Wednesday, 18 January 2012 05:15




Graeme Mundine.

In the 1990s, indigenous Catholics from inner city suburbs such as Redfern, Waterloo, Alexandria and Newtown helped keep the community's two churches full.

St Vincent's, just up the road from The Block in Redfern, became synonymous with the indigenous outreach of Father Ted Kennedy, whose departure in 2002 marked the start of a period of conflict as the parish's vernacular style was unwound by his successors.

The Aboriginal Catholic Ministry was founded at St Mary's in Erskineville, before many of the area's indigenous Catholic families moved to Sydney's west.

''That was beautiful, wonderful. Packed church. Baptisms every second week. Communions. Confirmations - we had everything going,'' the ministry's La Perouse chief executive, Elsie Heiss, said.

After years of declining attendance, services aimed at drawing indigenous Catholics back to Mass are to start in the inner city from February 19. Erskineville's 1872 red-brick church - also known as Our Lady of Perpetual Succour - will conduct a monthly service including special liturgies, hymns and prayers written by Aboriginal people, and smoking or water ceremonies to serve as penitential rites.

The ministry's Alexandria chief executive, Graeme Mundine, said forums last year revealed a desire to hold more indigenous services beyond the long-standing monthly Mass at La Perouse's Church of Reconciliation, particularly in the inner city.

''It's an experiment in that sense, let's try it and see if it works and see if it grows. If it does grow, that's good, and then we'll move out somewhere else,'' he said.

Mr Mundine said there were 4300 indigenous Catholics across the archdiocese of Sydney, with about 80 around Erskineville and Waterloo.

Mrs Heiss said she would be happy to see people return to the Erskineville church, which would strengthen Sydney's indigenous ministry. ''We had the big gatherings [in the past], and if we get them together again it would be just wonderful,'' she said.

And after years of disputes, relations at Redfern's St Vincent's appear to be improving, too.

Long-term indigenous parishioner Ralph Townsend described the new Filipino-born parish priest, Father Melvin Llabanes, as ''a top bloke as a priest and a gentleman''.

''He's fair to us and we're fair to him, so there's no drama no more,'' he said.

Mr Townsend said although many of St Vincent's Aboriginal Catholics were lost when Father Kennedy died, about 10 still attended from time to time. ''But we want more working-class Aboriginal people that are Catholics,'' he said.

Leesha McKenny  from The Sydney Morning Herald 17/1/12


The parish of Erskineville is administered by The Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. The parish’s mission statement is: “AN INNER CITY CATHOLIC COMMUNITY WELCOMING ALL TO CELEBRATE WITH US”.

The parish team consists of:
• Father Barry Brundell, P.P
• Parish Pastoral Team comprising 6 parishioners, Parish Priest and School Principal.