The Parish of Normanhurst officially began in Loreto Chapel on the second Sunday of May 1971.
Cardinal Gilroy asked if I would like to begin the new parish, stating that the Loreto Sisters had asked for me and offered their chapel as a base until we built our church. The fact noted by the Cardinal was that I was, at that time, 24years ordained and therefore perhaps not prepared to start from scratch. However, since the Loreto Sisters had become great friends of mine in Blackheath for some years, I never hesitated to accept the offer.
We were in Loreto Chapel for over six years, which had not been intended by the Sisters, but although the Diocese had bought land in Stuart Ave. some years before, we could not begin due to Hornsby Council refusing to grant us permission. A prominent Councillor was very much against us and he made every effort to stop us. A Church of England Minister, who was the Chaplain at Watsons Bay Naval depot, and a resident in Stuart Ave., took up a petition in the area to stop us building in this street and the Hornsby Council agreed. The local C.of E. Minister on the other hand, wrote to me stating that he deplored the attitude of his fellow minister with whom he had no dealings, and wished us well.
The new parishioners got together and they took up a petition gaining about 3000 names which was the largest as yet made to the Council by anybody. The opponents petition amounted to about 350! So we went to the Council again and they took another look at our proposal. There was much discussion and lots of bad feeling in and out of the Council. One member of the Council stated that the Council had divided the whole area by its attitude over this church proposal.
At length, in 1973 the Council agreed to give us permission to build a Church and Priests residence only. They demanded that we enter a legal agreement that no further development of school, nursery or any other associated buildings be erected on the site or adjoining land. Council demanded that a driveway and car park be built; drainage for the whole area be provided; trees be planted and none removed without approval; that noise pollution be avoided and therefore the Church was to be carpeted throughout; and light pollution be avoided by planting trees on raised banks around the car park.
The drainage of the whole area was a very big problem and it all had to run into a natural waterway at the back of the property. This natural waterway ran through the neighbouring properties, all of which were private homes. None of the residents would agree to our drainage proposal. The property most suitable for our drain was owned by a lapsed Catholic who told me, in no uncertain terms, that a Catholic Church in his backyard was the last thing he wanted. The other residents nearby felt the same way. Reporting this problem to the Council, I was informed that they would resume the necessary land of one of these properties until the drainage was in place. That was good news, but it did not last long. For some reason not given to us, our friendly Hornsby Council changed their mind and refused to resume the necessary land. So we had lost again.
Emily Baynie of Pennant Hills Rd., had assured me that she had thrown a miraculous medal on to our property and that all would be well!!
For the first few months I lived at Waitara on the invitation of Fr. Michael Baulman and was most grateful to him there.
One day a Loreto sister told me that there was an old cottage in their grounds but that it was in bad shape, with nothing in it at all. In no time the parishioners had cleaned and painted that old house. Sister Veronica rang the St. Vincent de Paul store at Hornsby, telling them that they had a new Priest in the new parish, in a house without any furniture. The store brought all sorts of things including a lounge suite which lasted to 1995. Sr. Dominic donated a bed, parishioners arrived with a kitchen table and chairs, which are still in place. Some brought a dining table and chairs (still with me), and then the ladies gave me all the kitchen-ware one could want. So the old house, which is in Mt. Pleasant Ave., became a presbytery for six years; the only presbytery I know furnished by the St. Vincent de Paul Store! When I moved out I brought all with me.
From that old house we planned to beat the Council but we had no idea how. Meanwhile, we carried on in the Chapel. The extra Sunday and week-day Masses were fully appreciated by the Nuns, and Baptisms and Weddings in the Chapel were a novelty at first. The Sisters never complained about us being there and we were most fortunate to have the Chapel for our start.
Sister Veronica of Loreto was a great help to us during our time in the Chapel and acted as a hostess, welcoming everyone who came to Mass. Throughout our stay, Sister used to take crying babies from the mother and nurse them during Mass.
All the Sisters were good to us during our time in the Chapel in the early years. A few to get special mention are Sr. Ann McHugh, Sr. Mary Anne, Sr. Pauline, Sr. Deidre Brown, Sr. Doreen, Sr. Kevin and Sr. Dominic. In more recent times, Sr. John Baptist of Loreto did great work for us as a Catechist at Normanhurst High and she was extremely popular with the students. Sister was also very much part of our parish, regularly attending our Mass here and she was part of many of our activities. She now lives in Ballarat and we miss her very much.
