Historic St Ann’s Catholic Church is located in St Anne’s Square, the centre of the Village of St Anne’s in Strathfield South. Located within the Square is Historic St Ann’s, the present St Anne’s Catholic Church and St Anne’s Primary School.
Historic St Ann’s Church was built between 1859-64 and all the streets in the Village of St Ann’s were named for prominent Catholic ecclesiastics of the time. The current St Anne’s Church was built in 1966 and the school in 1956.
Father John Joseph Therry and the Village of St Ann’s grant
On March 20 1837, Catholic priest Father John Joseph Therry (1790-1864) received a land grant of 47 acres in an area called ‘Bark Huts’ (now Strathfield South), in the Parish of Concord. The grant was made for personal use and profit under the seal of Governor Sir Richard Bourke. The area of the grant was described as ‘bounded on the north by the road from Sydney to Liverpool, 17 chains, commenced at Moore’s Bridge’ on the east by a line south 29 chains 20 links being part of the western boundary of James Wilshire’s 500 acres; and on the south and west by Cook’s River’ (Government Gazette 1837).
Therry was a prominent figure in the establishment of the Catholic Church in the early colony of New South Wales. Fr Therry’s intention was to create a village with a Catholic Church at its’ centre. Though this plan was never fully implemented as the land was subdivided and sold to pay for the building of St Ann’s Church, the village square layout conceived by Fr Therry is still in evidence today.
The construction of the original St Ann’s Catholic Church was consistently delayed and was not built for close to 30 years after the land grant.
Shortly after receiving the grant, Therry offered 5 acres for sale for the benefit of needy Aborigines in June 1837. The ‘Australian Chronicle’ announced in July 1841 that the foundation stone of St Anne’s Church would be laid during that week.The first foundation stone was laid on 2 July 1841 by Dr Francis Murphy (Bishop Polding’s Vicar-General in his absence). Therry chose the name Ann (the spelling he personally used, though the church is more frequently spelt St Anne’s) for the the new Church. Ann was Therry’s sister’s name and also one of his mother’s names (National Trust 1983).
In the following September, it was stated in the ‘Australian Chronicle’ that Father Therry would make a ‘free gift of half acre allotment to each of 20 persons who shall respectively subscribe £25 toward the erection of the church’.
In March 1854 preliminary notice was given that the land would be sold by auction – the proceeds of 20 acres to be devoted to the erection of St Anne’s Church and the balance to be paid to the building fund of St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. The subdivision of the land created 134 allotments with the streets of the subdivision named after dignitaries of the Catholic Church. The auction sales of land at St Anne’s held in May 1854 raised £3466. Of this Therry dedicated £2000 to the building of St Mary’s Cathedral. The foundation stone of St Anne’s Church was relaid on July 26 1854 (National Trust 1983).
Building of St Ann’s
On 18 February 1859, Fr Therry finally accepted the seventh contract to build St Ann’s (O’Brien p356). Construction, dependent on uncertain funds, proceeded from 1859 to 1864. It appears that Fr Therry financed the building of the Church, according to ‘accounts among his papers’ and letters written by John Cobb (the builder of St Ann’s) in January 1859 (Catholic Weekly 1951). On 6 July 1859, another foundation stone was blessed by Bishop Polding.
St Ann’s Church was finally completed in 1864. The first record of the Sacrament of Baptism at Bark Huts or St Ann’s was on 29 June 1866. In the 1880’s, the Church was frequently used as a school. In 1901, the Church received an altar from the Convent of the Good Samaritan which was demolished to make way for Central Railway.
However, with the opening of the new Parish of St Joseph’s at Enfield 1917 and St Martha’s Parish in Strathfield, St Ann’s suffered from declining numbers of parishioners, which continued in the 1920s and 1930s. From 1917, St Ann’s became part of the parish of St Joseph, Enfield. However, post WWII building activity in around Liverpool Road in Strathfield South saw the housing and population expand and the viability of the Church improved.
In 1953, the Parish of St Ann’s was established with the Rev. Fr Patrick Kennedy as the first Parish Priest. Fr Kennedy served until his death in 1971. A presbytery was built and a garage replaced the old bell tower (shown in the 1936 photo).
in 1956, the St Anne’s Parish school commenced, serviced by the Dominican Sisters from Santa Sabina. Extensions to the school was built in 1977 and 1980.
In March 1966, the new St Anne’s Church was opened by His Eminence Cardinal Gilroy. The following prayer surmounted the arch of the sanctuary of the old church and was translated to the plaque beneath the window at the northern end of the new Church
‘St Anne, the Mother of the Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, Pray for Us’.
Rev. Fr. Paine appointed Parish Priest in 1973/74. Following Fr. Paine’s death in 1981, Rev. Fr. Dr George Joiner was appointed Parish Priest.
In March 1983, Historic St Ann’s was partly demolished under instruction from the Parish Priest Rev. Dr George Joiner. In response to representations from a local community group, the Friends of Historic St Ann’s, the Minister issued a stop demolition order and the Police were called to enforce the order (Friends of Historic St Ann’s 1996).
In 1996 the former Church was restored and is now used by the School. In 1996, the National Trust awarded a heritage award to the Friends of Historic St Ann’s for the preservation of Historic St Ann’s. (Friends 2005).
Friends of Historic St Ann’s, 28 August 1996, Chronology of Events
Friends of Historic St Ann’s, 2002, Historic St Ann’s Strathfield South NSW Pamphlet
NSW Government Gazette 1937
“Early Enfield” The Sun , 17 January 1931, page 7, <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article224671043>.
How a Parish Grew. (1934, March 29). Catholic Freeman’s Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1932 – 1942), p. 16. Retrieved February 19, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146406915
‘Sydney has a most unusual village’, The Catholic Weekly, February 1 1951, page 2
National Trust, 1983, Former St Ann’s Catholic Church Heritage Inventory Listing
Wheeler, E., (1978), A History of the Church of St Anne 1953-1978, Strathfield South
© Cathy Jones 2020. This article is subject to copyright and may not be reproduced without permission of the author.