Parish History

History of Pittwater Parish

Pittwater Parish

Pittwater Parish began on 1 July 2007. The Parishes of Maria Regina Avalon and Sacred Heart Mona Vale had shared a Parish Priest from 1998 but had operated as two parishes for almost ten years. For much of that time, there was a single priest, with a pastoral assistant in each Parish.

Both Parishes were originally in the Diocese of Sydney, two of the founding Parishes of the new Diocese of Broken Bay when it was established in 1986 with the Most Reverend Patrick Murphy as its first Bishop. The Most Reverend David Walker succeeded Bishop Murphy in 1996 was the second Bishop of Broken Bay Diocese. He retired at the end of 2013. Bishop Peter Comensoli, the third Bishop of Broken Bay was ordained in December 2014.  After serving only three and half years as Bishop of Broken Bay, Bishop Peter A Comensoli was appointed the new Archbishop of Melbourne on 29 June 2018.  On 7 October 2019, Pope Francis appointed Most Rev Anthony Randazzo the fourth Bishop of Broken Bay.

Father Rex Curry was the first Parish Priest. Fr Satheesh Ramachanatt OSHAP who had been at Avalon since 2004 was the first Assistant Priest, serving until until early 2008 when he returned to India. Bishop Bernard O'Grady OP retired as Bishop of Gizo, Solomon Islands, and came to Avalon as Priest in Residence.

Fr Rex finished his tenure as Parish Priest in October 2008 and at that time the Parish became a Salvatorian Parish with Father George Kolodziej SDS as Parish Priest. Father Zygmunt Smigowski SDS joined him as Assistant Priest in early 2009. After Father Zygmunt's election as Treasurer of the Salvatorians Australian Province, he was called to the Order's Headquarters in Perth and Father Sebastian Szewczyk SDS took his place in January 2010 as Assistant Priest of Pittwater Parish. After Father Sebastian's relocation to Canada in April 2013 Father Darius Basiaga SDS served the Parish during 2013, with Father Robert Masternak SDS taking his place in January 2014 then Father Bronek Pietrusewicz SDS from January 2016.

In September 2018, Fr George Kolodziej SDS was appointed the Australian Regional Superior for the Salvatorians and moved to the Salvatorian House in Perth in January 2019.  At this time, Fr Bronek Pietrusewicz SDS was appointed the parish administrator and then the parish priest and Fr Richard Sadowski SDS was appointed the Assistant Priest.

In July 2021, Fr Bronek Pietrusewicz SDS resigned from his position as parish priest to return to Poland for some time of spiritual renewal and growth.  At this time, Fr Richard Sadowski SDS was appointed the parish administrator.  Fr Paul Szczur SDS came to the parish to assist.

Priests of the Parish of Pittwater

Parish Priests

Fr Rex Curry 2007-2008
Fr George Kolodziej SDS 2008-2019
Fr Bronek Pietrusewicz SDS 2019 - 2021 
Fr Richard Sadowski SDS 2021 - present (Parish Administrator)

Priests in Residence and Assistant Priests

Bishop Bernard O'Grady OP 2008- Priest in Residence
Fr Zygmunt Smigowski SDS 2009-2010 Assistant Priest
Fr Sebastian Szewczyk SDS 2010-2013 Assistant Priest
Fr Dariusz Basiaga SDS 2013- 2014 Assistant Priest
Fr Robert Masternak SDS 2014-2016 Assistant Priest
Fr Bronek Pietrusewicz SDS 2016-2019 Assistant Priest
Fr RIchard Sadowski SDS 2019 - 2021
Fr Paul Szczur SDS 2021 - present

Pastoral Assistants
Sister Rosalinda Legisan fdz 2007-2008
Sister Matilde Chia fdz 2007-2010

Avalon Parish History

The Catholic history of the Avalon area dates from 1833 when the pioneer priest Fr John Therry was granted 1200 acres of land at Pittwater, with 280 acres added four years later. This land covered the area south from Surf Road, Whale Beach to Attunga Road, Newport Beach. It extended from the sea through to Pittwater.

