I love opinionated non-PC people. This blog is to vent my opinions on life, the universe and everything. Which is 42 which in gematria is "My Heart" (LBY) according to Rabbi Abulafia. The Divine Heart is the centre of everything.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Australia's First Chapel of Perpetual Adoration


The Catholics of early colonial Australia were without priests during the early days of its history. In 1800 a convict priest Father James Dixon and the convict William Davis arrived in New South Wales and lay Carmelites James Dempsey and John Butler arrived as convicts in 1802. These four men were to play an important part along with Father Jeremiah O'Flynn in founding the Catholic Church in Australia on lay-led Perpetual Adoration.

From 1803-1804 Father Dixon was permitted to publicly act as a Catholic priest by the Governor and after the Irish revolt at Castle Hill he continued his priestly life in secrecy in the Colony until 1809. It seemed that Father Dixon with these lay Carmelites organised secret small groups of men as unions of prayer and established a small prayer chapel of Perpetual Adoration in James Dempsey's House in Kent St. For the next eight years there were to be no priests or masses in Australia but this small group of laymen kept alive the Eucharistic Faith and Devotion in the Colony and provided a focus for the persecuted Irish Catholics. When Father Jeremiah O'Flynn arrived in late 1817 he encouraged this model and established other chapels of Perpetual Adoration in homes throughout the colony including the home of William Davis a wealthy and leading Catholic.

Columbus Fitzpatrick (who was an altar server for Father O'Flynn at the Kent Street chapel) writing in the Goulburn "Argus" says: "...the real Catholics still continued to meet at Mr Dempsey’s until the arrival of Father Connolly and Father Therry; in fact, it was no ” unusual thing to see Catholics from the most distant part of the colony assembled there. After the Departure of Fr O’Flynn the Catholics formed themselves into committees —so that there was a union in prayer and an intercourse of intelligence amongst all classes of Catholics in the country, all emanating from, and culminating to the great centre in Kent St. In those days when there was no railroad, no coaches and very few horses, it was not counted a wonder to see a man walk, from Campbelltown to Sydney, or from Windsor to Sydney, on purpose to hear from some of the late arrivals, something about the home (Ireland) they loved so dearly. To these men Mr Dempsey’s house was more than St Mary’s was to us”..."

One oral account told to me by an American priest who heard it from a Passionist priest many years ago states that the Eucharistic host left with James Dempsey by Father Dixon remained intact and fresh until the arrival many years later of the visiting French priest in late 1819. Father Jeremiah O'Flynn left the colony in 1818 after his arrest leaving behind the chapels of Adoration manned by the lay Catholics of New South Wales. This account stated that the Eucharistic host remained fresh and intact for 11 years and thus it would seem that the miraculous host was not consumed by Father O'Flynn but remained in its place of honour at the Kent St Chapel. In late 1819 a French priest visited the colony and said Masses and brought this Irish practice to an end in the name of Canon Law and consumed the miraculous host. Once again legalism triumphed over the principle of the good of the salvation of souls. The Irish Catholics were used to lay involvement with moving the Eucharist and Adoration due to the British Penal Laws that suppressed the Catholic religion in Ireland and led to the 1798 rebellion that sent them to Australia as convicts.

In 2008 Pope Benedict spoke favourably of these early settlers and Father Jeremiah O'Flynn in his homily at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney. "In this noble cathedral I rejoice to greet my brother Bishops and priests, and the deacons, religious and laity of the Archdiocese of Sydney. In a very special way, my greeting goes to the seminarians and young religious who are present among us. Like the young Israelites in today’s first reading, they are a sign of hope and renewal for God’s people; and, like those young Israelites, they will have the task of building up the Lord’s house in the coming generation. As we admire this magnificent edifice, how can we not think of all those ranks of priests, religious and faithful laity who, each in his or her own way, contributed to the building up of the Church in Australia? Our thoughts turn in particular to those settler families to whom Father Jeremiah O’Flynn entrusted the Blessed Sacrament at his departure, a "small flock" which cherished and preserved that precious treasure, passing it on to the succeeding generations who raised this great tabernacle to the glory of God. Let us rejoice in their fidelity and perseverance, and dedicate ourselves to carrying on their labours for the spread of the Gospel, the conversion of hearts and the growth of the Church in holiness, unity and charity!..."

