Our parish began with a small wooden church (that had originally been a protestant church) at 134 George Street, Erskineville in 1862. Archbishop Polding gave it the name ‘St Mary of the Suburbs’. It was not a parish church but a station church in the Broadway parish. It became a separate parish, the parish of Macdonaldtown, in 1889 with Fr Doyle as the resident parish priest.
The parishioners, according to Fr John Martin in a letter to Cardinal Moran in 1899, were ‘all poor, a few of them own their own houses, having been bought by hard saving from the building societies in monthly installments’.
The church in George Street was sold to the Railway Commissioners in 1911 for three hundred pounds enabling the expansion of the railway corridor at Erskineville, and the present church was built. The parish priest, Fr Reginald Bridge had died in 1909 and bequeathed two thousand five hundred pounds representing shares in a public company towards the building of a new church. Fr Bridge had the plans prepared for the new church when he was called to his reward. At the request of Fr Bridge the church was to be named Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.
This was the first church in Australia to be placed under the patronage of Mary as Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. Fr P.J. Kerwick succeeded Fr Bridge and saw the project through to its completion.
About Fr Bridge
Father Reginald H. Bridge was only 48 years old when he died, and was beloved not only by Catholics, but by persons of all shades of religious belief. His demise was a great shock to the people whose spiritual aid he was.
The late Father Bridge received his early education at the Jesuit Fathers’ College, St. Kilda, Victoria, and afterwards at St. Aloysius’ College, Sydney, whence he matriculated. In 1883 he proceeded to Rome, and entered the Irish College. He was ordained in the year 1888, and returned to Australia in 1889. On his return he was a Professor at St. Patrick’s College, Manly, which position he held for some years. […] Father Bridge is survived by several brothers and sisters, viz.: Messrs. Clarence, Dunswater and Ernest Bridge, Rev. Mother Mary Evangelist Bridge, Rev. Father St. Clair Bridge (Katoomba), Messrs. Lionel, Norbert and Leslie Bridge, Mrs. McDonnell Kelly and Mrs. Leonard Manning. (The Catholic Press 30 Sep 1909)
The Church Building
The building, which when completed will be one of the handsomest of its kind in Sydney, is being erected in Swanston-street [sic], alongside the presbtyery [sic], and opposite the park. It will have a frontage of 76 feet to the main street, with a depth of 100 feet, the height being 64 feet. The seating accommodation has been arranged for 700 persons. […]The windows have been designed to allow of a maximum of light and ventilation, and the ventilation in other respects is on the latest principles. The exterior design is modern Gothic, and the interior classic. Mr J. T. McCarthy, of Challis House, Martin Place, is the architect and Mr J. Bryan, of Erskineville, the builder. (The Catholic Press 02 Feb 1911)
‘St Marys, designed by J.McCarthy in the Federation Gothic style and built in 1912
Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, Swanston Street, Erskineville, NSW. J. McCarthy, architect, 1912. ‘An uninhibited reinterpretation of the Gothic style.’
-Quoted from: “A Pictorial Guide to Identifying Australian Architecture; Styles and Terms from 1788 to the Present” RICHARD APPERLY, ROBERT IRVING, PETER REYNOLDS. PHOTOGRAPHS BY SOLOMON MITCHELL. Angus & Robertson Sydney 1995
‘By the turn of the century it was clear that a building in a style that required reproduction or imitation of the wondrous complexities of medieval architecture was likely to be too expensive, to take too long to build, and to need craftsmanship of an order no longer readily available.
When the flavour of the Middle Ages was sought but resources were limited, architects often turned to less ‘correct’, more flexible and cheaper adaptations of the Gothic style. Simple brickwork with stucco dressings often took the place of expensive, dressed stone. But, even allowing for economic and social change, Federation Gothic was essentially a flow-on from the VICTORIAN ACADEMIC GOTHIC and VICTORIAN FREE GOTHIC styles.’
– Extract from Federation Gothic c. 1890—c. 1915 http://www.sydneyarchitecture.com/STYLES/STY-F06.htm (accessed by E. Stone on 26/4/2011)
The Memorial to Father Reginald Bridge: New Church at Erskineville Blessed by the Archbishop of Sydney
The church erected at Erskineville as a memorial to the late Father Reginald Bridge was dedicated to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour by his Grace the Archbishop of Sydney on Sunday afternoon. Not only is it the first church in Australia to be blessed under that invocation, but it is the first his Grace has opened since he succeeded the late Cardinal Moran as Archbishop of Sydney.
When Father Bridge died during September 1909, he was in the middle of a campaign for the erection of a new church to replace the old one, known as St Mary’s, but really dedicated as the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, which had become altogether too small for the accommodation of the congregations that assembled for the three Masses every Sunday. Alongside the presbytery in Swanson-street, Erskineville, and opposite the park, a fine site had been secured for a church some years before, and it was Father Bridge’s ambition to place upon it one of the finest sacred edifices in Sydney. In fact he had the plans under consideration when the illness that caused his death compelled him to cease work, and go to the South Sea Islands for a trip. While away he became very ill at Fiji, and on returning to Sydney entered St. Vincent’s Hospital a little while prior to the opening of the Third Australasian Catholic Congress, during the progress of which he passed away. He bequeathed £2500, representing shares in a public company, to the late Cardinal, with the provision that it should be devoted to the building of a church in the parish of Erskineville, where he laboured so devoutedly and successfully, and where the people loved him so well. So, it was decided on the unanimous voice of the parishioners to fulfil his last wishes by proceeding with the work, which has cost nearly £6000, and it has remained for Father Patrick Kerwick, Father Bridge’s successor, to bring it to completion. The foundation stone was laid on January 29, 1911, by the late Cardinal. (The Catholic Press 01 Feb 1912)
The Archbishop’s Address on the Occasion of the Opening of the New Church at Erskineville.