Father Therry himself probably had little chance to spend time in the area for some years. He was Parish Priest of Campbelltown (which stretched to Yass) from 1835 to 1838 when he was sent to Van Diemen's Land, returning permanently to New South Wales in 1856 when he was appointed to Balmain as Parish Priest. He died at Balmain in 1864. He left all his Avalon land to the Jesuits who sold it off in smaller lots.

For more details about Fr Therry's life go to:

careel bay_2

Original Careel Bay Church, moved to Narrabeen (from an original photo held at Maria Regina, Avalon)

A small wooden Church was built at Careel Bay, perhaps on the corner of the present Patrick and Joseph Streets, Avalon. The Church was dedicated to St Joseph and was made of pit-sawn timber slabs with a shingle roof.

This chapel was set up, probably in the 1870s, to serve the needs of those working on farms in the area, and for workers at the unsuccessful coal mine which Father Therry started near Bilgola Headland, including the site of the present Avalon golf course. In practice, Mass was rarely said in the Chapel as the area was sparsely populated, remote and isolated.


Original Maria Regina Church-School

From 1876, Manly Parish was responsible for the Peninsula as far North as Palm Beach. In the 1885 Australasian Catholic Directory, Careel Bay was listed as an official Mass Centre within the parish of Manly. In 1889, a petition from several Catholics in the Barrenjoey area asked for a Priest to visit as there had been no Mass said in the District for over a year. About 1917 the old church was moved to Narrabeen where for many years it was used as Mass Centre and a hall until the construction of the Church school in 1939. It was demolished in the 1940s and the timbers taken to Port Macquarie to be used there.

In 1928 Dee Why Parish came into being. The need for a Catholic presence in the Northern part of the Peninsula was already acknowledged and in 1939 three blocks of land were bought in Tasman Road, Avalon. In 1946, Narrabeen Parish was set up to cater for the whole area with plans for five parishes to be established from that base. In 1950, the Tasman Road site was sold because it was no longer in the centre of Avalon's planned development, and the proceeds used to buy the land on Central Road for the current Church and School.

Maria Regina Parish

Work began on building a Church in Avalon before it was officially declared a Parish. A two storey building was begun, with the top storey intended as a Church with the school on the bottom floor. This Church opened in January 1956. Maria Regina Avalon's first Parish Priest, Father Hugh Boland, was appointed on February 1st 1959, acknowledged as the official starting date of the Parish.


Fr Hugh Boland, first Parish Priest of Maria Regina, Avalon

Maria Regina Catholic Primary School opened on 2nd February 1959, run by the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, with 65 students across all primary school grades. The number of children grew quickly and in 1961 there were 107 girls and 68 boys at the school.

Building and development work continued for the next fifteen years, with Monsignor Vincent Marley continuing with the hard work begun by Father Boland. The culmination was the the blessing and dedication of the present Church on August 25th 1974. Throughout this period the parishioners and the Parish Priests worked hard to raise money, to acquire materials, and to do much of the hard physical work involved in building the parish infrastructure on a very limited budget.

avalon_2 (1)

Maria Regina Church with the distinctive roof representing a rolling wave on the sea

Father John Ford was the next Parish Priest, and with the infrastructure in place he set about the further development of Maria Regina as a vibrant Catholic community. He encouraged the lay people to become very involved in the Parish and established support ministries such as a Care group, parish visitation and he encouraged the establishment of a Library under the direction of Mrs Trish Newman. The Library is still in operation and still under Trish's care.

The documents below indicate some of the Parish activities at this time.


As well as the development of the Parish Centre at Avalon, the Holy Family Church, shown below, was established as a Mass Centre in 1966 on land purchased at Bilgola Plateau. It was blessed by Cardinal Gilroy in 1970 and operated for some twenty years. Since that time it has been retained by the Parish but operated under lease as a Child Care Centre.

During the Christmas holidays Mass was also said each Sunday at the Kindergarten at Palm Beach.

Until 1979 there was an Assistant priest, but from that time, the Parish Priest of Avalon was alone.

bilgola_church  bilgola_church09

Holy Family Church, Bilgola Heights

Monsignor Ian Burns followed Father Ford as Parish Priest, and Maria Regina Parish continued as an active and caring community.

