St Nicholas of Myra Parish Penrith


Church History

Opening of the Penrith Church

The old St Nicholas of Myra church
The old St Nicholas of Myra church (1850s).
Extract from the “Freeman’s Journal” 21 November 1850

On Wednesday 13 November, a newly erected Catholic Church of St Nicholas at Penrith, was opened for Devine Service by His Grace the Archbishop, assisted by the Rt Rev Bishop Coadjutor.

The beautiful ceremony of blessing the church was performed by the Bishop, attended by the Very Rev the Vicar-General, the venerable the Archdeacon, the Rev Dean of Sydney and several others of the Sydney and Rural clergy.

As we beheld the prelate in his full pontifical robes, with his retinue of Ecclesiastics chaunting the plaintive Miserer, as they made the circuit of the goodly edifice. our minds naturally reverted to the days when, even in this country, the solitary humble priest was obliged at the peril of life to seek caverns eries, and to minister to the wants of the few poor hungry sheep whom he had happily snatched from the jaws of the devouring wolf.

And when again we looked around on the crowd of witnesses to the solemn scene, many of whom we understand differed from us in religion, and observed the absence of any expression but that of respect, attention and earnest interest in the sacred function, we were still more forcibly reminded of those times when Catholicity was a byword, and the cross, which on this happy occasion was borne in triumph at the head of the solemn procession, would be but an object of profane scoff and insult.

When the Bishop had completed the ceremony of blessing the church the Archbishop assisted by the Very Rev Vicar-General and assistant Priest, and Rev Messrs O’Connell, and Sheridan and deacon and Sub deacon, proceeded to vest himself in his Pontificals for the celebration of High Mass.

Great indeed was our joy, proud were our feelings as we beheld our venerable and beloved Prelate, his crosier the emblem of his Patriarchal authority as well as of his paternal love for us his children in this land, clad in his splendid robes as becometh a Prince of God’s Church, standing with his accustomed dignity in the midst of his devoted clergy, before that altar upon which, for the first time, he as the representative of the one Great High Priest, was about to offer the adorable sacrifice. In addition to the Venerable Archdeacon, the Dean of Sydney the Rev. Messrs Sumner, Grant, Johnson and Keating, the zealous Pastor of Penrith, there were present several of the clergy and ecclesiastical students from the Episcopal Seminary, so that the Chancel of the Church, though sufficiently spacious for ordinary functions, was much crowded on this occasion.

The choir was composed of the singers of the Metropolitan Church and the Miserere was of the same sacred and devotional character as that which has so often delighted and edified us in St Mary’s Cathedral; though we certainly missed the swelling peals of the organ:- but we spoiled children enojoying each Sunday and festival the inspiring tones of the noble instrument in St Marys must not be too fastidious on visiting our less fortunate brethen in the country, though we may be allowed to express a hope that St Nicholas’s beautiful little church may ere long be able to boat of possessing an organ and choir, if not like those of the Cathedral, at least proportionate to its size and equally capable of exciting the piety of those who kneel before its altar. After the Gospel the Archbishop preached an eloquent discourse taking for his text the Angelic Hymn from the 11 verse, ii.chap of St Luke’s Gospel.

The ‘Old’ St Nicholas Church Building

The Old St Nicholas of Myra Church
The 'Old' St Nicholas of Myra Church.
Freeman’s Journal 21 st November, 1850

The following item is extracted from “St Nicholas Penrith Parish” a publication celebrating the sesqui-centenary of the founding of the Catholic Church in Penrith (pp 28-29).

From "The Nepean Times" 1909
Written by William Freame

St Nicholas' occupies one of the best positions in the town and is prettily situated amid shady trees, presenting altogether a pleasant picture; and is a good sample of church architecture, being more ornamental than many of the plain brick buildings that are erected in new parishes today.

The windows which admit light to the nave are set in pairs and are well recessed, with a broad splay. Some objection has been taken to their small size; but they are in keeping with the height of the walls, and to my mind harmonise with the retired and sacred calling of the building.

They are doubtless more artistic and architecturally appropriate than those great ugly semi-circular openings we find in many of our old colonial churches - windows more suitable, in my opinion, for a town hall than for a church. There is, however, a splendid three-light window at the end of the chancel, the stained glass representing Our Lord, the Blessed Virgin and St Patrick. The dimness of the windows in the nave helps to accentuate the size and beauty of this window, which is a memorial to the late Dean Mahoney.

The roof is vaulted, with exposed principals, the lining being old cedar. The choir is accommodated in a gallery at the western end. Since Reverend Father Barlow assumed charge several very important improvements have been effected to the church fabric. The unsightly pillars have been removed, and a door formed at the end of the nave; the old pulpit has been replaced by a new portable one; while the roof has been raised and the old choir gallery, a gift of Valentine Heaton, has been improved.

But of all the improvements made by Father Barlow, the most creditable one has been the restoration and renovation of the altar. When Father Barlow took charge the whole of the altar was covered by a thick coating of whitewash. Upon inspection the reverend gentleman decided to remove this disfigurement and restore the altar to a more appropriate appearance. When the whitewash was removed he was surprised to find the front of the altar was composed of several blocks of solid stone, the centre one bearing upon a shield a representation of a pelican, underneath which was carved the words "Sanguis Christi," meaning in English, "The Blood of Christ"; the idea conveyed to the mind being that as the pelican feeds its young from the blood drawn from its own breast, so Christ feeds His faithful children with His own blood from His own breast. On either side of the pelican are shields bearing the initials IHS and those of the BVM, the whole being very nicely decorated in appropriate colours. Those who can appreciate are indebted to Father Barlow for the artistic taste he has displayed in the restoration of what is undoubtedly a very beautiful and very uncommon altar frontal.