The Archbishop said that to be with the people of Erskineville that afternoon to bless their church was more than a happiness for him. It was a consolation; in fact, it was a reward. If every afternoon of his life was employed as was that afternoon he would not mind what troubles he might meet in the forenoon. The mention of Father Bridge’s name was quite natural, for he was indeed the founder of that particular church. No doubt his Eminence the late Cardinal suggested it to him, but Father Bridge took the idea into his brain, which was not easy in connection with the work. He remembered it even in his last moments when burdened with the disease that brought about his dissolution. Father Bridge could not have concluded his life better than by devoting his temporalities to such work as that, and his name could not have a better association than the matter in which Father Kerwick had recorded it.
Why were Catholics prepared to do more even than a fair share for the Church? – and they did more than a fair share. Shortly after his arrival in Sydney about ten years ago several notable citizens were courteous enough to pay him a complimentary visit. In returning one of these visits – he thought it was to the late Inspector General of Police, or the second last – he happened to be conversing on general topics, and replying to a question the Inspector General said, “Since you ask me, I do think you priests press your people too hard.” Of course, he was not a Catholic, and he had his own idea of what a church was – a kind of meeting house. To Catholics, however, the Church was everything on earth. It symbolised their hope for eternity. Did a man feel the cost of the gifts he gave his wife? Did a bridegroom feel the cost of the presents he gave his bride? He did not, because he was in love. Love was the great power of the world – he did not mean that material love they saw portrayed in novels, but such a love as they had for their friends, for their country, for every good cause. That love was the motive power of the universe. Well. Catholics loved the Church, and did not count or miss what they gave it.
A Grand Ideal for Catholics
In many ways the Church was a grand ideal for Catholics. First, she was the great material symbol of genuine Christianity. There were different things called Christianity. Some had abandoned the vital principles of Christianity while retaining some parts of it.That was false Christianity. Others professed the Catholic faith but did not practice it. They were not seen on their knees at the confessional or at the altar rails. The French had a good name for this kind of Christianity – demi-Christianity. In Ireland it would be called milk-and-water Christianity. Real Christianity, according to the mind of Christ, was not satisfied with the world, which was not good enough for it. True Christians knew their limitations, and believed that God the Creator came down from Heaven, was Incarnate, took up His position amongst men as their teacher and their Saviour, and incorporated His Church first by Baptism, then by His Sacraments, and designed an organisation having its visible head in Rome appointed by Himself. Genuine Christianity, then, was a society to enable men to live well on earth in order to gain heaven, a society having definite membership and definite principles which all must accept, and which were called religious truths. The Church was a society having a definite Sacrifice, which was the same as that of Calvary; a society having certain sacramental rites for giving grace after Baptism, for strengthening Christina growth, for feeding the Christian life, for restoring Christina health, for smoothing the sorrows of those departing from this world – Sacraments to perpetuate the human race in domestic life, Sacraments to perpetuate the priesthood of Christ. And in this Church, under one Head and Shepherd, there was no disunion the whole universe over. Disunion was evidence of false Christianity. But true Christianity had the means of maintaining unity by common loyalty to the head appointed by Christ. The church that had been blessed a few moments previous symbolised this great institution, and at the beginning of 1912 they were in touch with the apostles themselves who founded their churches in Jerusalem and in Rome, and they were doing the same work. They were as much in touch with them as King George V. was with Edward the Confessor and the first English King who was crowned on the Stone of Destiny. The Catholic Church to-day had spread over her, as it were, the canopy of 19 centuries. There was a guarantee for stability. No human work had endured the test of time as she had, and the faithful of the present looked forward to rejoining the faithful of the present looked forward to rejoining the faithful of the past in the kingdom of heaven, where they would realise what God had done in giving them human nature, in superadding Christianity, and keeping them faithful to it while so many had fallen victims to false and spurious forms of Christianity or to milk-and-water Christianity.
In That Church
In that church, which had just been dedicated , their children would be brought up to be true Christians, which was something greater than all the treasures the world could yield. And the doors were open to all through Baptism and the Sacraments, by believing in the doctrines of the Church, and by union with, love for, and obedience with the Pope. Some, perhaps, might say those were conditions that showed narrow-mindedness, inasmuch as they would not allow people to believe what they liked. Catholics believed, and did not deny others the right of their own individual beliefs. But Catholics held that if people believed what was true they must believe what Christ taught through the Catholic church. If people preferred their own little opinions and those of their friends in opposition to the opinions the Catholic Church held, and would hold, throughout all ages and nations, he did not think they were sensible. As far as he was concerned, they were all fellow-citizens, and in politics it would make no difference, unless politicians over took the churches. Then Catholics would have to stand for the Church, and they were very near it now about the schools. They had to maintain their religious liberties, and in certain circumstances it might make a difference. Catholics respected the convictions of everybody who was sincere, and they never tried to force conversions. They told the convert that he must first be instructed, that he must take up the lot of a Catholic, which was often a cross – a cross which led to a crown. Thus it would be seen that the Catholic mind was as broad as truth itself, and that not a single point of real truth in any science, even political science, was suppressed by the Church.
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Dr Twomey is one of the best remembered priests. During a church social, he was known to chase a troublemaker out of the hall, and right across Erskineville Oval. On another occasion during the depression, he came home without his shoes, having given them away. Dr Twomey always took his dog with him, saying that if a place wasn’t good enough for a dog, it wasn’t good enough for him!
In 1969 the Order of the White Fathers took up the responsibility of the parish. (Source unidentified.)
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In 1986 the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart were given responsibility for the parish.
(With thanks to Liz Stone, Jim O’Donnell and Joe Vu for assistance with research and compilation – Fr Barry.)