The original intention was to build a church on Alison Road in Wyong close to the Old Court House. In the late 1800’s the church owned a piece of land in Margaret Street behind the present post office. It adjoined the then Presbyterian Church which was opposite where Hargraves Street meets Margaret Street. In 1904 Albert Hamlyn Warner, a developer, purchased a large parcel of Land in Byron Street and he generously donated the same to both the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church. In 1909 the land in Margaret Street was sold for £35 to help pay for the building of St. Cecilia’s Church in Byron Street.
The foundation stone at the entrance to the church says it was laid by Cardinal Moran on 6 October 1907. It was laid on that date but not by Cardinal Moran as he was too ill to travel from Sydney to Wyong. Instead it was laid by his Vicar General, Monsignor Carroll. The Cardinal was present for the opening of the church the following year when the building was completed and opened for worship on 26th April 1908.
The church was named in memory of Cecilia Ann Woodbury who was a young woman, highly respected in the town. She raised much of the money necessary for the building of the church but died at the young age of 33, on 27 April 1905.
Albert Warner the man who donated the land for the Church was a man far ahead of his time in his wish to see churches come together. There has always been a fine spirit of co-operation between the churches. When Cardinal Moran opened St. Cecilia’s Church in 1908 he referred to this and noted “would that it were so in other parts of the world“. He was probably thinking of his own country of Ireland.
The original church was 40 ft long, 22ft wide, and accommodated 200 people. In addition, there was a sacristy and a porch. Cost of the church was about £420. Since the church was built there have been various additions. In 1926 the church was extended at the front, while the back was extended nearly a quarter century later in 1953/54. A pergola was built at the side in 1997 as part of the 90th-anniversary celebrations, and the piety stall was relocated to the rear of the church.
The first marriage took place in this church in 1909. Wyong is the fifth oldest parish in the diocese. In 1914 the Northern Section of Gosford Parish was divided and Wyong Parish was created. The present boundaries are from Palmdale in the South and across to Tumbi Umbi, and North to Wyongah and west to Yarramalong Valley.
Some Historical Notes on Wyong Parish
In 1852 Father William Odilo Woolfrey arrived in the MacDonald River area and was in charge of what is now the Central Coast. His older brother, Father Henry Norbert Woolfrey, arrived later the same year and was based at Kincumber. Both were Cistercian monks and their hope was to establish a monastery at Kincumber. The Woolfrey brothers, as they were known, travelled on horseback throughout the region and visited the various settlements where they offered Mass and administered the Sacraments.
They acquired over 100 acres of land for future Church needs. One block was at Yarramalong, known as Priests Farm, with the intention of establishing an orphanage for boys. This did not eventuate. Father Norbert was a popular priest; he had a reputation as a healer and formed many friendships.
Father William Odilo died in 1856. Father Norbert stayed in the region until 1861 when he moved to Carcoar. In 1865 he was transferred to the newly formed mission of Waverley, covering Watson’s Bay to Botany Bay. Ill health forced him to retire in 1870. He died in 1872. The dream of building a Cistercian Monastery was not realised.
In 1866 Mathew James Woodbury built “Woodbury’s Inn” where the Old Maitland Road meets Yarramalong Road. It is said that the first Mass in Wyong was offered on this site. (In 1865 Father Norbert Woolfrey had received all 14 members of the Woodbury family into the Catholic Church where they lived at Spencer.) Woodbury’s Inn was a Mass Centre for about 30 years until Wyong township began to develop and the School of Arts became a location for a number of churches to have their services.
The Missing Chalice
On behalf of Mrs. Woodbury, Father Power presented Cardinal Moran with a Chalice on the occasion of the blessing and opening of St. Cecilia’s Church on 26 April 1908. The Chalice was then 221 years old and had been in use in the district for over 50 years. This Chalice, according to Stinson, is said to be engraved with the words “Butler caused me to be made”. Possibly it was brought to Australia by the Woolfrey brothers and was left in a Mass kit with the Woodbury family. Efforts to locate the Chalice have been unsuccessful.
A Church on the Hill
‘A hundred years with God’, the letters boast,
A journey of faith on the Central Coast,
Through love and labour and good will,
By the Grace of God –
Stands a church on the hill.
A century ago, through rugged bushland,
Rode Fathers Woolfrey to Wyong’s small band
Of faithful pioneers at Woodbury’s Inn,
Anxious for the Sacraments to begin.
A century ago, a Good Samaritan
Donated land, so it has been written,
For two churches to stand side by side,
An ecumenical vision: a future guide.
A century ago,fund raising began,
The Breakwells and O’Connors socials ran,
Helped by Cecilia, Woodbury’s daughter,
And a church was built of bricks and mortar.
A century ago, in 1908
St Cecilia’s was Blessed on a fateful date,
And in 2008 is with us still.
By the Grace of God –
Stands a church on the hill.
Elizabeth McVie © 2008
Download: Wyong Centenary Booklet (PDF 33.2MB)