Parish Profile: Waves of migration and vocation at St Oliver Plunkett’s

By Jordan Grantham, 24 July 2018
St Oliver Plunkett's Parish, Harris Park. Photo: Diocese of Parramatta


St Oliver Plunkett’s Parish, Harris Park sits between two giant worshipping communities in western Sydney; Our Lady of Lebanon Co-Cathedral and St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta.

“We are the little brother, or the smaller alternative of what we offer in terms of a style of worship that is not on the grand scale,” Fr Chris de Souza, Parish Priest and Vicar General of the Diocese of Parramatta, said.

The intimate parish has a unique charism, having originally served a working class Irish community – St Oliver Plunkett being the martyred Archbishop of Armagh, Ireland.

“In those early days it was a very working class suburb and while that hasn’t changed the workers tend to be more skilled and professional,” Fr Chris said.

Harris Park has continued to serve waves of migrants and welcome them into a strong Catholic community, whether they are from Asia, Africa, the Middle East or the Pacific.

“There is also a significant number of Maronite Catholics who choose to come to St Oliver’s because they grew up in the area or are the descendants of those who grew up in this area before Our Lady of Lebanon was established. They move between.”

RELATED: Order of Australia Medal for St Oliver’s parishioner, Kevin Coorey

“It is the parish church of a multiethnic community and the seminary church of Holy Spirit Seminary. Those are its two major functions,” Fr Chris said.

The diverse backgrounds of the seminary students reflect the multi-ethnic character of the parish and Diocese.

The atmosphere of St Oliver Plunkett’s is buzzing and prayerful, almost like a medieval friary, with many seminarians, visitors, and a few recently retired clergy joining together for Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours and other prayers in the precinct.

The recently renovated church is beautiful and simple. It adjoins the warm community of St Oliver’s Primary School.

RELATED: St Oliver’s students fundraise for the Catholic Foundation

Parishioners often join the seminary’s morning Mass, which begins with Morning Prayer at 6.40am on weekdays when the seminary is in session. All are welcome to join the seminarians.

The seminary’s regular Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament also has a following in the parish community. It begins at 5.30pm and ends with Evening Prayer most days.

Many parishioners stay attached to the parish after moving to another area, such as Kevin Coorey, a dedicated parish volunteer recently recognised for his service with the Medal of the Order of Australia. Fr Chris estimates almost half the parishioners live outside the parish bounds.

“I go blessing houses outside Harris Park,” Fr Chris said, “North Rocks, Carlingford, Parramatta, Granville, Guildford.”

The Samoan Choir is another example of attachment to the parish. The Samoan Choir sings at Mass twice a month.

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“There’s a fierce loyalty people have to Harris Park,” he said.

Harris Park has a low percentage of Catholics in the population, Hinduism is the largest religion, and there is a regular group of people who attend Mass who are not Catholic or even Christian.

“Certainly in my time, some have come through the RCIA Program,” Fr Chris said.

The Harris Park converts to the Catholic faith mostly attend the sacramental program at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta.

“Quite often they’re Indians who have gone to Catholic school in India and like coming to Mass and come up for a blessing at Communion time,” Fr Chris said.

Clearly the parish is a living legacy of the Irish Catholic pioneers in this cosmopolitan area, with a generous Catholic spirit of welcome, the warm parish school founded by the Sisters of Mercy and the bustling Seminary of the Holy Spirit in the former Kenilworth House.


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