One of Father O'Flynn's first acts in Australia was the baptism of an adult Jew into the Catholic Faith. Was this Australia's first Hebrew Catholic? Dr Joe Morley writes: "When the ship arrived at Hobart at the end of October 1817, Lieutenant Governor Sorrell received him cordially and had him to dinner each night. He asked him to celebrate Mass publicly and was pleased to have him marry eight Catholic couples and baptise 15 children and a Jew." It is also interesting that one of the first fleet Jewish convicts Esther Abrahams married George Johnston who was the soldier responsible for crushing the Castle Hill revolt.

It would seem that Father O'Flynn upset the Protestant authorities at his success in converting Protestants to the Catholic Faith. The Anglican authorites wanted an obedient Catholic priest who pacified the Irish Catholics not an evangelising missionary that was successful in converting Protestants to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Joe Morley continues in his article in the Catholic Weekly :"...Upon arrival in Sydney, O’Flynn visited Governor Macquarie and sought permission to conduct his mission. A little more than six months later (May 18, 1818), Macquarie wrote to Earl Bathurst and told him that “Mr Jeremiah O’Flynn priest’’ had shown himself to have been a meddling bigot who had even failed to produce credentials to affirm that he was what he claimed to be, “the Irish Roman Catholic Priest ... representing in this country to be those of a Popish Catholic Missionary under Your Lordship’s sanction”. Macquarie said the several ships that had arrived since O’Flynn came to Sydney had not carried the credentials O’Flynn told him he had believed would actually have preceded his arrival. Governor Macquarie also accused O’Flynn of having broken a pledge that he would not “exercise any of the priestly functions’’. Worse, said Macquarie, he was actually “making converts among English Protestants’’ and had not returned to England, which Macquarie had ordered him to do..."

This wonderful priest from near Tralee in county Kerry was a thorn in the sides to all those who represented institutionalism in Church or State and he had managed to have himself excommunicated and his faculties removed by his Church superiors but ignored these men and continued his priestly mission to save souls. The Pope later vindicated and removed any excommunications or penalties and made him the Prefect Apostolic to New South Wales. It would seem that St. Mother Mary Mckillop followed in his footsteps.

Joe Morley writes: "...Born on Christmas day 1788 near Tralee in County Kerry, O’Flynn went to England in 1810 and joined the Trappist monastery there. Following a hurried final training, O’Flynn was ordained as a deacon by Bishop Poynter, the Vicar Apostolic of London, on March 29, 1813. Bishop Poynter wrote a glowing tribute to him and praised his qualifications. In April, Fr O’Flynn left England with six French Trappist refugees and another Irish Trappist for Canada via the West Indies. On the voyage O’Flynn clashed violently with the Trappist Lord Abbot, who excommunicated him. O’Flynn ignored the suspension and continued with the mission.

The Trappists established a mission in Martinique in the West Indies instead of Canada. The British Governor expelled the French monks for refusing to pray for King George III, but O’Flynn stayed on until 1814, when he moved to the island of Saint Croix.

Father O’Flynn had had two turbulent years in Saint Croix and in April 1816, his archbishop refused to renew the faculties and sent charges to Rome accusing him of intrusion and incompetence. The archbishop also added that O’Flynn had been suspended by his Lord Abbot but had continued to minister.

So Father O’Flynn went to Rome and requested that Pope Pius VII have his case heard and “any censure, excommunication, suspension and irregularity whatsoever be removed and he be appointed Prefect or Missionary to Botany Bay in New South Wales’’. Propaganda Fide heard the case and Pius VII concurred with the request, but the case was delayed and a commission was appointed to find out more about Father O’Flynn. On September 1, 1816, O’Flynn himself wrote seeking Pius VII’s approval for him to go to New Holland (NSW). And when, on September 9, the commission reported favourably on him, Propaganda issued Letters Patent the same day confirming his appointment as Prefect Apostolic of the Mission of “Botanibe”. ..."


The Archdiocese of Sydney has this in an article on its website: "...Before his reluctant departure from the little colony, Father O'Flynn had been enabled to make a wonderful provision for the religious devotional life of the flock he was leaving behind. What he left as he boarded the ship was no less than the Blessed Eucharist itself. Some say that Father O'Flynn had been interrupted as he said Mass and was unable to consume the Sacred Host, others, that he left it deliberately for the consolation of the people. Whatever the case may be, the Blessed Sacrament consecrated by Father O'Flynn became the focus of Catholic life and devotion for nearly two years until, it appears, a visiting French priest finally arrived in Sydney, said Mass and consumed the Sacred particle.

