Prior to becoming a Parish in its own right Lurnea was a small rural subsidiary of Liverpool. The bus service to Liverpool was spasmodic, and Liverpool itself was often referred to as being like the ‘Old West’ as in the B grade movies from America.
Lurnea was generally referred to as Hillview because of the Hillview Soldiers’ Settlement, which was established in the early 1920s. A building company bought some of these soldier settlement houses in the mid 1950s and built an estate of twenty-three houses. Then in the early 1960s the Housing Commission began its housing programme in the area, and the once rural area became a hive of activity. A better bus service, shops and schools were welcome improvements to Lurnea. Among the new residents were many Catholic families. However there was no Catholic Church as Lurnea was a part of the All Saints Parish of Liverpool.
To attend Mass on a Sunday the one bus would deliver the passengers to the fast food shops opposite the Railway Station. The grand parade of church goers of parents and grandparents with school children, toddlers and prams, would walk from the railway station to where Westfield’s now stands, to attend Mass at the Old Catholic Church reputed to be the oldest Catholic Church in Australia. After Mass the procession back to Lurnea began.
In about 1960 Father Richard Davey was appointed Parish Priest of the All Saints Liverpool Parish. He saw at once the need that a Mass was necessary in Lurnea. The Anglican Congregation of Lurnea had been using a hall in Reilly Street near Hill Road for their Sunday services. Then when the St. John’s Anglican Church was built in Lions Avenue in about 1961 the hall in Reilly Street became available.
On the 16th of May 1961 Father Davey wrote to His Eminence Norman Thomas Cardinal Gilroy, the Archbishop of Sydney seeking ‘approval for opening a new Mass centre in the Parish of Liverpool at Hillview.’ He wrote:-
There is a small hall available near the land owned by the Church in this area. It will house about 150 people. The interior is clean and in reasonably good condition. I have found that the majority of the people in the area have young families and are missing Mass because of the distance from Liverpool Church and the inadequate transport available. The cancellation of one Mass at Hargrave Park where two Masses are no longer necessary will make a priest available for a Mass at Hillview.
When the Hargrave Park Church was established Father Davey had approached the Newtown St. Vincent de Paul Society appealing for donations of the church requirements. Some of the Society’s members took the opportunity to make personal donations. Reg Emmett therefore had a Communion plate suitably inscribed in memory of his father and donated it to St. Mary’s Hargrave Park church. When St. Mary’s closed, some of the items were given to the newly built St. Francis Xavier Church in Lurnea and Mary and Reg Emmett were overcome to find that they were holding the Communion plate in memory of Reg’s father. St. Francis Xavier also received the altar rails, the statues of the Sacred Heart, Our Lady and St. Joseph as well as some pews and the old organ from Hargrave Park.
On the 17th May 1961 Father Davey received a reply form Cardinal Gilroy giving him permission ‘in view of the circumstances’ for Mass to be celebrated in the Hillview Hall. It came to light later that some of the Hillview parishioners did not hear the announcement about the extra Mass and continued to attend Liverpool as they waited for the Church to be built in Lurnea.
Father G. Russo, one of the Liverpool priests, became known as ‘the Travelling Priest’. He would bring with him the articles necessary to celebrate Mass, and while he donned his vestments, the ladies would prepare the table to be used as an altar. There was no more joyous congregation than that which attended the little hall.
This was the beginning of the Altar Society and it was not unusual to see the ladies pushing prams and strollers to Mass with brooms tied to the sides, so that the ‘Church’ could have a clean-out before Mass.. Father Davey had described the hall as ‘clean and in reasonable condition’ which was true as it was the local Community Hall. It will be remembered that All Saints at the time was the old historic church in George Street near Elizabeth Street. Although the obvious ‘Spider Hall’ or ‘Red Back Hall’ tag was given to the Hillview Progress Hall, All Saints had its friendly family of bats occupying the rafters of the old building. The Mass was celebrated in Latin and in the age-old tradition of the priest with his back to the people
Not being a man who would let the grass grow under his feet, immediately after receiving permission to hold Mass in the hall, Father Davey, on the 17th of May 1961, wrote again to the Archbishop of Sydney. He pointed out the needs of the people in the outlying suburbs of Austral and Hillview, and Cardinal Gilroy expressed approval of two churches being built in those areas.
During the period 1961 to 1965 priests came from the mother church in Liverpool to say Mass and give support to the Catholics in Lurnea. Father Kevin Spillane in particular took the parishioners under his wing and his home visits became an institution. He established the Legion of Mary which supplemented his visits to the homes.
Approval was given for the construction of a new church on the land owned by the Church adjacent to Phillips Park at Hillview and another in Edmonson Avenue in Austral. Jack Cullen, a local builder was contracted to build the Church from a design by Architect Gordon Jenkins. The final cost of the Hillview Church was less than seven thousand pounds. (£7,000)
On the 4th of March 1962 parishioners and visitors packed the Church at Hillview when his Lordship, Most Reverend James Freeman D.D. Auxiliary Bishop to his Eminence, Norman T. Gilroy, Archbishop of Sydney, officially opened and blessed the building. However, the Cardinal was unable to attend the historic blessing and opening as he was called suddenly to Rome.
