It is one thing to restore a Catholic church to its former glory. It will take much more to restore the Catholic Church itself.
This was the solemn message delivered on Sunday 9 September by the Bishop of Parramatta, Most Reverend Vincent Long, when he blessed the recent renovations to St Oliver Plunkett’s Church in Harris Park.
Since celebrating its first Mass on Christmas Day in 1929, St Oliver’s has grown to be one of the diocese’s most diverse and prayerful communities.
The renovations, which were completed just before Advent in 2017, have rejuvenated the church’s interior and transformed many neglected spaces.
The balcony, for example, now features a welcoming entry, a shrine to Our Lady and a new baptismal font.
The sanctuary has also been renewed yet maintains a humble warmth, in keeping with the character of the parish.
A new entry has also been added to the eastern side, linking the church with the Seminary of the Holy Spirit, a welcome and valued addition to the parish community.
“As we praise God in this beautifully restored Church, we commit ourselves to the greater task of restoring the Body of Christ, which is broken and wounded in so many ways,” Bishop Vincent said in his homily.
“Today, we find ourselves at the moment in history where the Church is in serious crisis. I do not need to remind you of all the problems that we face. Suffice to say that we have a formidable task of rebuilding the Church’s reputation, credibility and most of all its moral stature in the wake of the sexual abuse crisis.”
Now is the time, he said, to join with Pope Francis in repairing and restoring the Body of Christ, to rebuild the Church and become what we are meant to be: “Salt of the earth and light of the world.”
The renovations were overseen by the Vicar General and parish priest, Fr Chris de Souza.
“St Oliver’s is one of the healthiest parishes in our diocese in terms of Mass attendance,” he said.
“But I felt we needed to do more to make better use of the spaces within the church and update the interior, while maintaining the nature and character of the parish.”
In closing, Bishop Vincent reflected on the diversity of the parish, recalling the Decapaolis – a mixed-race region in Jesus’ time with a reputation for trouble.
“In the words of St James, we must be the egalitarian, inclusive and loving community,” he said.
“We thank God for this beautifully restored Church here at Harris Park, which is fast becoming like the Decapolis – hopefully minus a rough reputation.
“Let our hearts expand to accommodate the ways of God and let us become catalysts for renewal and transformation. Then we can rebuild the Church as the Body of Christ into a visible sacrament of his presence and love.”
Jim Hanna is a parishioner at St Oliver Plunkett’s Parish, Harris Park.