OUR HISTORY

 

After officially becoming a parish on 12 May 1966, our church was opened on 13 October 1968.
 

Overcoming obstacles

Fr Joseph O’Shea was the priest who drove the creation of our parish and oversaw the building of the church.

Col Sinclair, with the help of Fr O’Shea, produced a scale model of the church. Sadly, the models no longer exist.

The contract to build the church went to John Garling of Caringbah, who had not previously built a church.

A dilapidated cottage stood on the property occupied by pensioners Mr Robert Henry Womsley and his wife, who had a protected tenancy for 43 years.

Fr O’Shea sought legal advice with GJ Needs & Chan of Kingsgrove, who advised Fr O’Shea to pay the Womsleys $1000 compensation for vacant possession, given that without vacant possession building of the church could not proceed and the delays would be costly and inconvenient to the church.

In a letter to Fr O’Shea dated 13 April 1967 Cardinal Gilroy had no hesitation in approving the compensation: “The advice of your Solicitor seems reasonable and I authorise you to accept it and pay the sum of One Thousand Dollars ($1,000-00) in compensation for vacant possession and sign the legal documents that are necessary.”

Our Lady of Fatima Peakhurst church officially opened on 13 October 1968.

Our first housekeeper

As Fr O’Shea waited patiently for the completion of his new church at Peakhurst he wanted to find someone to be housekeeper. A plea was sent out to the parishioners and Brian Fallon approached his mother to see if she would take the position.

Dot Fallon set about caring for Fr O’Shea to the best of her ability; this meant cooking, cleaning, taking messages and handling all the day to day running of a parish house.

Fr O'Shea's accident

On 2 March 1971, Fr O’Shea was crank-starting his automatic Humber in the garage beneath the church after the battery had gone flat. The car lunged forward. Both his legs were broken and he was pinned to the wall as the car’s motor kept running. After almost an hour, the car burst into flames and the motor stopped. Fr O’Shea was finally able to push the car away.

Three boys from Peakhurst High heard Fr O’Shea’s cries for help.

An article in a Sydney newspaper said Fr O’Shea could have died in any of three ways: loss of blood from a cut artery, carbon monoxide poisoning or from the flames from the burning vehicle.

“I prepared myself to die – but I’m convinced now that the Lord didn’t want me that day,” said Fr O’Shea. He was 52 years old at the time.

It is recorded by Bettina Golding that Fr O’Shea was a much-loved priest and “father-figure” who “could always be relied upon to give help and advice in any way if needed.” He left the parish in good shape with $70,000 in the bank.

In his memoirs, Fr O’Shea says, “the twenty years I spent there [at Peakhurst] were amongst the happiest years of my life.”

Scooterthon

The Guinness Book of Records: Scooter riding –The greatest distance covered by a team of 25 in 24 hours is 304.8 miles (490.5km) by the Peakhurst Lugarno Catholic Youth Organisation, Lugarno Australia on 27-28 Jan 1973.

Our parish is responsible for an official world record, recognised by The Guinness Book of Records.

When Fr Maurice McNamara became temporary administrator of the parish, he realised that it needed some awakening. With his incredible exuberance, Fr McNamara instigated social events to encourage the parishioners to mix.

One of the more amazing of those events was the Scooterthon – an attempt to break a world record for pushing a non-motorised scooter.

A group of around 100 people went to Robertson in the Southern Highlands. The Guinness Book of Records publishers had provided the rules and requirements for the record to be officially recognised.

The group began at 9am on Saturday, riding in groups of six for 24 hours. The event went right through the night despite rain falling. The record stood for two years.

Our parish changed

In November 1986, Cardinal Clancy, archbishop of Sydney, wrote a letter addressed to the people of the Parish of Peakhurst. The following are extracts from the letter:

“Ever since the retirement, through ill-health, of Father O’Shea, you have, I know, patiently awaited the appointment of another permanent Parish Priest. I assure you that provision for your pastoral care has also been uppermost in my own thoughts.