In the meantime, the Catholics of Sydney, harried and oppressed, troubled by so many afflictions of their difficult and lonely life, found in the Blessed Eucharist the consoling presence of Christ Himself. A prominent Catholic of the colony, William Davis, whose house stood at the corner of Harrington street and Grosvenor St enjoyed the dignity of welcoming his Lord into his own home there and as the months passed constant prayer was maintained before the little tabernacle of simple cedar containing the pyx which held the Lord. On Sundays large crowds gathered and the people prayed before the Blessed Sacrament with intense devotion. In those times when it was not possible to have a priest, it was standard practice for Catholics to meet and sanctify the Sunday with the rosary, a few other devotions and of course, someone would read out the Mass prayers. The little congregation at William Davis' cottage had a special intention which was the object of their constant prayers during those years. They prayed to God to send them a priest. By now there were ten thousand Catholics in the Colony, and they had no one to confess their sins to, no-one to bless their marriages, nor offer Mass, perform the last rites or supply all those other minisrations for which the people needed a priest..."


Another website article states: "...Though Gladesville was not settled when Fr O'Flynn was in Sydney, it has a strong connection with that early history of the colony. The story is as follows: In the Blessed Sacrament Chapel of our church there is a small wooden cross which is a precious link with the early Catholic history of Sydney. In May 1818 Fr Jeremiah O'Flynn was deported under arrest from the colony. The Blessed Eucharist was left in the home of James Dempsey in Kent St. Reserved in a cedar cupboard it became a focus of Catholic worship where the faithful gathered for Sunday devotions until November 1819 when it was consumed by the chaplain of a visiting French ship. From the wood of the cedar cupboard, which was carefully preserved by the Dempsey family, Charles Cavanagh, at the request of the authorities, carved the frontal of the altar in the first chapel of St Patrick's College, Manly, the seminary built by Archbishop Moran in 1888. Charles, a devout man and considering the material a kind of sacred relic, retained some of the wood left over and even the shavings. From the wood he made three crosses which he passed on to his own family. Anna Cavanagh, his daughter and a parishioner of Gladesville, gave them to Fr Byron, the Parish Priest. He in turn gave one (together with the shavings) to the Catholic Museum at St Mary's Cathedral, kept one in the presbytery and placed the third in the Blessed Sacrament chapel where it serves as a fitting memento of the eucharistic faith of the first Australian Catholic pioneers.(Historical Note: There is some dispute as to whether Fr O'Flynn left the Blessed Sacrament in the Dempsey home or that of Davis, as stated in our main historical section. Some historians compromise saying that it was transferred between the two. Certainly the evidence for the Dempsey house, including that embodied in the above, is very strong.).."

The Davis House late in 1840 became the Church of St Patrick's Castle Hill and in 1928 a programme of Perpetual Adoration was opened there by Cardinal Cerretti and Archbishop Hanna of San Francisco according to an article in the 1928 "Sydney Herald". On a the webiste for St Patrick's Church they discuss the story of Father Jeremiah O'Flynn. "... Since there were no Catholic churches in Sydney, he used private homes for the celebration of Masses; two such venues were Davis’ cottage near the corner of Grosvenor Street and Harrington Street, and the home of James Dempsey, another Irish convict from the 1798 troubles, who lived nearby in Kent Street....Among historians there is some dispute as to whether O’Flynn left the sacrament at Dempsey’s home or at Davis’ home. There is convincing evidence in support of both traditions, and perhaps the best explanation for the existence of two parallel traditions is that O’Flynn left the sacrament at both locations..."

Today Western Australia has four chapels of Perpetual Adoration in Perth, Brisbane has one and Melbourne has one. Sadly New South Wales has not one chapel of Perpetual Adoration. A number of chapels in Australia in recent years have been closed down or ceased to be Perpetual mainly due to clerical indifference or hostility. All over the world Cardinals, Bishops and priests have attacked and hindered or destroyed many chapels of Perpetual Adoration and those who promote them. Other Cardinals, Bishops and priests who have supported the chapels and the promoters have themselves been attacked. These good and faithful clergy are demoted or slandered while the enemies of Perpetual Adoration take the highest seats in the Church. Often it is through the use of legalism and a feigned respect for the Eucharist that the enemies of Perpetual Adoration in the Church achieve their goal of destroying Perpetual Adoration as they did in Jerusalem in 2003. Father Jeremiah O'Flynn should be promoted as the perfect model of those who love our Eucharistic Lord and who put the priority of the salvation of souls ahead of all man-made rules and regulations that seek to stifle our Lord's mission in the Eucharist to evangelise all people. The New Evangelisation is Eucharistic Evangelisation and Canon 1752 states that the salvation of souls is the supreme law of the Church.

Also see The Dempsey Story