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A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF THE PARISH HISTORY

Updated: Sep 6, 2021





With the arrival of noticeable numbers of Syrian migrants to Australia (as individuals from modern-day Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Jordan were called) there became the need to establish an eastern place of worship in the inner-city Sydney suburb of Waterloo. With most arrivals settling in the neighbourhoods of Redfern, Waterloo and Surry Hills, this area became the commercial and cultural centre for Levantine Arabs in Australia. Lobbying by ‘Syrian spokesman’ Joseph Tanous Malouf meant that, in 1889, Patriarch Gregory II Youssef selected a colourful and zealous priest from Ras Ba’albek in Lebanon - a Basilian Chouerite priest called Sylvanus Mansour, who had come to Australia to visit his parents. He remained in Sydney with the approval of his Superior and the ecclesiastical authorities of the time. After travelling to rural areas to accumulate donations, construction began on the first non-Anglo-Celtic Church on the continent – St. Michael’s Melkite Catholic Church. The foundation stone was laid in 1891 and, while construction works were underway, Divine Liturgy was celebrated in a repurposed brick terrace, blessed by Cardinal Moran, at 139 Elizabeth Street in Redfern. The building was able to accommodate around 60 worshippers, celebrated the Liturgy at 6.30am every morning and hosted an Arabic language school.


The original St. Michael’s Melkite Church, on the corner of Elizabeth and Wellington Streets, was designed in an English Gothic Style, designed by C.J. Drew on what was then referred to as the ‘Waterloo Estate’. The Melkites paid £235 for the land, which was in a prime location in the area and in close proximity to Our Lady of Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Church. St. Michael’s was initially designed to accommodate 200 worshippers and cost £1210 (approximately $185,500 today) to construct. The edifice was a brick construction with stone facings and a slate roof, with the Church elevated from street level and accessible by a long staircase which ran underneath the presbytery. Mr. Joseph G. Malouf was the most prominent contributor, donating to the construction fund and later, a bell (currently above the Melkite Heritage Display and rung before each Sunday Liturgy) and various interior finishes, including a stained glass window of St. Francis of Assisi (on the left-hand side of the main entrance). St. Michael’s at 66 Wellington Street became the primary meeting place for the faithful from the Middle East, from various rites and religions. The Church had already acquired an informal ecumenical status on its inaugural mass, as eastern Christians of all rites worshipped there, including Maronites, Antiochian and Armenian Orthodox and Copts. The church helped ‘usher’ many Syrians into Australian economic life by finding work and housing for new arrivals, and most importantly, provided a haven for them to practice and sustain familiar religious practices in their new land. As the community flourished in Waterloo, the affectionately-named ‘old’ St. Michael's Church became too small at only 20m by 9m and very out-dated. Despite Archimandrite Aftimos Haddad’s hard work alongside the Melkite Trustees to renovate the premises, it still proved to be impractical because of a lack of appropriate facilities. A change became urgent.


In the early 70's, Archimandrite Haddad delegated the Trustees' Chairman, Mr. Charles Scarf, to negotiate an offer with the Housing Commission of N.S.W. who was interested in the Waterloo site for upcoming developments. It was sold for the value of $150,000. At the same time, a search begun for an appropriate place of worship close-by to move to. The Roman Catholic St. Kieran’s Church in Darlington was proposed. By the late 1970s, Mass went unattended at St. Kieran’s and there was discussion regarding the demolition of the church for redevelopment. In 1977, after several administrative steps and approval of Sydney City Council, plans were drawn that allowed the preservation of the historical walls and assets of the old building while transforming it into a modern Melkite Church. St. Kieran's was partially demolished, leaving only the southern section standing. Many of the original fittings and items from Waterloo, including the 1925 Italian marble iconostasis, original iconography, religious texts and 1902 hand-carved baptismal font, were moved to the new premises and re-installed. The Church was designated Cathedral in 1987 when the Melkite Eparchy of Australia and New Zealand was formed.


Directly adjoining the Cathedral is the Parish Hall. The space is mainly used after Liturgies as an important gathering place for Sunday parishioners. Community and charity events, including the Seniors’ and Friends Group, Youth Group and St. Michael’s Meals (SMM) utilise the Hall as an area to prepare meals in the kitchen and also gather to enjoy community feasts and experiences. St. Michael’s Meals commenced in 2016 with the arrival of Fr. Gerges Al Butros from New Zealand (Dean of the Cathedral and Chaplain of St. Michael’s Meals). SMM is a core group of volunteers that is steadily growing at over 80 members who go to Martin Place, Central Station, Darlinghurst and other inner-city areas to serve home-cooked meals. Currently, over 160 people experiencing food insecurity are provided with hot meals, toiletries and special hampers every Wednesday, with support also offered to struggling families in our community.




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