St Vincent de Paul Parish has had a very rich and colourful history. It has always responded to the ever changing needs of the people in the area, evident in the building and restructuring of the parish. In response to the growing demand for a school and church in the area of Redfern, Cardinal Moran blessed and formally opened the church under the guidance of Father Collins on 9 May 1886. It was dedicated to the patronage of St Vincent de Paul whom Fr Collins acknowledged that“in an age of indifference and selfishness St Vincent was raised up by God to be an apostle of charity”.
Just after two years of having opened the school and church, the rapid increase in the number of children attending, led to the opening of a new boys school at the rear of St Vincent’s under the administration of the Patrician Brothers in February 1888. Then ten years later the Sisters of Mercy at Mt Carmel responded to the need for a girls school in Redfern and formally opened one to the east of St Vincent’s on 2 February 1896.
In 1892 the population and mass attendance increased significantly, so the parish committee urged Cardinal Moran to extend the parish building. Finally, the foundation stone for the extension was laid on 23 February 1902. In just over six months the additions to the church were completed and on 31 August 1902, it was formally opened now under the guidance of Father O’ Regan, still assisted by Fr Collins.
It was also at this time that the parish church could be described as a fully furnished church with liturgical signs, furniture and fixtures instead of a church and school combined building for practical purposes. The Freeman’s journal writes:
“On that occasion his Eminence laid the foundation stone of additions and it has made such an improvement in St Vincent’s that from the street it would pass for an entirely new building. The fact that is has been renovated throughout would likewise lead one to the same conclusion. When examined from within, one notices the beautifully stained glass windows, the light blue ceiling and walls, fine panels, grand new High Altar, and side altar of the Blessed Virgin, a lofty gallery for the combined use of visitors and choir , among its new features…..”
The same journal listed the donors of expensive stained glass windows of the Good Shepherd and Immaculate Conception for the sanctuary, and other memorial windows. Donors for the sanctuary lamp, stone statue of St Vincent de Paul, Baptismal font, Holy water font and both High Altar and side altars were also listed. Father O’ Reagan’s inventory in 1912 also listed the installations of the statues of the Sacred Heart, Blessed Virgin Mary, St Anthony, St Joseph, St Patrick and a large oil painting of St Vincent, Stations of the Cross, a large Mission Cross, new organ and many others liturgical items, vestments and books.
There does not appear to have been any report of major changes in the church undertaken since the report of Father O’ Reagan except the necessary maintenance. Instead in 2003 John Graham and Associates reports in their conservation and management plan that: “The late 20th century changes to both the liturgy and the social character of the parish eliminated most of the items listed above. The paintings, statues and all four of the altars described by Father O’ Regan have been removed. The curved timber altar rail that originally bordered the sanctuary is now positioned below the gallery at the north end of the Church.”
John Graham and Associates also reports: “Although there was correspondence about possible changes to the sanctuary in 1949, the 1902 interior remained largely unaltered until 1970 when Father Gaffney reported the following renovations: A new altar facing the people was installed; a new set of hand–carved Stations of the Cross were installed in the Church; all seats in the church were re-polished; a new carpet was placed on the floor of the sanctuary; and reguilding of all sacred vessels in the church was done.”
Apparently Father Gaffney attempted to be in line with the liturgical reforms that were initiated by Vatican II. But in the same report John Graham and associate further reported that: “All of this work was undone two years later. In March 1972, shortly after the arrival of Father Ted Kennedy…” One can also safely claim that he undid all the works of the past in an effort to make the parish available to minister to the challenging needs of the Aboriginal community who were, at his time, settled on the ‘Block’ coming from another part of the country. The presbytery too became a refuge for Indigenous Australians which was eventually destroyed by fire.
Recently the Church has been restored and renovated under the guidance of Fr Melvin Llabanes, PP. Why have such major restorations and renovations including the installation of the new liturgical signs, furniture and fixtures especially the new altar taken place at this current time?
Indeed, the main reason for the above mentioned work was not just to meet OHS requirements or to restore what was taken down in the past. It was inspired mainly in order to make the parish available to serve the pastoral needs of the changing face of the area and in the spirit of new evangelisation to reach out to them due to its re-gentrification. It should be noted that the ‘Block’ residents have been relocated too, elsewhere around Sydney.
In other words, there was also a great need to accept the great wealth and diversity of charisms especially from the emerging re-gentrification of the area. While it was an effort to restore original beauty and install some of the much needed liturgical signs, furniture and fixtures such as the new marble altar, sanctuary, stations of the cross, statues, digital organ etc, at the same time it was an opportunity to address some of the diverse spiritual needs of our changing community.
The restoration and re-installment of the new liturgical items mentioned above, especially the replacement of the movable altar with the new permanent marble altar, is to provide an opportunity for our changing community to celebrate the liturgical and sacramental life of the parish, especially the Holy Eucharist with its due dignity and reverence as it is the source and summit of Christian life. Indeed, the new altar could be considered the crowning glory of the work done as it signifies Christ, cornerstone of the church in our midst.
The restoration of the mural and additions such as the statues, not only address the diverse spiritual and devotional needs of the time. They also incorporate signs and symbols which represent the spirituality reflected in the new face of community, in a manner that maintains harmony with the liturgical norms of the Church. It is truly hoped then that parishioners made one, as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one, and as the Church and temple of God built from living stones may be a place where the Father is worshiped in spirit and in truth. May there be a shared vision where the holiness in each one, will contribute to the flourishing of different charisms, necessary to fulfill the great mandate of Christ, to proclaim the Good News of salvation in Redfern and to the whole world.
The marble altar was designed partly by the former parish priest of Redfern, Fr Melvin, and Mr Brunno Fimmano, who is the production Co-ordinator of F.G.A Granite and Marble PTY. LTD Kogarah, NSW. Mr Fimmano also supervised its construction and installation. The material used was called: Opera Fantastico Marble which can be found between Italy and France. It was consecrated on the 1st Of November 2015 by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP under the patronage and the invocation of St Vincent de Paul with his first class relic (ex ossibus), gifted to us by the Congregation of the Daughters of Charity of Sydney. The relics of St Mary McKillop of the Cross and St Teresa of Calcutta, are exposed for veneration on the west side of the sanctuary and the sacred oils will be mounted east side of the sanctuary respectively.
The major benefactor of the works of restoration and renovation was the Archdiocese of Sydney. It covered the re-installation of the new lighting, new furniture and fixtures, new sound system, new organ, refurbishment of the sacristy and choir loft etc. The Building Partnership Program also funded the movable partition to temporarily separate the sharing of the meal program from the designated sacred space.
Individual donors wished to remain anonymous. These include the donor of the restoration of the Confessional and the disable ramp access; the donor of the restoration of the Tabernacle; the donors of the new altar; the donor of the new Crucifix; the donor of the new Stations of the Cross; the donor of the new chalice and ciborium. Some offered their advice, labour and expertise free of charge. Thank you all!
“Ad Majorem Gloriam Dei”