The first Parish Council was established in 1994 to assist the Parish Priest, Mons Ian Burns, whose health was failing.

The articles below help to fill out the details of these years.

cathweekly1993  monsburnsmd1998

Catholic Weekly Article, 1993 and Farewell to Monsignor Burns

From the time of Monsignor Burns retirment in 1997, there was no priest in the Avalon Parish though until his death Mons Burns lived in the presbytery and celebrated Mass. Father Harry Kennedy looked after both Mona Vale and Avalon Parish, with the help of two pastoral assistants, first Sr Theresa Elliott IBVM then Sister Pauline Nicholson RSC. In 2003 Father Rex Curry replaced Fr Kennedy and began the move to consolidate the two parishes into one. Two sisters of Divine Zeal, Sister Rosalinda and Sister Matilde, worked as Pastoral Assistants in both Parishes.

In 2004, at last, a second priest arrived in the Parishes, with Father Sathheesh Ramachanatt, an Oblate priest, living in the Presbytery at Avalon and working as Assistant Priest, a position he still held when the two Parishes were officially combined as Pittwater Parish in July 2007.


Arrival of Fr Satheesh

The publication “The People of Avalon, 25 Years a Parish Silver Jubilee 1984” compiled by Kay Kinane and Margaret Vaile, (published 1984 by the Diocese of Sydney) records the story of these formative years. The information in this book has been used extensively in providing the background for this entry.  Current parishioners including Mrs Trish Newman, Mrs Mary O'Connor and Mr and Mrs John and Marie Graham have been very helpful in providing photos and other documentation for these years. Some photos from this site have been used with the kind permission of David Billington.

Priests of the Parish of Avalon

Parish Priests

Rev J. H. (Hugh) Boland 1959-1972
Monsignor Vincent J Marley 1972-1981
Rev John Ford  1981-1986
Monsignor Ian Burns 1987- 1998 Pastor Emeritus 1998-1999
Rev Harry Kennedy 1998-2003 (also PP of Mona Vale)
Fr Rex Curry 2003- 2007 (also PP of Mona Vale)

Assistant Priests

Father John Buggy 1969-1972
Father John Doherty 1972
Father John Anderson 1973-1975
Father Jerry Golden, S.J. 1975-1979
Rev Satheesh Ramachanatt OSHAP 2004-2007

Pastoral Assistants

Sister Theresa Elliott IBVM 1997-2001
Sister Pauline Nicholson rsc 2002-2005
Sister Rosalinda Legisan fdz 2005-2007
Sister Matilde Chia fdz 2005-2007

Mona Vale Parish History

Mona Vale began as the Pittwater Mass Centre for Manly Parish in the 1880s. The original Church, in Golf Avenue, was a very small wooden building, built in 1889. It was demolished at some time between 1936 and 1940 and was replaced in 1940 by a brick building which was a Mass centre. The local Parish was by this time Dee Why. The Church was blessed and the foundation stone laid on 21st July by the Reverend P. Doherty, Parish Priest.


Photo by Pat Horton (Bayview) of a sketch by Armine Cecil Morris

In the period after World War 11, there was a great deal of housing development along the peninsula and that was accompanied by the development of more Parishes. Narrabeen was established in 1946 (including Mona Vale and Avalon areas), Avalon was separated in 1959 and on March 1st 1960 Father John Keenan was appointed as the first Parish Priest of Sacred Heart Mona Vale.

Sacred Heart Parish

The parishioners of the new Parish of the Sacred Heart, Mona Vale, continued to worship in the church in Golf Avenue. The presbytery was in a small house in Harkeith Street, on the other side of Barrenjoey Road.


The second Church - Golf Avenue

The Church at Golf Avenue was damaged by fire in 1978 and while the damage was being repaired, the School in Keenan Street was used as a Mass Centre.

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Fr Keenan as a young Priest. He was the first Parish Priest of Sacred Heart, Mona Vale. In later life with "his" street

Three houses in Bishop Street Newport were bought and number 10 converted for use as a Mass Centre, with the intention of building a permanent church at a later date. It was named "St Robert Southwell" and appeared under this title on road maps, but the name was not in common use amongst parishioners.


