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Our proud history in
Migration from the Middle East to Australia began in the mid-19th century, from about 1860. Many of the emigrants came from Syria, modern day Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, and Jordan.
A large diaspora of the immigrants and their families were settling in the inner-city Sydney suburbs of Redfern, Waterloo, and Surry Hills. This area quickly established itself as the commercial and cultural centre for Levantine Arabs in Australia. Importantly, there was also a priority to establish an Eastern Catholic Rite Church.
In 1889, successful petitioning, led by Mr Joseph Tannous Malouf, resulted in Patriarch Gregory II Youssef appointing a young, capable, and eager Fr Sylwanus Mansour, a Basilian Chouerite priest, from Ras Baalbek, Lebanon to establish the first Eastern Catholic Rite Church in Sydney, Australia.
Fr Mansour, undertook a huge fund-raising mission, travelling throughout Sydney and regional NSW accumulating donations, so construction of the first Eastern Catholic Rite Church in Australia―St Michael’s Melkite Catholic Church (St Michael’s), 66 Wellington Street, Waterloo, Sydney―could begin.
While construction was underway, Divine Liturgy was celebrated in a repurposed brick terrace, blessed by Cardinal Moran, at 139 Elizabeth Street, Redfern. This temporary building accommodated approximately 60 worshippers, celebrated the Divine Liturgy at 6.30am every day and hosted an Arabic language school.
St Michael’s foundation stone was laid in 1891. The Church was designed in an English Gothic style, by architect, CJ Drew on what was then referred to as the ‘Waterloo Estate’. The Melkites paid £235 for the land, which was in a prime location and near Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Roman Catholic Church. St Michael’s at 20metres x 9metres could accommodate 200 worshippers and cost £1,210 (approximately $185,500 today) to construct. The Church was a brick construction with stone facings and a slate roof. It was elevated from street level and accessible by a long staircase which ran underneath the presbytery.
Messrs Joseph G Malouf, Joseph Tannous Malouf and Salim Bracks were the prominent contributors to the construction fund. Mr Joseph G Malouf further assisted with the Church bell and interior finishes, including a stained-glass window of St Francis of Assisi.
St Michael’s became the primary meeting place for the faithful from the Middle East, from different rites and religions. The Church had already acquired an informal and ecumenical status at its inaugural mass, as Eastern Christians of all rites worshipped there, including Maronites, Antiochian and Armenian Orthodox and Copts. St Michael’s assisted many in its community to find work and housing. But above all, St Michael’s provided a sanctuary for them to practice and sustain their Byzantine rites in their new country.
As the Melkite community continued to grow, by the 1960s, St Michael’s was too small and its facilities inadequate, to service our community. At this stage, Archimandrite Aftimos Haddad was the Parish Priest. Despite his efforts and the support of the Melkite Trustees to renovate the Church and its premises, it remained impractical because of a lack of essential facilities. A change became urgent.
In the early 1970s, Archimandrite Aftimos Haddad delegated the Trustees’ Chair, Mr Charles Scarf, to negotiate with the NSW Housing Commission to purchase the Church site. St Michael’s, Waterloo was sold to the NSW Government for $150,000.
Subsequently, the search began, in the area, for a new place to worship. The Roman Catholic Church, St Kieran’s, at 25 Golden Grove Street, Darlington was proposed. By the late 1970s, Mass went unattended at St Kieran’s and following several fires there was discussion regarding its demolition. In 1977, after Church administrative requirements were finalised and approval granted by the Sydney City Council, plans were drawn to ensure the preservation of St Kieran’s historical walls and other significant features while transforming it into a Melkite Catholic Church.
St Kieran’s was partially demolished, leaving only the southern section standing. Many of the original fittings and liturgical church wares from St Michael’s at Waterloo, were re-installed in St Michael’s Melkite Catholic Church, Darlington, including the 1925 Italian marble iconostasis, original iconography, liturgical texts and a 1902 hand-carved baptismal font.
St Michael’s Melkite Catholic Church, Darlington was designated a Cathedral in 1987―St Michael the Archangel Cathedral―when the Melkite Eparchy of Australia and New Zealand was formed.
In 1996, the Melkite Eparchial office was relocated from St Michael the Archangel Cathedral, Darlington, to the Melkite Catholic Community Centre in Greenacre, constructed by Bishop Issam Darwish. The Community Centre now includes, the: Eparchial office, Parish of St John the Beloved, Holy Saviour School, Melkite Charitable Foundation, Youth Centre, residences for the Bishop and Priests and a Child Care facility.
The Melkite Eparchy now has parishes in New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory, South Australia, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, and New Zealand.
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