It seems inevitable that we will not be able to maintain a resident priest in every parish. Obviously, too, smaller parishes, and especially those without a hospital or school could be the first to be so affected. I need hardly add that Peakhurst falls into that category.

Let me say at this point that, following discussion with my Consultors, I do propose to appoint a priest to Peakhurst. However, a special brief will accompany the appointment. The priest in question will be asked to seek your support and co-operation in preparing you within two (2) years to become a self-reliant parish community which does not have the services of a resident Parish Priest. When that time comes you will be annexed to another parish whose Parish Priest will also be your Parish Priest, and who will be responsible for providing Mass and Sacraments. You will continue to be a separate and identifiable community, and you yourselves will be responsible for the non-priestly servicing of that community. This will involve the establishing of appropriate structures, ministries and programmes. It will also involve leadership qualities on the part of some.

What I am proposing is a concept of parish community that is new in the Archdiocese of Sydney, and it is to such as this that God is calling us through the current shortage of priests. I am asking you to blaze a path along which many other parishes are expected to follow in the years to come.”

Reaction to the Archbishop’s proposal was said to be “ambivalent” and somewhat divided. Many questions were asked. Who would bury the dead, marry the young and baptise the infants? To whom could they turn for pastoral care? Would their church be run by fellow-Catholics? What right did they have to tell them what they could do?

On the other hand, some saw it as a special calling to address the difficulties faced by the Archbishop in filling the position.

In 1986 a priest was appointed to oversee the changeover. A new style Pastoral Council and Pastoral Team were established in 1987.

On 21 April 1988 the Pastoral Team met with Archbishop Clancy who announced that Fr Paul Jacobs, Parish Priest of Penshurst, would act as non-resident Parish Priest of Peakhurst.

Moving forward

One of the needs addressed by the parish in addressing our future was a parish centre for a place where the community could interact. Several fundraisers were held, the hall was built (now known as Jacob’s Hall) and was officially opened on 7 August 1988 by Archbishop Clancy.

Ruth Meagher takes on the job of Parish Secretary in February 1989, a role she held until January 2017.

Fr Jacobs continued as Parish Priest of both Peakhurst and Penshurst until he retired in August 2000. Fr John Crothers was appointed to the role.

Cardinal Pell's visit

When the Parish first heard that Cardinal Pell would be making a visitation to Peakhurst in 2004, we wanted to seize this opportunity to show Cardinal Pell that we are a Parish united in love and understanding. We are a community of caring people following our Christian faith inspired by the priests that watch over us.

It was a great team effort that ensured the success of the Cardinal’s visitation. He felt our Parish was vibrant and, while our model of church might not work in all parishes, it appeared that it was working very well in Peakhurst.

A Superstar at OLF

When a local resident won a competition run by the Channel Nine Today Show, Fr John Crothers was asked if the show could be broadcast from the church grounds. Special guest was Canadian crooner, Michael Buble.

So, on a very warm Friday 20 November 2009, the show was broadcast across Australia from outside our church, starting at 5.30am and going to 9am. As part of the show, Michael Buble performed several songs. The superstar drew thousands of residents and visitors, including of course, many parishioners.

Lest We Forget

Many people have contributed to the smooth running of our parish over the years under the guidance of our wonderful priests, including some who have moved from the parish. We are grateful for their hard work and devotion.

And many others have gone to their eternal reward and should be remembered. Among them are Bill Wiltshire, Paul Dunn, Jack and Ann Winchester, Molly and Frank Stephenson, Peter Stevens, Charlie Kane, Val Melocco, John Basquil, Bettina and Frank Golding, Anne Harris, Shirley and Jack Clementson, Doug Harrison, Philomena Johns, Caroline Ryan, Peg Davidson, Col and Kathy Sinclair, Vince Lemon, Bernie Holdsworth and Paul Finch. And we also remember our former parish priests who are no longer with us, Fr O’Shea and Fr Jacobs.

God bless them all.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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