10 Bishop Street, originally the Newport Mass Centre

In the early 1980s, Fr de Luca was appointed as administrator to assist Fr Keenan who was aging. At this time, the Parish Housekeeper, Mrs Patricia Regan, lived in the house next door to the Newport Mass Centre, and Fr de Luca lived behind in a converted garage. Mrs Regan cared for the Mass Centre at Newport and the Rectory at Mona Vale.

A new Presbytery, built on the Keenan Street site, was blessed in July 1983. During 1984, Fr Keenan's increasing ill-health led to his resignation as Parish Priest though he stayed on in the Presbytery as Parish Priest Emeritus. Fr Alex Scibberas was administrator briefly before Fr Carol Grew was appointed as Mona Vale's second Parish Priest. On December 30th 1984, Father Keenan died in the Presbytery just as he was preparing to say the morning Mass on the Feast of the Holy Family. Father Keenan was a much loved priest, this was one of his favourite feast days.

During the next few years, under Fr Grew's leadership, a new Church and Parish Centre was built at Keenan Street, Mona Vale. This development consolidated the Parish buildings which had been spread out in Mona Vale and Newport. In particular, the walk from the School in Keenan St to the Church in Golf Avenue had become difficult and dangerous. The Police were notified when the school children were going to the Church, so that they could help man the busy crossings to make the journey safer.

The new Church was initiated in 1987 when the Architects Glendenning and King met with the Parish Priest and Building committee to start planning for a Church which would be harmonious with the existing presbytery and Parish Centre and would protect the existing school playground area. The instructions were to create a harmonious space to seat about 400 people, with glass walls and light structural frame. It was important to the planners that the internal design of the Chruch would enable the Priest and the people to "co-celebrate the Eucharist as a close community".

The new Church of the Sacred Heart was blessed in 1991.

The old Sacred Heart Church was sold and demolished. A plaque on the corner of Golf Avenue and Barrenjoey Road reads: "Historical site of the first Church in Mona Vale 1889-1991. The houses and land at Newport were also sold.

During the 1970s and 1980s there was a variety of Assistant Priests, including Father Julian Porteus (who later became a Bishop), Father Brian Moloney, who went to the Parish straight after his ordination in August 1983, and stayed for four years; and several men who came as Deacons before ordination, and came back to serve the Parish as priests, including Father David Taylor, Fr Carl Stafford and Fr Vince Pedemont.

monavale (1)  mona_centre

Church on left with distinctive Cross in the courtyard. The Parish Centre joins Church to Presbytery

The Parish School, Sacred Heart, staffed by the Good Samaritan Sisters, opened on 4 February 1965 in Keenan Street Mona Vale. There were 36 students in the first class. It grew quickly and was further extended several times in the next few years. In the Silver Jubilee History published in 1990 the children frequently mention the Church being built at the end of the playground.


The Sanctuary- bathed in natural light

Parish Priests

Rev J T Keenan 1960-1984
Rev J de Luca 1981-1984 First Assistant priest then Administrator
Rev Carol Grew 1984- 1997
Rev Harry Kennedy 1997- 2003
Rev Rex Curry 2003-2007 (from July 2007 as PP of Pittwater Parish)

Assistant Priests and Deacons
Fr D Rooney 1972-
Fr Julian Porteus ?
Fr Brian Moloney 1983-1987
Fr Chris McAleer 1988-1989
Fr T Smith 1990
Fr David Taylor 1992 (deacon 1991)
Fr Carl Stafford 1995 (deacon 93-94)
Fr Vince Pedemont 1996
Fr John Robson 2003
Fr Anthony Robbie ?
Fr Bob Crawford ?

Pastoral Assistants
Sister Helen Ryan OP 1993-2003
Sister Rosalinda Legisan fdz 2005-2007
Sister Matilde Chia fdz 2005-2007

Thanks to Fr Carol Grew; Fr Brian Moloney; Mrs Maureen Wooldridge (also the author of the 25th Anniversary History of Sacred Heart School, Mona Vale) and Mrs Mary Kitchen for providing information about Mona Vale Parish. Any errors are those of the author.