As the crowd gathered around, Bishop Freeman unveiled the stone, which reads:
ST. FRANCIS XAVIER SCHOOL-CHURCH
WAS BLESSED AND OPENED BY
H.E.NORMAN THOMAS CARDINAL GILROY
ARCHBISHOP OF SYDNEY
4 TH MARCH 1962
REV. R.J.DAVEY, PP LIVERPOOL
After the blessing of the Church, which was placed under the patronage of St. Francis Xavier, Rev. Father G. Russo celebrated the first official Mass, although Mass had been offered in the building for six months prior to the opening. The Church was packed for the ceremony and the overflow congregated on the steps and verandah outside to hear the addresses by the Parish Priest of Liverpool, Rev. Father R. Davey and his Lordship, Bishop Freeman.
The Lurnea Church was built as a church-school in brick to serve the 1,500 Catholics living in the nearby Housing Commission and private homes. It had been designed to seat 450 people and could be converted into four classrooms each measuring thirty feet by twenty-four feet.
On the 11th of April, Father Davey sought permission to erect the Stations of the Cross in the new church and Father Hatton eventually performed the necessary canonical ceremony.
Major changes were taking place in the Church as a result of the Second Vatican Council. In Australia the Mass was now being said in English instead of Latin and the altar was moved forward so that the priest faced the congregation. The priest now stood in the centre aisle to distribute Holy Communion rather than the people kneeling along the altar rails. In some churches lay-people began to distribute the Eucharist; however this did not begin in Lurnea until 1989.
By December 1964 Lurnea was beginning to find its feet and was becoming autonomous with two Masses being celebrated on Sundays with about five hundred parishioners attending. The house, which was to become the presbytery, was still occupied and tomato plants, growing almost at the steps of the Church, were bearing fruit each season. (This building was demolished in 2005)
On the 10th of December 1964 Father Davey, the Parish Priest of Liverpool, wrote to His Lordship, the Most Rev James Freeman D. D. suggesting that the Lurnea area in the Liverpool Parish was ready to become a separate parish. Permission was granted and Lurnea was made a New Parochial District on the 30th June 1965. Vacant possession of the Soldiers Settlement home where the tomatoes were grown was arranged and this became the First Lurnea Presbytery.
The Rev Father Cyril Hatton became the first Lurnea Parish Priest. He eventually moved into the farmhouse following major renovations. Father Hatton was given a ‘kitchen tea’ by one of the parishioners as there were very few utensils provided. The ladies of the parish took turns in providing the priest with his mid-day meals, as the parish budget did not allow for a housekeeper. Lurnea still had a country atmosphere and local people contributed generously with local products such as eggs, home-grown vegetables etc.
On the 17th of March 1967, Father Desmond Fitzgerald was appointed Parish Priest when Father Hatton was transferred to Lawson. Father Fitzgerald was an Irishman with a very gregarious and social nature. He soon organised a social committee among the parishioners as well as a Lurnea Younger Set, and arranged for the publication of a Parish newsletter. A parish ball was organised with four debutantes being presented to the Deputy Mayor of Liverpool, Alderman Leo Sullivan. Parish picnics were held in the oval opposite where the Catholic Club now stands, and the parishioners enjoyed foot races, novelty races, men versus women football games, lolly bags and winning ribbons were the order of the day.
The Saint Vincent de Paul, the Altar Society, the Xavierians, The Ladies’ Auxiliary, and individual parishioners cemented the cohesion of the Parish. A Mrs. Bell took on the duties of housekeeper.
In 1971 an ex-army hut was delivered to the grounds of the Church where many parish functions were held. Before the arrival of the hall the First Holy Communion breakfasts had been served on the verandah down the side of the Church. Prayers would be said for fine weather. Sister Vincent and Sister Xavier the stalwarts of the Motor Mission stated that they were always blessed with fine weather on First Communion days in answer to those prayers.
The activities organised by the Social Committee were often held in the evenings, but with most families having small children a daytime Ladies’ Auxiliary was organised. On Tuesday the 28th of April 1970 a grand parade of strollers, prams and toddlers holding mothers’ hands came from all directions for the first Auxiliary meeting. The need was greater than had been anticipated. Very few mothers had a car to attend any of these events so hail; rain or shine they travelled those often boggy roads to the Auxiliary meetings.
After five years as Parish Priest of Lurnea, Father Fitzgerald returned to Ireland early in 1972.
On the 1st of February 1972, Father William (Bill) Davis, was appointed as the third Parish Priest. He described his first impression of his new parish church property ‘the presbytery in front, the hall behind the presbytery and the Church further up the hill. Between the Church and the back of the property it was all wildernesses. However not to be deterred with some help from one of the parishioners it was soon cleaned up. Other gardening enthusiasts have kept it in showpiece condition since
In the beginning, Father Davis had no regular curate but later at different times, Fathers William Moore and Eugene Szondi were appointed as curates to assist him.
