5 May 2011
In June, St Bernard’s, Brooklyn, will celebrate both the centenary of the opening and blessing of its church, and the Golden Jubilee of the parish. Until 1904 the Catholics of Brooklyn, still a relatively new suburb, had to travel to St Mary of the Angels or St Joseph’s Buckle St, to attend Mass. On March 6, 1904, Mass was celebrated in Brooklyn for the first time in the home of the Healy family in Washington Avenue.
For 57 years, Marists from St Mary of the Angels provided priestly ministry in the area. A church site high on the hill between Ohiro Rd and Jefferson Street was subsequently obtained. On June 11, 1911, Archbishop Redwood opened and blessed the church then known as St Anthony’s.
From February 1935, the church building found a new use during the week as a school, St Anthony’s, staffed by the Sisters of Mercy.
In 1948, a school building was erected on a site in Taft Street. By this time, with Mornington more established, the original church was not so central to the local Catholic population. A further site had been acquired across the road from the new school. Rather than build a new church, however, Brooklyn Catholics resorted to recycling. The church was dismantled and transported on tram lines down the steep hillside to Ohiro Rd (see photo). Horse-drawn lorries took it to Taft Street. It was then rebuilt and extended, then opened and blessed by Archbishop O’Shea on October 16, 1949.
Earlier in the 1940s, a long-standing Brooklyn parishioner, Monica Healy, began another form of recycling. Walking the streets with an old pram, she collect unwanted objects which she sold at jumble sales to raise parish funds. Others joined her forming the Waste Product Society. Vast quantities of newspapers, bottles and clothing were collected and recycled. When the hall opened in 1958, the St Mary of the Angels parish priest described it as built ‘on rags and bottles’.
The baby-boom years saw St Anthony’s gain independence. The Marists formally handed over to the first parish priest, Fr Bernard Hehir, on March 6, 1961. In 1962, the parish was renamed St Bernard’s on the grounds that this would avoid confusion with Seatoun and Eastbourne parishes.
In February 2008, with the departure of Fr Michael Miers, the presbytery was in turn recycled as the lay pastoral leader’s office. At a time when recycling has come of age, St Bernard’s is well placed to start its second century.
Sources: Twenty Five Years St Bernard’s Parish Brooklyn; ‘St Anthony’s Waste Product Society Record’.
Dr Kathy Orr-Nimmo is lay pastoral leader at St Bernard’s, Brooklyn.