St. Nicholas of Myra Catholic Church, Penrith
On 30 April, 1967, the present church of St. Nicholas of Myra was officially opened and blessed by Cardinal (Sir Norman) Gilroy. Designed by architect Brian Curtin, the contemporary design of the new church was a radical departure from traditional church architecture. With population figures climbing steadily in the Western suburbs in the early 1960’s, the new church of St. Nicholas of Myra was seen by the Catholic authorities as being better able to accommodate Penrith’s growing Catholic community. The new church not only offered increased accommodation, but the design of the church was seen to reflect the changing attitudes of the Australian Catholic Church in a modern age. Despite the obvious need for a larger Catholic Church in Penrith, many local residents were saddened by the demolition of the old church.
For many, the demolition of the old church severed a link with the past that extended as far back as the mid 1800’s.
The land on which the present church now stands was originally donated by John Tindale. Records suggest that Tindale’s offer was accepted by the Catholic Church in the late 1830’s. It is believed that the first services on the site were held in a slab building behind the present church in the 1840’s.
By 1850, however, a more substantial building had been erected, the church being consecrated by Bishop Polding during November of that year. This church was to sever the Catholic community in Penrith until the erection of the present building in the late 1960’s. Even though relatively recent photographs of the building survive, many readers will not remember the building’s interior at all. In April 1909, an article appeared in Penrith’s local newspaper describing the church in some detail. The writer remarked that St. Nicholas “occupied one of the best positions in the town and is prettily situated amid shady trees”. The writer maintained that the building was “a good sample of church architecture, being more ornamental than many of the plain brick buildings” being built at the time. The windows were described as being “set in pairs” and were “well recessed, with a broad splay”. As for the church’s interior, it was observed that the “roof is vaulted, with exposed principals, the lining being old cedar. The choir are accommodated in a gallery at the western end”.
Sometime after the appointment of Father Barlow in 1891, the former church was renovated and partially restored.
The “unsightly” pillars were removed and a door was formed at the end of the nave. The old pulpit was replaced by a new portable one, while the roof was raised and the old choir gallery improved. Father Barlow also restored the original altar, removing a coat of thick whitewash from the original stones forming the altar frontal. The interior of the old church was also noted for its “splendid stations of the cross”, the pictures apparently adding a great deal to the aesthetic value of the old church’s interior.
Roman Catholic Presbytery: St. Nicholas of Myra Church, High Street, Penrith.
Although lacking the architectural interest and modern design of the relatively new St Nicholas of Myra Church (the old church being demolished and officially reopened on 30 April, 1967), the history of the old Catholic Presbytery nearby still deserves our attention.
When the foundation stone of the present presbytery was laid on Sunday, February 7, 1932, the local newspaper noted that the new building was to be erected “on the ground to the east of the present presbytery, which is very old and has outlived its usefulness”. Unfortunately, very little is known of this older presbytery, probably the first to be built in the grounds of the church. The ceremony of the setting and blessing of the foundation stone of the present presbytery was attended by the then Catholic Primate, Archbishop Kelly. He returned to Penrith later the same year when the presbytery was officially opened on Sunday, November 27, 1932. The ceremony was attended by many church and local dignitaries, the proceedings being watched by a “large gathering”. The building contractor was Mr J. Lampard, of Ashbury.
It is not certain when the first permanent presbytery was established in Penrith, although it is generally assumed that some sort of residence would have accommodated the priests when regular services began to be conducted on the present church site in the late 1830’s.
Before either of the two presbyteries were built in the grounds of St Nicholas’, the first Catholic priests that came to Penrith stayed with families at Cranebrook, usually the McCarthy’s. Penrith was originally included in the Windsor Parish, which extended east to the mouth of the Hawkesbury and included, among other places, Windsor, Richmond, Kurrajong and Penrith. The priests would come across from Windsor, stay at Cranebrook, celebrate the Mass in Penrith and eventually return to Windsor.
(Originally published in the Penrith District Star newspaper on 10 July, 1984 (p.21) – rewritten and updated with notes in January 1997.)
Notes: Information relating to the laying of the foundation stone and the official opening of the presbytery appear respectively in the Nepean Times newspaper on 13 February, 1932 (p.3) and 3 December, 1932 (p.3).
Church History: https://stnicholasofmyra.org.au/about-us/#history