May 22: 220-year anniversary of first Catholic Mass in Parramatta

By Br Mark O'Connor FMS, 23 May 2023
MC Fr Chris del Rosario celebrates Mass at St Patrick's Cathedral Parramatta. Image: Mary Brazell/Diocese of Parramatta


The early Australian Catholic community is famous for its devotion to the Mass, in trying circumstances.

Despite the lack of priests and the real difficulties of the early Irish Catholic community, as it emerged from its convict and nascent settler roots, the sacred importance of the Eucharist was clearly deep in the souls of our predecessors.

We do know, however, from Archbishop Eris O’Brien’s (Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn 1953-66) Dawn of Catholicism in Australia that: “Fr Dixon celebrated the first public Mass in Australia on 15th May, 1803 probably [my emphasis] in the house of James Meehan.”

But it is difficult to state, with precise historical accuracy, when the first Mass, was celebrated in Parramatta. However, it is very highly likely that it was exactly two hundred and twenty years ago on May 22, 1803.

Why? Because Catholic historians have discovered in their research local documentary evidence which states that that the early convict priest, Fr Dixon, celebrated the first official public Mass in NSW.

They quote a report in The Sydney Gazette of Sunday, May 22, 1803, as follows:

“On Sunday last the Roman Catholic Congregation assembled, for the first time, at Sydney; this morning (i.e. May 22) the Rev. Mr Dixon performs the duties of his function at Parramatta, and on Sunday next at Hawkesbury; in which succession the meetings are to be held at these three principal settlements.”

Whilst exhaustive research in NSW, Ireland, England and Rome has found no confirming documentary evidence, the fragmentary data that we have should still make us proud.

Here in Parramatta our fathers and mothers in the Catholic faith were quite heroic, as they strove, against all odds, to celebrate the sacrifice of the Mass in this great Southern Land of the Holy Spirit.

From their seed a garden of Catholic faith has flourished that nourishes us all, even today in 2023.

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