“This church is the centre of your parish. Your parish should be a family, therefore, this church should be the heart of the family.”
These words from Cardinal James Freeman during the dedication of St Michael’s Church, Blacktown South on 23 December 1979, still ring true today.
St Michael’s, part of Mary, Queen of the Family Parish, Blacktown, celebrated the 40th anniversary of the dedication of its church on 23 December 2019 with parishioners young and old. Moderator, Fr Reginaldo Lavilla MSP, celebrated Mass which was followed by a morning tea and archive exhibition.
“I see St Michael’s as an extension to our family,” parishioner of 40 years Ray Francica told Catholic Outlook. “We’ve made a lot of friends over the years, lifelong friends, and even though some of the parishioners have moved out of the area, we still correspond with them, and keep up that continued connection and bond with them.”
St Michael’s emerged from the literal shell of the old St Brigid’s Church in Prospect, which was opened in 1856. Mass was celebrated regularly at St Brigid’s, whose parish boundaries stretched into Prospect, Eastern Creek, and the southern parts of Blacktown, for 119 years until 1975.
Between 1960 and 1961, parish priest of St Patrick’s Parish, Blacktown, Fr Hugh Law, looked for land south of Blacktown to place the foundations of a new church. A lot was found on Reservoir Road that would hold a new high school, primary school, and eventually, a parish church.
In 1963, a migrant centre in Scheyville was closed and Fr Law was granted permission to move the on-site church building to South Blacktown, as funds for its construction were raised by the St Vincent de Paul Society Conference at Blacktown. The church building was transported in five sections by road and became the first church building of St Michael’s. The church was blessed in 1965, and a priest from St Patrick’s Parish, Blacktown, would visit weekly to celebrate Mass.
In 1969, the large Blacktown parish was divided, and in the division, the parish of Blacktown South was born. The appointment of Fr Sidney Moseley as parish priest of Blacktown South at the end of 1969 ushered in a decade of building development for Blacktown South, which culminated in the construction of the new church.
Catholic Outlook spoke to parishioners who, quite literally, built the parish brick by brick, and with it, became a family.
Church architect and engineer John McGettigan told Catholic Outlook, “Fr Moseley’s biggest aim was to build a church that was debt free. Everybody worked on the building, including myself, for nothing, we worked pro bono.”
“Because they were working for the church, they were very happy [to not take pay],” parishioner Maria Apap added.
Maria, a parishioner “since day one,” explained that her late husband Nick was one of the key builders on the project, and how they provided the inspiration for the church’s design from a family holiday to California in 1974.
“During Mass, I noticed Nick was mapping the church in his mind – he was looking to see how the church was built. He loved the idea that it was nice and big and open and plain, and it wouldn’t have cost much money to be built,” Maria said.
“After Mass, our friend [John Attard], who was friends with the parish priest, invited us for a cup of tea and the priest told us the church didn’t cost much and it held 1000 people, so Nick thought that would be good for South Blacktown. When we got back to the hotel, he started to sketch the design of the church, while it was fresh in his mind.
“When we returned home, Nick began discussions with Fr Moseley, who was reluctant due to the large costs to build a church to hold 1000 people. However, my husband assured him that he would be able to seek assistance from parishioners, friends and family to help bring the dream to reality.”
The church would eventually be designed to hold 600 people.
Builder Orfeo Marchetti became involved in the development of the church through his brother-in-law Nick, who invited him to become part of a construction committee.
In a reflection written for the anniversary, Orfeo explained that one of his ideas to reduce costs of construction of St Michael’s was to demolish St Brigid’s.
“This would enable us to re-use and recycle the bricks to be used as the exterior facades [of St Michael’s] and in the main wall behind the altar,” Orfeo wrote.
“It was very labour-intensive work, to which St Michael’s parishioners helped remove and clean the bricks to make them ready to be used for the new church.
“To be appointed as the builder of St Michael’s Church, I was very honoured to be a part of the project and very proud to take on the challenge and of the final outcome of the church.”
The construction of the church became a labour of love, as upwards of 80 parishioners helped with building and construction, but also with the delicate task of cleaning and transporting the more than 25,000 convict handmade bricks from St Brigid’s that formed the sanctuary wall and external walls of St Michael’s.
Parishioner Ken Large moved from Rozelle in Sydney’s Inner West to the Blacktown area with his wife Margaret in the 1960s and attended Mass at St Brigid’s before the construction of St Michael’s.
Ken recalled that he was part of the crew that tore down St Brigid’s, and remembered seeing birds’ feathers when clearing out the roof.
After a year of construction, the church was opened and dedicated by Cardinal James Freeman, Archbishop of Sydney, on 23 December 1979.
Part Two: Building up the Body of Christ – one brick at a time will be published tomorrow.