St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, is a parish steeped with a rich history and ties to the early Colonial settlers of the 1800s.
Despite being the designated Cathedral of the Diocese of Parramatta, and the Chair of the Bishop, St Patrick’s has a strong parish community of fellowship and welcome.
“Although this parish has a cathedral, it has a feeling of a smaller community parish,” Finance Administrator Mili Lee said.
“In the middle of Parramatta, we are able to balance between the parish as a community and the Cathedral as the Chair of the Bishop.”
On 19 April 1803, a proclamation by NSW Governor Captain Philip Gidley King was read to the assembled Catholics at Government House, Parramatta, that permitted Rev Fr James Dixon to say Mass on a rotation basis at Sydney, Parramatta and Hawkesbury. Parramatta’s first Mass was on 22 May 1803, in the vicinity of the present-day cathedral.
The foundation stone for the first St Patrick’s Church was laid on St Patrick’s Day 1836 and was consecrated on 28 May 1837. On 31 May 1936, a new church was opened on the site, built to meet the needs of a growing congregation.
On 19 February 1996, the cathedral was destroyed by fire. The destruction of the cathedral shook the tight-knit community and received national attention. Following the fire, Most Rev Bede Heather, then-Bishop of Parramatta said that “a new St Patrick’s will rise from these ashes.”
Mitchell, Giurgola and Thorp Architects (Canberra) were commissioned to restore and redesign the cathedral in July 1997. Remnants of the old Cathedral remain as the now Blessed Sacrament Chapel. On 9 November 2003, the new St Patrick’s Cathedral was opened.
19 parish priests have served the parish over its 180 years, with many priests serving lengthy appointments.
The current parish priest is Very Rev Robert Bossini, or Fr Bob, as he prefers to be called, who also holds the title of Dean of the Cathedral. Fr Bob was appointed to the Cathedral Parish from Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, Greystanes, in September 2014.
RELATED: Priest Profile – Fr Bob Bossini – St Patrick’s Cathedral Parish, Parramatta
“In an ordinary parish, as parish priest, you have a great deal of autonomy in terms of what you can do, but of course going through the correct means,” Fr Bob explained.
“[Parramatta] was a parish before it was the Cathedral parish, so there’s an ongoing pastoral foundation there. But when the Diocese of Parramatta was established, the parish church became the cathedral parish of the diocese. St Patrick’s parish has use of the Cathedral and Blessed Sacrament Chapel for its pastoral initiatives and works.
“So, even though I’m parish priest, the Cathedral and Murphy House are given to us on trust.”
Fr Bob is aided in his ministry at the Cathedral by Assistant Priest Fr Chris del Rosario, and Deacon Willy Limjap.
Parish Secretary Pat Preca said that the clergy in the parish are very pro-active and supportive of their parishioners.
“That is evident with the many different groups we have in the parish. Our clergy is readily available and involved with all parish activities,” Pat said.
“Fr Bob is approachable, level and fair. He’s a good listener, he’s a wonderful mentor and is very pastoral and knowledgeable.
“Deacon Willy doesn’t know the meaning of no – he always goes out of his way to help parishioners.”
Finance Administrator Mili added, “I love and enjoy working with Fr Bob because there’s a mutual respect of who I am as a lay person and also as a woman. He respects that and he treats me as an equal.”
“Deacon Willy has been the humblest person to work with. I have learnt a lot from his humility, the way that he serves without wanting recognition.”
Receptionist Donna Missio remarked, “we’ve been very blessed with our priests.”
As the newest member of the Cathedral team, Fr Chris is settling in to his first appointment, and is enjoying his ministry.
“Fr Bob and Deacon Willy are both hard working and faithful men who put the needs of others before their own. I’m blessed to be working alongside such great men,” Fr Chris added.
“Fr Chris has been here for a short time, but he has fit in. He has shown that he is willing to do what is asked of him, and he does it well,” Pat said.
“I love the energy and the youthfulness that Fr Chris is bringing to the parish. I feel like that energy could propel us to another level, that we could all learn from this youthfulness,” Mili added.
“It’s been an enjoyable experience working here in the Parish. The staff are an exceptional bunch that makes working here even better,” Fr Chris said.
On a given weekend, the cathedral parish has between 2000 and 2500 people attend its five Masses – Saturday Vigil 6pm and Sunday 8am, 9.30am, 11am (a Solemn Mass with the Cathedral Choir) and 6pm.
What was once a predominately Anglo-Irish community during Parramatta’s early development, the ethnic diversity of the parish is now as multicultural as the city itself.
