Parish History

Extracts have been taken from a previous quality parish publication entitled
“Along the Way, St Paul's Catholic Church Camden 1859-1987"

The second of four Bishops in the Diocese of Wollongong, the Most Reverend William Edward Murray, wrote in 1987 upon the opening of the new church:

“The parish of Camden has had a long and colourful history. It was established in 1859 when the great Archbishop Polding was still in office as Archbishop of Sydney and the indomitable pioneer priest of the Australian Church, Father John Joseph Therry, who had certainly proclaimed the Word of God in the Camden area, was approaching the end of his days as Parish Priest of Balmain. Early Church records show that by the year 1873 Camden, still a tiny parish judged by present-day standards, could lay claim to a Catholic population of only 192 souls".

Before its foundation as a parish, the faith had been practised in the area for some decades earlier with the first Mass celebrated by Fr Therry in the 1820s. During these early years, priests from Campbelltown would visit the Camden township to celebrate the sacraments.

In 1845 a church had been built but was soon outgrown. So steps were taken to build a larger church which was commissioned in 1859 and completed later in the year, just nine months after its foundation stone was laid. The church was described as being of a simple gothic style but very nicely proportioned. With the opening of the church, Camden became a separate parish and included The Oaks, Oakdale and Burragorang.

In the first half of the twentieth century, the parish retained it country charm and remained committed to the Catholic education of children with the invaluable presence of the Sisters of St Joseph. The Sisters actually arrived in 1883, and would end up having a teaching apostolate in the parish for just over 100 years.

In the late 1950s the church at Burragorang was closed. The construction of Warragamba Dam resulted in the banking-up of waters and the church was eventually submerged. As a result, a church at Oakdale was established in 1963 although Mass had been celebrated in Oakdale community hall since 1956.

In the northern region of the parish, a church at Leppington was established in 1962 and, to this day, still accommodates quite a few market gardeners. There are now Government proposals for the area to be heavily urbanised over the next 20 years and beyond as part of the South West Sydney Growth Area. A railway line is under construction, branching off from Glenfield through Edmondson Park and on to Leppington. Because of the generosity of the Tomasovich family, the church has an ideally-positioned parcel of land that will be used for a larger church and school as the need arises.

In 1983, the Masonic Club at Smeaton Grange near Narellan Vale was purchased and converted into a Mass centre, though its use was often more varied. The Narellan area was growing and the urbanisation of Mount Annan was projected. Indeed, a very substantial part of the land between Camden and Campbelltown was to be devoted to housing development and the church required land for its own needs.

Following its acquisition, and just 12 month's later, the old bar area in the club was removed, and the whole of the area refurbished as a sanctuary. Timber panelling and carpet were used to help the building feel more like a chapel.

This investment of over 30 years ago served the local community extremely well with 9:30am Sunday morning Mass up until 14 June 2009 - the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. Initiatives had been taken as far back as 2005 to subdivide the property and to sell it. The site is now on the market for sale. A new and much more contemporary church at Narellan Vale is planned as soon as possible.

Over the past 30 years, Camden has been growing steadily. Indeed, in the early 1980's it had become apparent that the church built in 1859 was no longer able to meet the extra demands. A new church was planned and then built to hold about 600 people. This beautiful church was opened by Bishop Murray in 1987 when the Catholic population in the parish was about 6,000 people.

With the explosion of housing in Narellan Vale, Currans Hill and Mount Annan, land was purchased in the early 1990s at Narellan Vale. A school was built in 1995 and by 2009 had peaked at a maximum of about 630 students. There is already a presbytery on this site, and construction on a new church is expected to begin as soon as finances permit.

Meanwhile at Camden, the rebuilding of the school is now complete. The modern facilities continue to accommodate the education of over 600 children. The three parish primary schools [St Paul's at Camden; St Clare's at Narellan Vale; and St Justin's at Oran Park] now, collectively, educate some 2,000 children a year.