Unknown to me, one of the residents I had visited, whose property adjoined our site in Stuart Ave. and who had refused to allow us to put the drain through his property, had moved out. This was the lapsed Catholic who did not want a church in his back yard. The new tenants, a young engineer and his wife had just moved down from Darwin where they had experienced that devastating cyclone. We had a huge tree on the church land and its branches extended over their house. During a recent big storm, some small branches had fallen on their roof and had made the lady of the house afraid it was to be Darwin again unless that tree was cut down. The lady rang me, as someone told her that we owned the property, and I went down to see her, not realising at first that it was the very house through which property we needed to run our drain. I said we would be delighted to help her and that I had a small request to make of her. I then explained about the drain. She was only too happy to help, simply saying that she would tell her husband that evening. The husband was very decent about it but, being an engineer, he would make sure that all was done in the best possible way. It cost us a few thousand dollars but it was to pave the way for us to go back to the Council and hope to begin. We explained the position about the tree and they sent an inspector to see it, telling us that we would hear from them.
The Council took their time, as usual and before the tree came down we had a storm which dislodged some more branches on the house in Nelson Street, frightening the lady. There was a very large branch extending particularly close to the house and garage, but it was solid and would never have fallen. However the lady feared it might fall and since the Council were still debating about the tree, I decided that, with a prominent retired Polish parishioner named Joseph Koprowski, we would remove the offending branch. So yours truly climbed the tree and sawed half-way through this branch. Then we attached a rope to it and expected to pull it down. Nothing happened! So up the tree again and more sawing, which made me fear that it might fall before we could pull it. Since it was more over the garage than the house, we felt that at the worst it might damage part of the garage. Well away from the tree, and on the rope, we both took the strain and down it came, slightly touching the guttering of the garage. We both finished up on our backs in the bushes, but both survived! There was no-one at home in the house whilst this was taking place, so there was no panic. A nail or two repaired the guttering and the deed was done. The Council were very slow and we had the whole tree removed three months before the permission came to do it!!
The Parish owned two old houses, one with a large battle axe block on Pennant Hills Rd. next to the Caltex garage, which was bought as a possible school site. Besides the refusal of the Hornsby Council to consider a school in this area, this site with entrance and exit only to Pennant Hills Rd., which was soon to be widened, was hardly a reasonable place for a school. As well as that, it was on a very steep slope and, as one local priest said at that time, the last place for a school. To make things worse, our schools at that stage were going through the loss of Nuns and Brothers and Catholic Teachers Colleges were still finding their way supplying Catholic Teachers. Pennant Hills was still taking our children and Waitara was most anxious to have our children also as, at that time their numbers were down. After paying rates for a few years and spending some money to renovate these two dilapidated houses, we could hopefully rent them, then look to sell what we had there. However we heard that town-houses were to be built on the entire block and since they wanted our land too, we agreed to sell. As it turned out, the Government bought the houses and turned them into Housing Commission homes. The Sites Committee of the Sydney Diocese should have bought that whole area that is now built on by these homes because it was available when our present site was purchased. It did not happen. Why? Nobody knows!!
The Loreto Sisters had plenty of land, although it was not anywhere near the centre of the Parish, and because of my friendship with them, they offered some of the land to me. I was actually told by some of the well intention Sisters to ask for what I wanted, even to the possible extent of buying their Junior School! A meeting was arranged for me at Kirribilli with some of the Heads of the Order, and land and school were discussed. The School was only a possibility but the land for the Church was no problem. A section of the Parents heard the rumour about the school (and it was only a rumour at that stage) and a great protest began. As well as that, the Lay Financial Advisers of the Sisters urged them not to sell any part of the land as it would destroy the value of the whole. Much more could be written about all this but it is sufficient to say that all offers or possible offers were withdrawn!!
I went all over the area trying to find a different site because most of our parish is on the western side of Pennant Hills Rd. I even went to the Presbyterian Authorities who own that large site in Duffy Ave., but they were not interested. The Water Board owned lots of land at Westleigh as did the Electricity Commission but neither of them would give me a hearing. There was nothing left for us but to take what we had and abide by the Councils demands.
The jungle that was our land had to be cleared so I borrowed the tractor and slasher (a large scythe like gadget which is attached to a tractor) from Loreto and, without anything such as a number plate, drove it up Pennant Hills Rd. to our land and got to work.
Not having driven a tractor before, much less one with a slasher on it, the couple of trips up and down Pennant Hills Rd. were at times very thrilling to say the least. However, apart from getting bogged on one occasion on the property, it helped to clear the place and made it look possible as a church site. Some who saw it as it was, now marvel how well it turned out and there is little doubt about that.
