Parish History

Formerly Asquith Parish and Berowra Parish

For too long, it seemed, parishioners had crammed into a hall 63 feet by 30 feet which seated 270 people. It was nevertheless a multipurpose hall that well embodied the life of the community, serving as a school and attracting good crowds to occasional Saturday evening dances. The fun and gaiety ended with the sobering task of preparing the hall for the two morning Masses.The Silver Jubilee of the Asquith parochial district, on 1st February 1976, occurred less than five years after the opening of the new futuristic St. Patrick’s Church. Based on liturgical developments that flowed from changes initiated by Pope John XXIII, the new church was designed both for liturgical worship and private meditation.

The history of the Asquith parish dates back to 1927 when Rev. Father T. Barry, Parish Priest at Chatswood, and the late Father Nulty decided to acquire the lot for the future development of the church. The decision was far-sighted since rabbits and kangaroos far outnumbered the tiny population at the Asquith village. Trains passed by a few times each week. The land, acquired at pre-depression price levels, was almost sold at a loss when Rev. Father W. Hawe, then the Pastor at Waitara, asked Father Barry to transfer the land to him.

The first church was built under the direction of Father Hawe and completed in 1938 at a cost of $3,300

Asquith Catholics, while remaining parishioners of Waitara, could then worship in their own Church. Although there were only 150 parishioners, donations at the opening ceremony amounted to $400, a rather princely sum considering average weekly earnings were less than $12.00. Forty dollars was contributed by the Most Reverend Norman Thomas. Gilroy DD the Coadjutor Archbishop of Sydney, who blessed and opened the newly completed church.

Some edifying stories are told of parishioners determined to observe their Sunday obligation. One elderly parishioner had to leave his home in the Somerville Road area, at 5 a.m. for a leisurely two-hour walk to church. A couple of sandwiches served as breakfast in the bush during the walk home along a track now taken over by Amor Street! A Dutch migrant couple, living in the same area, regularly arrived for Mass with their children on carriers of their bicycles. Parishioners from the Berowra, Mt. Ku-ring-gai and Mt. Colah districts had to rouse children early so as not to miss the special bus which would take them to the 7 a.m. Mass.

The size of the Catholic community had increased about six-fold when His Eminence Cardinal Gilroy, Archbishop of Sydney, officially announced setting up of the Asquith parish in 1951. Rev. Father Christopher Smithwick became the first Parish Priest, but he tragically drowned on 9th January, 1952.

Significant extensions were made to the original church in 1954, including extra seating capacity, an extension of the Sanctuary and provision of a Sacristy, Baptismal Font and Confessional. The latter must have come as a relief to the many penitents and priests who had made regular visits to the church’s broom cupboard. Land was later purchased at Warrina Street, Berowra, for a future church building in that area.It was during the twenty-year stewardship of his successor, the gentle, generous, Rev. Father Vincent Folkes, that a group of dedicated parishioners ably led by the energetic assistant priest Father Laurie Cruikshank helped bring ambitious plans for a church/hall at Berowra and a new church at Asquith to fruition.

Another big event was the appointment in 1958 of Sister Mary Antoinette and Sister Marie Bernadette from the Mercy Convent at Waitara. They commenced a Parish School in the church/hall starting with a kindergarten, first and second classes. Work began that September on a new primary school on land adjoining the church. Mr Mark Formby, from the firm of Richard Gailey, struck on the innovative concept of a two-storey rigid steel frame building. The top floor was completed with mobile interior walls while most of the ground floor served as covered play space until additional classrooms were needed.

St. Patrick’s Church Hall

A major fundraising campaign was launched in 1959 and another in 1971. All Catholic families were approached for weekly contributions over a three-year period for reduction of the Parish debt, school and church programmes, including plans for a new church and construction of a church/hall at Berowra. The school was extended in 1961 and 1967. The Sisters of Mercy moved into the cottage opposite the Church in 1969, the school population having grown to several hundred.On 25th January, 1959, His Eminence Cardinal Gilroy opened and blessed the school which, by then, had 150 students. In his address, Cardinal Gilroy praised Father Folkes for making suitable provision for the spiritual needs of his people and for all the improvements made while he had been in charge.

Construction of the Church commenced in June, 1970. Much experience had been gained in building the church/hall at Berowra which was completed earlier that year.

Apart from contractors for structural steel; the laity carried out all the work. Most parishioners worked during weekends, but those on shift duties managed to put in a few days work during the week. Women of the parish were rostered to feed the “troops’.

The stone for the building, a grey trachyte, was brought in borrowed trucks from the old sheep yards at Flemington, site of the new Sydney Produce Markets. The purchased stone was mostly quarried at Bowral, but some had originated from the earliest ships which came to Australia.

Work on the 500 seat church went ahead on a seven-days-a-week basis and the magnificent church, visited by architects from many countries and was completed in 15 months at a cost of $120,000.00 which was half of the original estimate.The stones were passed along chain-gang style and their rapid laying made it necessary for volunteers to hand clean mortar from each brick with a wire brush.

Mr Neville Brown, who formed a company to carry out the construction of both the Berowra and Asquith projects, recalls working out rosters for approximately 150 people including the youth of the parish and some non-catholic volunteers. According to one of the participants — “There was a very happy atmosphere and accomplishment of the common task helped develop a close community spirit in the Parish’.

