 2017, the Life, Marriage & Family Office is organising a St Patrick’s Family Festival from 2pm-5pm at St Patrick’s Cathedral Precinct, 1 Marist Place, Parramatta. Everyone is welcome to attend to celebrate the great gift of faith and service that St Patrick inspired throughout the world.
Ben Smith is Director of the Life, Marriage & Family Office in the Diocese of Parramatta: firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted on 17 March 2017.