The adjacent house, formerly 20 Mitchell Street, was used by the Sisters of St Joseph as a convent. From 2003 to 2006, Father Whitty became the new resident when he moved to “lighter duties". The house was demolished to make way for one of the new school buildings. However, a driveway up the left side was preserved and has since been referred to as “Father Whitty's Old Driveway".

For the overwhelming majority of these children in our parish primary schools, their secondary education will take place at Magdalene Catholic High School. This systemic high school, which has been built upon land purchased from the Patrician Brothers in the mid 1990s, is now barely ten years old. Magdalene Catholic High School keeps alive and enriches a wonderfully long tradition of education, first under the auspices of the Patrician Brothers and now under the Catholic Education Office of the Diocese of Wollongong. Local clergy have regular and valued presence in the school. Because of growing demand for Catholic secondary education, a new school will be opening in 2011, known as St Benedict's.

Camden parish - which began as an isolated rural outpost - is now the fourth largest in Australia. In the 2011 Commonwealth Census, it remains the largest parish in New South Wales. The mother church is St Paul's, and the two parochial districts are St Clare's Narellan Vale and St Mary's Leppington.

Magdalene: The old Brother's house has been beautifully restored to serve the school's administration offices as well as provide an office for the Principal. The financing of this project was most generously supported by Campbelltown Catholic Club. The restoration project included a wonderful selection of heritage colours which now preserve and promote the historic charm of the building.

In 2007 and 2008, there were almost 300 baptisms in the parish each year, and this is expected to steadily edge upwards in the longer term. Demand for kindergarten places already exceeds supply.

Indeed, in early 2009, after searching for about five years, three adjoining properties were purchased on Cobbitty Road [now Oran Park Drive] towards Camden Valley Way.

These properties will provide options for a parish site in years to come. Already, though, the site has been designated as St Justin's parochial district, and the construction of school facilities is planned in 2012 so that a new school will be operating on the site in 2013. 

In terms of assisting the children's spiritual formation, parish-based and school-assisted sacramental programmes are administered for Penance, Holy Communion and Confirmation with over 200 children in each. For the First Holy Communion programme in 2013, almost 250 children are expected to be enrolled and to then be organised into 28 groups for workshops.

In the 2001 Commonwealth census, the Camden Local Government Area reported 14,669 Catholics. Five years later, in 2006 this number had climbed to more than 17,234, an increase of over 17% and way above the population increase of 13%. By the 2011 Census, the Catholic population has risen to 21,427 - a 24% increase. The total civic population of the parish is now 60,763; the percentage that is Catholic is 35.3 - well above the national average of 25.3%.

The near-bye area of Oran Park, about six kilometres away, will be devoted to residential development from 2010 with the construction of around 10,000 houses. Concurrently, development - with the construction of about 4,000 houses - will also take place in Turner Road, a precinct based on land acquired from St Gregory's College, and consequently known as Gregory Hills.

Oran Park is an iconic name in NSW because of the old Oran Park Raceway. It was the venue for many a great car contest over the decades, including the clash of the mighty V8s. Big meetings would attract between 30,000 and 40,000 motor enthusiasts. The last meeting was in December 2008.

Other areas of the parish like Bridgewater, Mount Annan, Elderslie, Harrington Park and Harrington Grove, are also experiencing further residential development on a significant scale. Camden is a very big parish and getting bigger. The Bishop of Wollongong, the Most Reverend Peter Ingham, has continually pledged his pastoral and financial commitment to this region of the diocese. Besides the large parcel of land recently purchased on Cobbitty Road, land has already been purchased at Bringelly and the church has a valuable site at Leppington.

Through its own parish of Camden, the Diocese of Wollongong boarders the Archdiocese of Sydney to the north and the Diocese of Parramatta to the north-west. In terms of civil state-wide planning, all three dioceses incorporate the south-western growth region of Sydney, though this growth is most heavily concentrated in the parish of Camden.

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