Set at the foot of the Blue Mountains, the Parish of Richmond is the largest geographical parish in the Diocese of Parramatta, forming boundaries with Lithgow and Singleton.
In 1848, Reverend J.J. Therry, from Windsor, suggested to the then-Archbishop of Sydney John Bede Polding that a church and school be erected. On 3 January 1859, Archbishop Polding laid the foundation stone for St Monica’s Church, Richmond, and it was blessed and opened on 4 May 1859.
Additions to this church were made in 1897 and in 1954. In November 1982, a new church was built next to the existing church, which is now known through the parish as the ‘Old Church.’
15 parish priests and administrators have served the parish over its almost 160 years, with many priests serving lengthy appointments.
The current parish administrator is Rev Clifford D’souza MSFS, who was appointed in May 2015.
“The time has gone by so quickly,” Fr Clifford laughed.
“During my ministry, I actually filled in for the parish priest at Richmond in 2002 for six weeks before my current appointment,” he added.
Fr Clifford is aided in his ministry of the large parish by Assistant Priest Fr Jessie Bolario, Finance Administrator Kara Hargrave, Administrative Assistant Teshana Laferla and Sacramental Coordinator Mary Pirovic.
“They [the parish team] are all amazing,” Kara said. “The people are what make it worthwhile.”
Mary added, “I am truly blessed to work with such a great team. Even on trying days, we always manage to see the lighter side and end up laughing.”
Teshana said “I work with a wonderful parish team, and Fr Clifford is always very supportive and considerate of my family needs at times.”
“I work in a lovely environment with not too much stress. I enjoy coming to work each day,” she said.
Across its three Mass centres – St Monica’s Richmond, St Gregory’s Kurrajong and St John of God Chapel, North Richmond – the parish serves between 600 and 650 parishioners at its six Masses – Saturday Vigil 6pm and 6.30pm and Sunday 7.30am, 8am, 9.30am and 5.30pm.
What was once a predominately Anglo-Irish community during Richmond’s early development, Fr Clifford explains that he now ministers to Australians, Maltese, Anglo-Irish, South Americans, Filipino and Indian parishioners.
There are some families that are now seventh and eighth generation residents of the district.
The parish of Richmond is lucky to have one of the oldest Catholic learning communities in NSW in St Monica’s Primary School. The school, located behind the church in Richmond, has developed in size over the years to now accommodate over 300 students from around the district.
Although it is not in the parish boundaries, Bede Polding College is the feeder Catholic high school for students at St Monica’s Primary School. Bede Polding College was secured for the Hawkesbury region through a joint effort with St Monica’s, St Matthew’s Windsor and St John’s Riverstone.
“We’re trying to get the students from St Monica’s and Bede Polding involved in our liturgies, music and in our youth groups,” Fr Clifford explained.
“Classes from St Monica’s attend Mass every Friday, and they also attend reconciliation periodically.
“The assistant priest often goes on visits to St Monica’s.”
“I feel that it’s a great advantage having the school next door, especially for the school,” Mary said.
“It’s great to see the child[ren] come in for weekday [M]ass or attending Reconciliation.
“It’s also great for the parishioners, many who have family members attending the school, they’re able to see the children and share the experience,” she explained.
When asked about what the best thing about the parish was, Fr Clifford and the parish team said the parishioners.
“A highlight of my time at Richmond has been meeting with parishioners, conducting pastoral care work in the local community, attending reflection days with the parish groups and celebrating the Eucharist,” Fr Clifford said.
“We have three different communities in the parish from Richmond, North Richmond and Kurrajong. It does have its challenges, but it is a joy interacting with all our parishioners.”
“It’s like a family here at St Monica’s. The people are so lovely and supportive of each other,” Kara said.
“They have seen my children grow up and have become part of our extended family,” Mary added.
Former assistant priest Fr John Paul Escarlan, now at Mary, Queen of the Family Parish, Blacktown, said that the highlight of his two years at Richmond was getting to know the parishioners.
“It is a beautiful parish with two churches and a chapel. The parishioners welcomed me into their parish and helped me to grow as a person and as a priest,” he said.
The Parish of Richmond has a variety of ministries across its three Mass Centres. A recent recruitment drive has helped boost the number of parishioners helping out in ministries such as Children’s Liturgy, Catechists, church cleaning, hospitality, pastoral care of the sick and readers and commentators.
The parish has a growing youth ministry in the HYPA-R (Hawkesbury Youth Parish Action Richmond) group, which ministers to 10-to 15-year-olds. It has a St Vincent de Paul Society chapter, St Paul’s Committee and a music ministry team that Fr Clifford says is “taking shape.”
“Our parish general assembly invites parishioners to listen, to talk and share and discuss ideas on how the parish should move in the next three years,” Fr Clifford said.
“One of the challenges of the parish is to get young people to church and how we can relate their faith experiences to their life,” he added.
“The best thing about the Parish of Richmond is that the parishioners are so willing to volunteer [their] time to the parish and to help at all different functions the parish hosts throughout the year,” Teshana said.
This coming May, the parish of Richmond will celebrate the 160th anniversary of the opening of the first St Monica’s. Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, will visit the parish and celebrate Mass with the community.
“It is important to thank and acknowledge the seeds of faith sown by the founding members of the parish, the legacy of the subsequent generations of the faithful until today and pray that, with hope and confidence, we will continue to strengthen the future church in the Hawkesbury,” Fr Clifford said.
Looking ahead to the future, Fr Clifford and the parish team hope the parish continues to grow.
“My hope is that the community will continue to be nourished in faith and that many more people will volunteer in the various ministries in the parish,” Fr Clifford said.
“Continued growth, encouraging more people, particularly the younger parishioners to feel welcome and a part of the parish,” Kara said.
“I hope that the school and parish continue to grow and support each other and for the parish to grow stronger and to build on and spread the community spirit that St Monica’s was so well known for,” Mary added.
“For the parish community to continue to grow and flourish,” Teshana said.