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Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle www.mnnews.today/aurora-magazine
A NEW ERA
If you live in Maitland or travel through the
city centre regularly, you will be aware that
significant restoration work has begun on St
John's Church in Cathedral Street. St John's
was opened in 1846 and on I November,
1866, Bishop Mur ray took possession of
St John's as his Cathedral. The diocesan
community is preparing to commemorate 150
year s of faith, ser vice and wor ship. Bishop Bill
Wright provides a historical over view.
St John's Church at Maitland occupies
a significant place in the histor y of the
Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. With the
1820s church at East Maitland, it provided
a home for the spiritual and sacr amental
suppor t of a growing Catholic population.
Following the itiner ant ministries of Fr
Ther r y (who founded the first St Joseph's
church at East Maitland in the late 1820s),
Fr Dowling and Fr Ullathorne, Fr Watkins
and Fr John T Lynch ar rived in 1838.
After a few months at East Maitland, Dean
Lynch moved to premises in West Maitland
where he established a small Mass centre
in Plaistowe Street, Horseshoe Bend. From
there he ministered to the growing faith
community. He also jour neyed four times a
year on hor seback to Tamwor th, Ar midale
and beyond! A man of action, he arranged
for the building of the fir st Catholic
churches in Armidale and Lismor e.
In October 1840, Bishop Polding and Dean
Lynch laid the foundation stone for a more
substantial church at Campbell's Hill. In
1844 this stone was moved to the current
site of St John's, which was finally opened
by Dean Lynch in 1846. It ser ved the
community well as a parish church for the
next 20 years.
When the Diocese of Maitland was
established in June 1847, it included only
the Borough of East Maitland. It was
for med simply to provide a Titular See for
the Coadjutor Bishop of Sydney, Bishop
Davis, who never visited.
In 1854 a proposal to expand the Titular
See into a full diocese was pr esented to
Rome but due to the death of Bishop
Davis, this did not proceed and the
territor y continued to belong to Sydney for
the next ten year s.
In November 1865 Bishop Mur ray was
appointed Bishop of the Diocese of
Maitland. The papal brief which defined
its new boundaries was issued on 14 April,
Bishop Murr ay retur ned to Ireland
to obtain ex tra priests for his new
diocese and ar r anged for a community
of Dominican Sister s to follow him to
Australia. He depar ted Cork in July 1866
with Bishop Quinn (Bishop of Bathur st), Fr
Doyle, who was to join Bishop Mur r ay in
Maitland, and another eight priests and 16
nuns, and arrived in Sydney in October. He
then set out immediately for Maitland and
took possession of St John's Church as his
Cathedr al on 1 November, 1866, the Feast
of All Saints. It continued as the Cathedral
under Bishops Dwyer and Gleeson until
Bishop Gleeson opened the nearby church
hall as the Pro Cathedr al on 26 November
Newcastle was still a par t of the
Archdiocese of Sydney and so the
expansion of the Catholic faith into
nor ther n and nor th-wester n NSW
was carried out from Maitland, until the
Dioceses of Armidale and Lismore were
established in 1869 and 1878 respectively.
So Maitland, the only town in NSW to
have two Catholic churches, was very
much at the hear t of the Catholic faith for
a large par t of the population for many
year s and St John's as the Cathedr al was
centr al to the broader establishment of the
Church in that ter ritory.
In 1872 Bishop Murray paid his first ad
limina visit to Rome and detailed the
Diocese of Maitland a s having a Catholic
population of about 22,000, including
those from Singleton, Murrur undi,
Tamwor th, Raymond Terrace, Branxton
and the Manning River and districts
surrounding those areas . There were 16
Catholic schools, one (Dominican) convent,
18 churches of stone or brick and 26
chapels or churches of wood, many ser ving
as schools on weekdays. There were
14 priests with one resident in Dubbo,
Diocese of Bathur st, but sharing pastor al
responsibility for a por tion of the vast
territor y of the Diocese of Maitland.
In 1873, Bishop Murray took possession of
the Newcastle end of his diocese from the
Archdiocese of Sydney. He moved into his
new Bishop's House in Cathedr al Street
It is apparent that the Church of St John
the Baptist in Maitland was centr al to the
development of the Catholic Church in
Maitland and nor thern NSW.
Many could tr ace their faith stories through
family member s who were baptised,
mar ried, attended Ma ss or whose funerals
were celebrated at St John's. It is very
likely that many who may now be resident
across our vast nation or over seas would
have similar connections.
It is in this context that I seek your suppor t
to preser ve this legacy for the gener ations
that follow by repairing and restoring St
John the Baptist Church at Maitland and
the adjoining Bishop's House. It is also my
wish that these buildings provide a fitting
memorial to the deceased bishops who
have been laid to rest beneath St John's .
The fir st stage, which has begun, will see
St John's and the Bishop's House restored
and refurbished as places of historical
significance to the City of Maitland and
the Catholics of the diocese. Our broader
vision is to incorpor ate these buildings
into a Cathedr al Street Precinct which will
become a significant public space between
the church buildings and the river walkways.
This project is a statement about the
significance of the Catholic Church in this
region and a celebr ation of our presence
and the contribution of Catholics for
over 150 year s.
Stage 1 is due for completion mid to late
2016. This project will be a major focus
for our activities in 2016, but far from the
only way of celebr ating 150 year s of faith,
ser vice and worship.
I envisage the Cathedr al Street Precinct
becoming a significant destination for
visitors to Maitland and pilgrims, a facility
for gatherings and meetings, liturgies and
cer emonies, including weddings. It will
resume its historic role as a central focus of
diocesan life !
To learn more and become involved or
donate, please visit mn.catholic.org.au /
Diocese is the district under the super vision
of a bishop.
Papal brief is a for mal document emanating
from the Pope, in a somewhat simpler and
more modern form than a Papal Bull.
Archdiocese is more significant, due to size
or historical significance, than a diocese.
An archdiocese is presided over by an
Titular See is a diocese situated where the
Church no longer flourishes . Bishops without
a ter ritorial or residential diocese are given
Coadjutor bishop is a bishop designated
to assist the diocesan bishop in the
administration of the diocese. The coadjutor
("co-assister" in Latin) is a bishop himself and
automatically succeeds the cur rent bishop.
Pro Cathedral is a parish church temporarily
ser ving as the cathedr al of a diocese.
ad limina (Apostolorum) is Latin for "to the
threshold (of the Apostles)" ie Rome.
All diocesan bishops make an ad limina visit
every five year s . It is a spiritual pilgrimage
and a reminder of a local bishop's role in
communion with the bishops of the world.
BISHOP BILL WRIGHT
St John's Chapel, Maitland, a work in progress. Photo courtesy of Kurt Daley.
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