“You really see them when we come together for different parish events and those different culture groups come ready to help,” Youth Coordinator Mindy Mercado said.
St Patrick’s has a large number of ministries serving the parish. The parish has three youth groups and devotion groups like the Legion of Mary, the Mary Full of Grace Novena Group and Live Christ Share Christ.
“When Bishop Anthony Fisher came to the diocese, knowing his passion and ministry with youth, it made the youth come alive, not just here in the parish, but on a diocesan level,” Mindy explained.
The parish has an RCIA team and baptism team, which are assisted by Deacon Willy, and the sacramental team, organised by Sacramental Coordinator Meg Gale.
There is a conference of the St Vincent de Paul Society, a Christian meditation group, playgroup for young children, hospitality group and a large dedicated music ministry.
Bernard Kirkpatrick has been the Director of Music in the parish for 13 years and oversees all the musical arrangements and the performance of all music in the cathedral on a parish and diocesan level.
Bernard, who is a professional organist, is the principal conductor of the cathedral choir and coordinates the music program with both volunteer and professional musicians in the parish.
“The best part of working for the cathedral is serving the needs of the liturgy, both for parishioners and at wider diocesan celebrations and major occasions,” he said.
“The cathedral church provides an opportunity to develop a music program that is more extensive than most parishes would require.
“There’s an expectation that when you come to the cathedral, you come for a different experience to your parish church, where the liturgy and musical have a different character.”
St Patrick’s Cathedral Parish has a close relationship with its neighbouring primary school, St Patrick’s Primary School.
“Every week, the primary school sends a grade to Mass every Friday,” Donna explained.
“Both Fr Chris and Fr Bob are very available to the primary school. The kids know them, and they know a lot of the kids – it’s a great strength of the parish.”
The parishioners and their strong sense of community have been identified by the parish team, Fr Bob and Fr Chris as being the best part of the parish.
“I heard stories from people in my youth group about when the cathedral burnt down, they had Mass in the ruins. From there, parishioners moved into the Marist Brothers’ compound next door, and then moved into Cumberland Hospital. This showed how the community stayed together, regardless of what space we celebrated Mass in,” Mindy explained.
“Even though Cumberland Hospital had an eerie feel to it, the parishioners were still able to bring a sense of joy when Mass was celebrated.
“The community keeps me working for the parish. It can get busy, but when you see the fruits of your labour and the interactions between people at the events your organise is really nice to see,” Mindy said.
Mili explained that she liked the openness of the cathedral site. “People can come in and approach the cathedral office for anything, even if it’s just for a listening ear.
“Being in Parramatta, we are also serving a diversity of people, it’s not just Catholics that walk through our door. The cathedral spire calls people.
“In my opinion, one of the biggest achievements of the parish is building community and still being able to step up and being a cathedral, presenting a cathedral that is fitting for the diocese. At the same time, when the parish community’s mission is served, and aspects of our faith is lived is another achievement,” she said.
“My philosophy when it comes to parish life is that the priests are here for an appointed time, but the parishioners are always here. I encourage them to be able to take hold of the parish themselves, so that it becomes their parish, rather than me doing everything and directing them – the initiative needs to come from them,” Fr Bob said.
“We as priests are not caretakers of the parish, we’re here to animate the parish, and to lead it to becoming the parish of the people,” Fr Bob added.
“In my short time here, I think the best thing about the parish and its parishioners is their dedication to work together. The parish staff and volunteers are always looking to improve community life and this is shown through their constant communication and willingness to work together,” Fr Chris said.
Parish staff believe that looking towards the future, the role the cathedral plays as part of an expanding and developing Parramatta CBD could be a challenge.
But they hope that despite the challenges, the cathedral parish don’t lose sense of themselves.
“My hope is that the parish doesn’t lose it sense of community that has been built up. I hope that it continues to open its doors to all kinds of people,” Mili said.
“As we become bigger as a diocese and the cathedral church, I trust that we don’t lose sight of why we are here as a church, which is to bring people to God,” she added.
Donna added, “with the parish located where it is, especially with the lunchtime Mass on a weekday, we get a lot of visitors. The parish outreaches to those people though the gift shop and the various talks we hold. It’s bringing those people in, and building a connection with them, and I hope that continues to grow.”
“Being in the centre of the CBD, I hope that people, whether it be members of the public or parishioners, continue to come here and see it as a place of welcome,” Mindy said.
“I hope that the Cathedral parish becomes a parish full of saints,” Fr Chris exclaimed.