It was about the end of 1975 that we finally got permission to start building, but only after all the conditions as stated earlier were agreed upon. When permission was granted, the C. of E. minister for Watsons Bay Navel Depot moved out of the street. Terrence Daly was the Architect, being a parishioner of this new parish and he engaged the building firm of Hurst & Co. The design of the church was in conformity with the lay of the land, the need for parking, and the location of neighbouring houses.
Building of the Church began on 5/6/1976 and it turned out to be somewhat difficult because the whole area is clay. Huge piles of concrete had to be sunk way down on which the foundations were placed. As is normal, it rained in torrents and the clay became a quagmire. The large machine used to dig the holes for the concrete was bogged for about a month. Bricklayers became a problem as the work they were doing did not satisfy our architect, Terry Daly. When Terry objected, they walked off the job. To my knowledge, there were six different groups of brickies before the job was done. In fact, one group challenged Terry to do better than they were doing, and to his credit and their surprise, he did just that and showed how it should be done! At one time, Terry was not happy with what appeared to be happening way up on the top of the Church near the Cross. The building was only a frame then, but since the men doing the work were able to climb up, Terry said to me "I am going to climb up there and have a look". To the surprise of the workmen, not only did Terry do that, but I went with him! He got what he wanted.
On another occasion, one of the bricklayers said to me, "What sort of Church is this going to be?" My reply was, "A Catholic Church". He said, "I might have known, because you crowd have plenty of money!" My reply to him was, "It will surprise you to know that that money comes from tradesmen like yourself and people of all walks of life who attend Mass each week". He had no answer to that.
I, as Parish Priest had no set ideas about the style of church except that it have plenty of light and air. As it turned out, it has plenty of air but is somewhat dark. One thought I did have was that in most churches in my opinion, the Sanctuary took up too much space and was used only on very rare occasions which, to me, did not justify it. So we have a small area for our Sanctuary. In a small church I could not see the point of having the Tabernacle, that is THE LORD HIMSELF, put over to one side. With all respect to the Liturgical experts and their theories, we remained as of old on this one.
The Large Crucifix over the Sanctuary was obtained from the parish of Lane Cove where it had been in two or three pieces on a shelf out in a work sacristy. Having by chance mentioned that I was looking for a decent crucifix, Fr. John Doherty who was the new Administrator at Lane Cove, told me of this one not being used, but needing some restoration. So we got our crucifix and Terry Daly restored it.
The Tabernacle we first used, which is now in the Sacristy, was obtained from Graduate or Gilroy House at Manly. This was given to Graduate House by the Gilroy family but, as I discovered on one of my Retreats there, it was not being used; the result of another modern Liturgical theory, with more apologies to Liturgists. Fr. David Walker (now our new Bishop of the Broken Bay Diocese) who was in charge there, was agreeable for me to have it as long as I got permission from Rita Gilroy. Since I had been a Curate at Brighton Le Sands, the home of the Gilroys, I knew Rita and the family very well and when I explained the situation she was more than delighted to agree. Since it is in our Sacristy now, I am not too sure how pleased she would be as she looks down from heaven. Who knows where it will finish up when somebody reads this? Actually, that Tabernacle is now in Davidson Parish Church.
The present Tabernacle strangely enough, also comes from Graduate House, due likewise to one of my retreat days when I discovered it not being used out in a back room. So with permission, it came to us and because it had a sliding swivel door, it took the place of the Gilroy Tabernacle, the door of which opened out reducing the area outside the Tabernacle quite a lot.
My foraging on retreat did not end there. During another week in Graduate House to my horror, workmen were reducing all the heavy sandstone altars to rubble as they had to go (more theories) and it would have been too costly to remove them. Well, it was costly too, in one way, but we salvaged one and got it delivered here where about 14 men, mostly Lebanese, just picked it up off the truck like a match box and placed it on the pedestal prepared for it. So sections of our Queen of Peace have history which begun in other places.
The name of the church was chosen and, since there was already one or two Our Lady Queen of Peace, I decided on just "Queen of Peace" because every Catholic would know who she was and that would leave us a little different.
There was almost a complete set of vestments in the sacristy which belonged to the late Msgr. Downey of Lindfield and which were offered to me by Fr. Joe Purcell who was P.P. there. They were beautiful vestments of the old style but they have since been discarded.
We had a brick fence built at the entrance to our drive and asked for a place to be left for a letter box. Because that letter box had a rather strange place of manufacture, we mention it here. It came as a courtesy of Bob Dwyer (of Brookes St.) and was made in some section of Garden Island's work shops! That must be unique surely and rates a place among other items mentioned in our short history.