Father Davis dreamed of building the long-awaited school. He saw that having no parish school was causing its own particular problems. To bring the children of the parish together Father Davis saw that a school was the answer. Two and a half years after his arrival; and ten years after becoming a parish the dream became a reality. In 1975 Kindergarten and the first Class children began their Catholic education. The then Prime Minister of Australia, Mr. Gough Whitlam, left the turmoil of the Canberra politics to officially open St. Francis Xavier Primary School on the 13th of July 1975.
It wasn’t very long before normal school activities were under way in spite of the need for administrative equipment and shelving. Some of the mothers did lunch time playground duty for those first twenty-one pupils, while the one teacher, had her lunch. The school was unique, in that it did not have an order of nuns administrating it.
The school settled into the process of educating the children as they progressed from Kindergarten into Year One and Year One became year Two and so it went on. The school pledge was recited:
This is our school
Let peace dwell here
Let the rooms be full of contentment
Let love abide here
Love of God
Love of each other
Love of life itself
Let us remember
That as many hands build a house
So many hearts build a school.
In 1990, the Silver Jubilee year of the Parish, the fourth Parish Priest Father Robert Hayes (Father Bob an Army man) was appointed to his first parish. Once again parishioners became involved in social activity as well as the liturgical activities of the Church. Ministers of the Eucharist and Readers of the Liturgy were appointed for a two-year term. The school children celebrated the start of the Jubilee year with a special Mass on the 1st of July 1990. Following the Mass parishioners with their families participated in a car rally, which ended in a picnic at Mount Schoenstatt at Mulgoa. Interesting to note that more and more families were by then travelling by car.
On the 28th of February 1993 Father Bob launched the St. Francis Xavier Building Project at the Liverpool Catholic Club with a view to building a new church and presbytery. A Parish Council met on the 7th of September the same year and other groups established at that time included the Youth Group, Adult Education, Fund Raising, Liturgy/RCIA and Pastoral Care groups. A regular monthly news bulletin kept the parishioners informed of the activities. In 1993 ten debutantes were presented at a Parish ball held at the Liverpool Catholic Club. Meanwhile the St. Vincent de Paul Society continued to be very active having been established before Lurnea became a parish.
Father Bob (Bob the Builder) had the new church and presbytery built and the old presbytery became the parish hall and meeting place. Cardinal Clancy dedicated and blessed the new parish church on the 10th of July 1994. On the altar a crucifix was mounted incorporating Aboriginal symbolism in its design. The sheath below the Cross represents Christ rising from the earth, while the two vertical bars represent the world which is being saved by the Resurrection.
The stained glass windows were based on an original design by Sydney artist Helen Evans and made by Cherry Phillips and the Leadlight Workshop in Taree.
Walter Nicoletti had almost completed a statue of Our Lady when he died and his wife Bertha had it finished and ha it mounted in the garden of the Church in his memory in about 1993.
Jenny Myers was appointed Pastoral Assistant in May 1998 caring for the education of the First Holy Communicants and those making their Confirmation as well as many and varied activities for the next four years. The Parish 2000 Project, a programme of renewal saw a revitalization of the Faith
On the 20th of September 2001 Archbishop Pell visited the Parish of St. Francis Xavier and St. Catherine of Sienna
The call for more catechists continued and in October 2002 there was a celebration of forty years of catechists work in the area.
Father Bob remained in Lurnea until 2002 after establishing the two schools and Churches of St. Francis Xavier and St. Catherine of Sienna during his thirteen years tenure. He celebrated thirty years of priesthood on the 26th of August 2002. Father Bill Davis also celebrated Mass at Lurnea to celebrate his fifty years as a priest in 2002.
Father Les Hill a Missionary of the Sacred Heart cared for the Lurnea Parish until Father Peter Smith became the fifth Parish Priest. Father Peter celebrated his first Mass in Lurnea on the 30th of November 2002.
After about eighty years the old house that had served as a farmhouse, the first Presbytery forty years ago and then as a meeting place, was demolished in 2005 to give way for a more modern Presbytery for the Parish of Lurnea.
On the 30th January 2013, Father Peter moved after serving at Lurnea for 10 years.
A new Administrator, Father Thu Nguyen took his place.
Father Thu celebrated his first Mass on the 9th February 2013. His kind warm nature lights up the parish, and is very dedicated to his parishioners in faith and devotion.
After 6 months of being Parish Administrator, on the 1st August 2013, Fr Thu was appointed Parish Priest of Lurnea. It was indeed good news for the community and many parishioners who were anticipating this to happen.
As we are moving on into the future, let us continue to build up our St Francis Xavier community on our rich tradition and make it more inclusive and friendly, in which each parishioner will feel an important part of it.