Memories of Saint Therese Parish, Denistone

My memories of Denistone parish begin after the building of our family home in Acacia St, Eastwood and moving in during the year of 1955. The parish had only existed since 1948 and consisted of a school/church building and a house for the Irish priest Fr. John O’Donovan.

I began walking to 8am Mass on Sunday’s to Blaxland Rd and my wife Eileen to 9:30am Mass. After getting to know us, Fr O’Donovan would appear at our door frequently for morning or afternoon tea. Other initial acquaintances were John & Christine Duffy who invited us to join their table at a Ball in West Ryde. Our children began school at the parish with the Sisters of Mercy & lay teachers.

For the fathers of the parish Saturday & Sunday were days of work. We were in teams who were obliged to change the seating in the school/church building for the different requirements every Saturday & back again every Sunday. I was in the team comprising Jim McCormick, Maurice Hartigan, Pearce Hannigan & myself (John Eppel). We all had children at the school.

They learned Irish dancing and we had to raise our voices loud for “Hail Glorious Saint Patrick.”

All that changed in the 1960’s when a design for a new church was invited. I was pleased that my long-time fellow wartime navigator & friend, Kevin Curtin, became the architect and builder for the project in November 1961. I had been meeting him on Anzac Days post war with the sole survivor of the crew of his twin brother Pat who had been shot down on the 23rdFebruary 1945.

In the new church Bref McGowan became well known for his announcement of the RSL Ode from the pulpit on Anzac Day.

John Duffy recruited me to take up the plate on the left downstairs after I had spent a time in the gallery and my wife joined the counting team with Hazel & Maurice Waterson. I was greeted with a smile each Sunday by an Italian lady and a Lebanese lady who used a Missal in Arabic. Also familiar here was a doctor from the Emergency Department of Ryde Hospital (who came to 8am Mass and communion in his hospital gown. He was needed one Sunday when an Indian priest in poor health (John Schnehadas) collapsed on the sanctuary and the congregation burst into a spontaneous rosary.

Fr Glenn Walsh was our priest at the funeral of my wife Eileen and he banned the display of family photos on the screen at the side of the altar which upset my daughters, but John Kenny arranged music which was appreciated. Fr Walsh disappeared from us immediately afterwards for a reason and destination which we have never learned.

Other notable events were the ordination of Fr Norvin, who had been a friendly assistant priest for us for several years (4 years) and his posting to Maroubra and the visit by Cardinal Pell for Confirmation which had been followed by afternoon tea with several of us in the Presbytery. He remarked that his curate driver had got lost on the way to Denistone and I quoted to him the RAF dictum, “A good navigator is never lost, he in only Temporarily Uncertain.”

After a heart attack in 2013 I was still able to drive but transferred to a front pew in the church to have communion brought to me. But a drastic fall in September 2017 resulted in surrendering my (driving) licence and confinement to my home with a wheelchair and now Fr Roberto brings communion to me there.

John Eppel, Airman navigator from World War II and parishioner of Denistone

Recollections of St Therese Parish Denistone

I have been associated with St Therese Parish Denistone since 1949. Masses were then celebrated in the original presbytery, then in an extension to the presbytery, later in a Church-School building and finally in the current Church. In the early years the parishioners were mainly young families many, though not all, occupying recently built houses on the north eastern side of Blaxland Road. The ethnic make-up was mainly Anglo-Celtic, however there were some of Italian and other European backgrounds. I recall only one family of Chinese background. That has changed considerably over 70 years and the parishioners now reflect the multi-cultural diversity that is modern Australia. This evolution has been reflected in the backgrounds of our parish priests: Irish, Australian born Anglo Celtic, Vietnamese, Indian, Nicaraguan.

Parishioners have always been very active and supportive of the parish. In the 1950s the church building was used as a school during the week with a small area near the sanctuary used for daily Mass. On Saturday mornings the classrooms and desks were converted to be used for Mass on Sundays. On Sunday afternoons these were transformed back for school use. Families were rostered each weekend to undertake this task. There are many other examples of parishioner involvement including supporting sick and elderly parishioners, ministering to those in Ryde Hospital and many nursing homes and providing religious instruction to Catholic students at Denistone East Public School.

A number of young men who had links to the parish became priests. These included Fr David Coffey, Fr Gerald Gleeson and Fr Arthur Givney. They also became involved in the education of priests. Fr Gleeson is currently the Vicar General of the Sydney Archdiocese. Others included Fr Matthew Solomon and Fr Francesco Mary Gavazzi. Family members of two Archbishops were parishioners: Cardinal Gilroy’s brother William and his family and Cardinal Clancy’s sister Iris.William Gilroy’s daughter Elizabeth became a nun in the Little Company of Mary. A number of parishioners held public office: I recall two Mayors of Ryde and a Federal Senator. Also, there was a former editor of the Catholic Weekly. The son of a NSW Deputy Premier attended the parish school and was confirmed at St Therese.

I sometimes recall a sermon given by the first Parish Priest, Fr O’Donovan, in which he quoted from Chesterton’s poem The House of Christmas.

To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

Fr O’Donovan also had an iconic representation of the Risen Lord placed so that it overlooked the sanctuary and congregation. This icon and quote remind me that we, the People of God in Denistone Parish, gather together as a community in the presence of God to pray, to celebrate the Eucharist, to praise and give thanks to God and have done so as individuals, family members and as a Parish community for 70 years. I pray that this will continue.

Geoff Hogan 1 October 2018