The new church was officially opened and blessed on the 31st of July 1977 by Cardinal James Freeman and the Presbytery officially opened on the same day. The week before we opened, I mentioned to the people at Mass in Loreto Chapel, that the church in Stuart Ave. would be ready to open the next Sunday and told them to go down and have a look at it even though it was locked. Some did so and rang me at Loreto to say that a side door was open and a side window smashed. Sure enough, it was true and the only thing in the church was the amplifying system, put in the day before, and of course it was gone, stolen before it had ever been used! Fortunately, it had been insured so we got another in time for our opening.
We formed our own finance committee, of which Wal Parish, still with us, was a member, and put in our own envelope system which has paid its way to the full, and still continues today.
By mid 1996, we have had 1246 Baptisms in the Parish; 1218 have been Confirmed; 582 have been married; and 240 have been sent to eternal life. We have just completed a new office for parish equipment and the use of Catechists. Since the southern side of our Church is exposed to the worst weather conditions, we have closed in the steps leading into the church. It is now possible to come down those steps from the church to the meeting room without getting wet!
We have regular maintenance payments on the Parish but we are in a very good financial position and able to help our neighbouring schools. Our finances were increased by the Will of Ursula Savage of Stuart Ave. who left her house to the Parish and various amounts of money which came to her from other wills and investment sources. The whole figure would have amounted to about $200,000.
An addition to our building was the extra meeting room which runs parallel to the other room under the church. Both these rooms have been and are regularly used for all sorts of occasions, particularly our instruction programs for first Reconciliation and Communion, as well as Confirmation.
The present Easter Candle stand deserves a mention, simply because it came from a private home here, which family has since moved away. It was a mixed marriage and they wanted a child baptised; the father was the non-catholic and when I went to the home to arrange the baptism, I noticed this stand in the dining room. It was the old style, too costly to make these days, but a very nice candle stand. Inquiring about it, I was told by the father that he bought it, among other things, at an auction down the north shore line. Seeing my interest, he said "How much does a baptism cost?" I replied, "Nothing really, unless the family wish to make a donation". "Well" he said, "how about me giving you that candle stand?" We have it !
A few years ago we started parish groups of about 8 to 10 families who meet together for social gatherings and sharing every day experiences. Five of the groups are still active and enjoying a variety of indoor and outdoor activities. These have occasionally combined and got to know each other, which is what parish life should be. We hope the groups will continue and others will seek to join them.
The first child baptised in our parish was Glenda Crane and this took place in Loreto Chapel on the very first Sunday we began. It was my privilege to celebrate the marriage of Glenda on the 23rd of March this year (1996) in Loreto Chapel. Glenda is now Mrs. Jennings.
We have seen, very recently, the advent of girls serving Mass with the boys, and doing very well indeed. We also introduced ladies as Ministers of the Eucharist and they have been well accepted by the parishioners.
We have 17 groups as the Housekeepers of the Lord, in other words, they clean the church; some of them have been with us since the beginning.
We have 50 Lectors who do the readings at each week-end Mass.
We have 15 Groups who do the flowers for each week-end and to their credit, they supply the flowers too.
We have 26 groups who count the collections each Sunday. Some of these have been with us from the start. We have a regular group of church wardens who guide the people to vacant seats and look after the plate collections.
The St. Vincent de Paul Society meets every Wednesday night and its regular 8 members (Oct. '97) are doing great work.
We have a Catholic Women's League who meet regularly and as well as social events, they raise money for many different causes.
The Choir has been very loyal, giving their time to practice, especially but not only for the Christmas and Easter ceremonies. We owe much to Pat Kirkwood, the leader of the choir.
Our grounds surrounding the church and presbytery have had more than a few workers. At present, Brian Galvin and Ces Mulchay have taken over whilst Ken Fitzgerald has beautified the area by his work in the gardens. John Leal, in the past, did great work here in the grounds.
Behind the scenes and covering many sections of our parish and presbytery, there is one whose work and name remains unknown to many. This lady is Clare Johnston who has been with us almost from the start. Among many things Clare does are the church paper each week and she enters all the Baptisms, Confirmations, First Communions and Marriages for Diocesan records. Clare does the books for our envelope collections, issues receipts for them as well as Project Compassion works. That is apart from what she does in the presbytery, covering many things which need to be done. Over the last year, Mary Richards has helped her in the needs of the presbytery.
Gill Osborne has done and is doing great work in the Catechist field, not only organising but teaching too. Gill also controls the yearly First Communion and Confirmation groups to instruct the children. We are deeply indebted to the Catechists who endeavour to teach religion in the four State primary schools.
Our financial books have been audited voluntarily by an accountant, John Bolster who for many years has done this work for us. John is also one of our acolytes at the 9.30am Mass.
