Helensburgh’s first Railway Station (part of which still exists today). Metropolitan Tunnel in the background. State Records NSW – Photographic Collection

Helensburgh’s first Railway Station (part of which still exists today).
Metropolitan Tunnel in the background.
State Records NSW – Photographic Collection

 Helensburgh and Lilyvale Workmen’s Club 1896

Helensburgh and Lilyvale Workmen’s Club 1896

 Helensburgh Station and surrounding area c1905 Courtesy of the Helensburgh and District Historical Society

Helensburgh Station and surrounding area c1905
Courtesy of the Helensburgh and District Historical Society

Before Holy Cross Parish

Coal was discovered by Charles Harper at Helensburgh, then known as Camp Creek, in 1884.  He was a prominent figure in the life of the town and school.  According to the author, William Bayley, Charles Harper named the village in 1886 either in honour of a close relative, or more probably in memory of his place of birth, Helensburgh in Scotland.  The name Helensburgh was made official in 1887.

Prior to 1886, the boundaries of the Wollongong Mission – and the subsequent St Francis Xavier Parish, Wollongong – were not always clearly defined but gradually changed to meet the new and expanding settlements to the north and south.  In the early 1880s, the northern-most settlements in the Wollongong Parish included Otford, Camp Creek (now Helensburgh) and 26 Mile Camp (Cawley).

The Archbishop of the Sydney Diocese, Cardinal Patrick Moran, was anxious to meet the needs of people in the expanding settlements and towns to the north of Wollongong. Consequently, the Bulli Parish under the patronage of St Joseph was established in 1886. The Cardinal Archbishop appointed Dean M. Flanagan as pastoral authority for a growing parish area that included the entire coastal strip from Corrimal to the northern outskirts of the newly named town of Helensburgh.

In an old ledger of the Bulli Parish on 13 April 1893 the opening of the Church of Holy Cross at Helensburgh was recorded. Construction took place in two stages, the first commencing in 1890. It is on record that the church cost approximately £150. By 1896, a Catholic school was operating in the Church.

Birth of a Parish

The old original Church of Holy Cross at Helensburgh was opened on 13 April 1893. It was a timber and weatherboard building on the corner of Parkes Street and the service lane behind the current church.

It was not until 1911 that Helensburgh was established as a parish in its own right and Rev. Fr. J. Morris was appointed as its first pastor.  In 1913 the first presbytery was built in Parkes Street.

The first Baptism entered in the new register was that of Mary Agnes Glynn on 1 March 1911. The report of the Episcopal Visitation on 18 September 1912 shows a civic population for Helensburgh and district of 4877, with 625 Catholics including 139 families and 133 children of school age. Some other interesting statistics included 47 baptisms since the last Visitation (July 1909), 48 confirmed including 12 adults, and 9 marriages. There were also 4 Professed Sisters of St Joseph in the parish and 73 children attending St Joseph’s School.

Many years later in 1972 Fr. Maurice Rosa was appointed Parish Priest. He worked tirelessly to renovate the old church. The church had a tree fall against the south side which caused the building to almost fall over. For many years the building was propped to support the structure. In 1985 the decision was made to build a new church.

Before the new church was started, the old church was moved across the new site to the school grounds where it continued to be used for worship until the opening of the new church. Bishop W. Murray performed the blessing of the new site and laying of the Foundation Stone on 9 August, 1986. 

 

 Fr Morris standing in front of the original Church of Holy Cross Helensburgh

Fr Morris standing in front of the original Church of Holy Cross Helensburgh

 Parkes Street & Walker Street Helensburgh 1908 Courtesy of the Helensburgh and District Historical Society

Parkes Street & Walker Street Helensburgh 1908
Courtesy of the Helensburgh and District Historical Society

 The altar carefully loaded onto a truck for the journey to Helensburgh.

The altar carefully loaded onto a truck for the journey to Helensburgh.

 
 Removing the timber panel to allow access into the church.

Removing the timber panel to allow access into the church.

 
 A triumphant Fr Ferdie exclaiming, “Hallelujah, thanks be to God for our new altar."

A triumphant Fr Ferdie exclaiming, “Hallelujah, thanks be to God for our new altar."

The Papal Altar

On 25 November 1986, Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass in the Showground in Canberra. The Papal Mass altar consisted of two identical sandstone altars joined together to accommodate the number of Bishops and clergy concelebrating the Mass.

Fr. Ferdinand Fuhlendorf purchased one half of the altar for the new church he was building in Helensburgh, and the other half was purchased by St. Mary’s in Braddon, Canberra. Within an hour of the conclusion of Mass a crane was brought in and the altar was dismantled.  The Helensburgh half was carefully loaded onto a truck driven by Patrick Braz.

The journey back to Helensburgh began with Fr. Ferdie and Fr. Eugene Weber following close behind saying a continual Rosary for the safety of the new acquisition blessed by Pope John Paul II. On arrival at Helensburgh, the altar was so heavy and with no other way of getting it into the church, the side window/door timber panel had to be removed to allow access.

A landcruiser carrying the altar had to drive backwards up sleepers laid on the steps and through the opening into the church, where it was able to back up to the altar steps to deliver the items where they were to be positioned.

A triumphant Ferdie said, “Hallelujah thanks be to God for our new altar. Very few altars have had the honour of serving a Pope or being blessed by a Pope".

All this was accomplished within 22 hours of the Papal Mass in Canberra.

Within 3 days the church was carpeted, the carved wooden figure of Jesus was lifted and fixed to the cross, and within the last hour before the first Mass the carpet was still being glued around the corners of the altar steps, and the pews, flowers, candles, etc were being arranged.

History courtesy of Paul Smith, Merilyn House, Pat Braz & Helensburgh Historical Society