An illustration of this was the time when the two craftsmen engaged to assist Neville Brown in a full-time capacity, Jim Onslow, carpenter, and Ron Curtis, block layer, were among a group that good-naturedly gave Father Cruikshank time off to go and see his favourite football team “Souths” play in the Rugby League Grand Final at the Cricket Ground. For his part, Father, affectionately nick-named “Cruikie’ kept his side of the bargain and had radio commentator, Frank Hyde, put over a “cheerio” call to the Asquith parish crew as the game got underway.

Another happy occasion was the “wake” held in the old church hall for all the people who had worked so hard to see their dream realised.

“The church the Parish built is a work of art’; read the headline of an article in the Sydney Morning Herald almost two years after the opening of the church. It went on to describe the church as “a gem, a minor masterpiece’; adding: “It is a work of sculpture from the outside and a beautiful, calm space from the inside."

The church was designed by John King of Thompson, Glendenning and Paul, under the direction of Father Cruikshank and with advice from the leading liturgists in Sydney. On the premise that the people were the Church with the building purely a shelter John King decided on “a simple and peaceful space to enable undisturbed worship".

Hence, the forecourt forms an extension to the inside of the church, divided largely by glass. The front of the church is low and of human scale, presenting an inviting facade. A number of architectural effects, including the arrangement of seats, the sloping of the floor, the timber ceiling and the use of natural and artificial light, make the Sanctuary and Altar the only major focus of attention.

A small circular Chapel at one end, where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved, lends itself to private meditation and for a celebration of weekday Masses.

The church was opened and blessed by Archbishop James Freeman on Sunday 19th September 1971. Shortly after, Father Folkes, who had faithfully served God for 37 years as a priest, and army chaplain in New Guinea during the War, was forced to retire because of ill health. He died in 1975 at Wyoming on the Central Coast.Another innovation was the building of a Sacristy at the front of the church to enhance communication between clergy and people. The priest therefore enters and leaves the church with the people. It provides the priest with a better opportunity to meet parishioners after Mass.

Reverend Father Patrick J. McMaugh took up his appointment as Parish Priest in February 1972, and although burdened with a considerable parish debt, immediately played a major role in completing the conversion of the old church to classrooms, a library and staff-room, landscaping of the church surrounds and provision for vehicle access on land leased from the Railways.

His Parish was divided in 1973 when St. Bernard’s, Berowra became an independent Parochial district.

In response to the call for “co-responsibility” and involvement of the laity in the liturgical changes emanating from Vatican II, Father McMaugh presided over the formation of St. Patrick’s Asquith Parish Council, in April, 1974.

The Jubilee Year of 1976 saw the school completely paid for and the Parish commitment greatly reduced.

Fr Patrick McMaugh retired from the parish and Fr John Hannon was appointed Parish Priest in January 1998.

Fr Hannon built on the work of his predecessors. Fr Hannon is a priest of the Archdiocese of Melbourne and assisted the Bishop of Broken Bay by taking pastoral responsibility for Asquith Parish while also heading the Diocesan Marriage Tribunal.

In 2002 with the retirement of Fr Dennis Callahan as the parish priest of Berowra, Fr Hannon was also asked to extend pastoral care to the people of Berowra. Fr Hannon was transferred to the parish of Manly in June 2003.

Fr Robert Borg was appointed Parish Priest of both Asquith and Berowra Parishes. Fr Stephen Hamilton was appointed Assistant Priest to both Parishes. In April 2004 David Huntley was ordained as a permanent married deacon. He too is appointed to both parishes.

The Diocese of Broken Bay has twinned Asquith and Berowra Parishes and both communities have been working cooperatively to becoming one parish community in the future. It is important that both keep their identity and enrich each other. Discussions will also be held with neighbouring parishes in the deanery for future amalgamations.

From the appointment of Fr Robert Borg the offices of both parishes were brought together as the Asquith Berowra Catholic Pastoral Centre. The Pastoral Centre has been temporarily located in the Hornsby Mall in the Madison Building.

The Parishes of Asquith and Berowra extend from north of Bridge Road Hornsby to the other side of the Hawkesbury River to Mooney Mooney. A large area to cover but with the support of the parishioners many things can be achieved. 

During 2006, groups and schools in both parishes have been cooperating to share resources of time, talent and treasure which will be highlighted at the Inauguration Ceremony in June.

June 25 2006, Ku-ring-gai Chase Catholic Parish is inaugurated by Bishop David L Walker, second Bishop of the Diocese of Broken Bay. The former parishes of Asquith and Berowra were suppressed and a new parish formed. The Inauguration ceremony took place in Hunt Reserve on the corner of Pacific Highway and Beryl Avenue Mt Colah. The Mayor of Hornsby was in attendance Councillor Nick Berman and Hon Judy Hopwood State Member of Parliament was present for the social celebration after the Liturgy.

July 2007, building began on the new Pastoral Centre at Berowra Heights. Laurie Glendenning was a great boon to the community by volunteering his service to design and oversee the project. He was ably supported by the Glendenning Group Architects at Mt Colah who were very generous with their time and resources to assist the parish. Special thanks to Mark Glendenning and Laszlo Szoboslay who gave of their firm's time and assistance in the project. Without such generosity, the project would have cost much more. David Parkinson Constructions was the successful tender and was honest and hard working in the construction phase. With all these working in a harmonious relationship, the project was completed in time and on budget.

  • 21 September, the Pastoral Centre in the Madison Building at Hornsby ceases to operate.
  • 24 September, the move begins from Hornsby to Berowra Heights with a short settling in period.
  • 26 September, the Pastoral Centre opened for business in the new premises 1-19 Woodcourt Road Berowra Heights.
  • 30 September, Bishop David Walker officially bless and opens the Pastoral Centre set in the geographical heart of the parish.