We have been fortunate with our organists, Joan McCoy and Betty Grugeon who have been with us from the start with Keith Furniss, Maree McLeod and Yvonne Spackman also being very important in the organ field.
We are indebted to our lead singers; to Richard Thompson in the early years at 7am. Now to Pat Tierney at 7am. To Kevin DArcy, Gai Clarke, Moira Hutchinson, Margaret Scaramuzzi, Brian Roach, Pat Kirkwood and recent newcomer, Shane Conway at the 9.30am Mass.
We have been fortunate having had Joe Pulis from the start as the leader of the excellent Saturday night guitar group. Jennifer Palmer is with that group and has been with us from the beginning - a most loyal parishioner. Geoff Hughes also of the group was with us at the start and after some years, is back again and we appreciate his presence and ability, now with his daughter. Newcomers to that group are Ashton Fernandez and Mathew Kennedy. Kerry OShea is also a long serving member of that group. There have been other members of the group over the years.
Tony Hajje has been most loyal on the Sunday nights, supplying the guitar music and the singing. Two more groups were formed in 1995 for the Sunday evening Mass and have performed very well indeed. The first of these saw the Roach girls, Bernadette and Mary with Joseph Baynie forming a very good combination. The second group, comprises Peter Brown and Greg Baynie and later, Phillip McBride has joined them. Peter Brown has since moved away and his place has been taken by Simone Pearson. We are indebted to these groups for the effort they are making to enrich the evening Masses.
Barbara Owens has been with us from the beginning, active in many parish affairs. So also have Gwen and Joanne Parsons done their part from the beginning! Other long serving parishioners who have greatly assisted in many ways are Gwen Weeks, Elsie Danson and Pat & Max Arnett.
A sad loss for us in 1996 was the death of Phillip Oders, our number one acolyte, who took Communion to the sick on Sunday mornings. Phillip was regional president of the St. Vincent de Paul Society and so devoted to that work that he actually did too much. Phillips knowledge of all the ceremonies was of great help to me and we miss him very much. Phillip had studied for the Priesthood at Springwood and Manly, but bad health put an end to his ambitions. Phillip was extremely knowledgeable in the Liturgy of the Church ceremonies and, in fact, of every aspect of the Catholic Church. To many people in the rest homes to whom he took Holy Communion, Phillip was a special favourite as he spent time listening to their problems and offering advice. Phillip was very well read in history, not only of the Church, but the world in general and was a member of a group which won more than a few good prizes in quiz competitions. Religion was Phillips main topic and he was a great believer in tradition.
We owe a lot of thanks to parishioners, past and present who were and still are involved in Parish life.
To Tot and Bill Raper, both of whom were originals in our Parish, Tot a "Housekeeper of the Lord" and involved in everything that was on. Bill, President of the St. Vincent De Paul, Reader, Singer at Mass, Church Warden etc.
Marie and Bill Thompson, foundation members of the Parish. Peg and Basil Hughes, very much part of Parish life. Peg, who died some years ago, was Catechist, Singer at Mass, President of the Catholic Womens League, arranged all the First Communion classes etc. etc.
Judy and Col Thompson have been with us from the start, with Judy one of our longest serving Catechists, ever ready to fill in for their demanding task.
Perce Heads, Church warden, St. Vincent De Paul man of great personality and warmth, whose visits to rest homes were greatly appreciated. Perce died some years ago.
Rita White, a foundation member, very quiet, working behind the scenes, doing the Church linen and keeping my white shirts in order.
Mary Brown (Baynie), who died some years ago, was involved in many ways in our Parish life and kept the Parish Priest and other priests in shirts, sweaters, trousers and foods of all types.
We owe much to Emily Baynie who made that magnificent set of vestments for the opening of our Church and for many repairs of soutanes and other garments of the Parish Priest. Likewise, for food which came regularly to the presbytery and was enough to feed about four people.
We are indebted to Bridget Anderson who took on the washing of the Purifiers and Amices, finger towels etc. used during Mass. Also to Margaret Kennedy of recent years, who made the Acolytes' albs, the blue gowns for alter girls and the gowns for women Ministers for the Eucharist and altar boys' clothes.
There were many others who have moved on to Heaven or other parishes and there are many still with us, some as foundation members who remain active in Parish life, to whom we owe many thanks.
However, if I do not stop now, they will go on and on, so apologies and thanks to all who have not received a mention here.
May the Queen of Peace be our guide for the present and future as she has been in the past.
Fr. F. Vaughan P.P.
Page created - 18 September, 1988
Page last updated - 29 March, 2002 10:56:53 +1000