The chancel is further enriched by a fine sedile, over which is hung an oil representation of St Ambrose. Another striking feature of St Nicholas' church are the splendid Stations of the Cross. These representations of Our Divine Lord's journey to Calvary are really good pictures, and they possess unusual interest from the fact that they are each separate gifts by parishioners, many, if not all of them, being memorials to deceased friends.

Not the least among the improvements initiated by Father Barlow is the press in the vestry. This imposing piece of furniture which takes up the full length of one of the walls, was designed from a copy, the original of which Father Barlow saw in Queensland . This press, which is an excellent piece of workmanship, contains cupboards and drawers for the proper care of the vestments, etc. of the church; albs, amices, corporals, altar linen, vases, etc. have all their proper places.

The ‘New’ St Nicholas Church Building

New St Nicholas of Myra Church under construction
New St Nicholas of Myra Church under construction...
The church today
...and the new church as it stands today.

From the "Catholic Weekly", 23 February 1967

The new St Nicholas of Myra Church at Penrith has been designed as an attempt to satisfy the difficult and apparently hard to understand "Reform to the Liturgy.

Father John Grady, the parish priest, gave the opportunity to the architects to interpret, in simple form, the changes set by the theologians.

At Penrith, within the limit of man’s understanding, the limits of bricks and mortar, and also to the limits of finance, stands a circular church with the communal altar placed in the centre of the congregation.

Why? Because that is where the table of sacrifice and communal meal should be, so positioned that there is no other priority than that of the host-the priest, as Christ’s representative.

This vested celebrant, being the visual presentation of "Do this in commemoration of me," must preside as host and as the central figure.

Whatever ecclesiastical arguments may arise concerning the positioning of the pulpits, lecterns etc., no one should object too strongly to the fact that the late-comer is no more than eight seats (approximately 24 ft.) away from the altar rail and by being close must in time learn to respect the dignity of sharing with the priest the Real Presence.

Penrith church is built of most modern materials economically- the external walls are of precast concrete with white exposed aggregate contrasting with large panels of dark manganese brick work. A large copper-coloured spire surmounted by a cross rising approximately 100 ft. above the road level indicate that the building is ecclesiastical in character.


The main altar, constructed by a local stonemason, is in sandstone. This is a simple restrained table-shaped unit which is centrally placed as previously mentioned and helps to attract the eye by its position relative to the tabernacle (a relic of the old church) which is positioned in full view on the reredos some 20 ft. behind the altar itself.

The ornamentation required immediately adjacent to the tabernacle is a fibreglass "brass" sculpture by Stephen Moor, depicting appropriate symbolisms associated with the Blessed Eucharist.

The building, which cost approximately $130,000, was ready for occupation in February. The architects and the structural engineers were Kevin J. Curtin and Partners of Sydney, the builder Iron and Hughes of Penrith.


A large number of stained glass windows designed by Ars Sacra lend effect by expressing the various recognisable symbols of the Liturgy that can be understood by the layman.

Internally the walls are of light biscuit coloured bricks relieved with white recessed bays sprayed with vermiculite. This light colouring provides contrast to the modern bronze Stations of the Cross which are being installed.

The baptistery, although grilled to prevent vandalism, retains the dignity that this Sacrament deserves and has as its backdrop a specially designed stained glass window.

" Catholic Weekly", 23 February, 1967

Other Information of Interest

Stained Glass window at church entrance
Stained Glass window at church entrance

Stained Glass Windows - located on either side of the inside glass doors of the front entrance to the church were donated in memory of Anne Heaton who died 9th September, 1875 and Patrick Heaton who died 4th November, 1874.

The church fence
The church fence.
One of the church plaques
One of the church plaques.

Church Fence - The front sandstone fence on High Street was built out of the sandstone taken from the original church.

Plaques - A plaque is erected in the foyer of the church in memory of Elizabeth (Heaton) who died 15 May, 1991 and her husband Edwin Basedo who died 27 November, 1981.

There is also a plaque in the foyer of the church dedicated to the memory of the Fighting Forces who laid down their lives in the Defence of Australia.

Another plaque placed in the foyer was for the solemn blessing and opening of the church by His Eminence Norman Thomas Cardinal Gilroy Archbishop of Sydney on 30 April, 1967.

Tabernacle - The Tabernacle from the old church was incorporated in the new church building and is still utilised today.

Lamp post
Lamp post.
Lamp post - From the earliest days when innkeepers were obliged by law to leave a whale oil lamp shining in their windows, light has been a symbol of hope. Edward Heaton donated the fine lamp that still stands outside in the grounds of St Nicholas in High Street, Penrith. It was a thankyou offering for the rescue of his little daughter, Agnes, who had strayed into the surrounding bush during benediction.

Penrith Star” Jean Stephens, Local Historian

In the 1800s a lamplighter lit the gas streetlamps of Penrith. In his oral history Fred Williams tells of seeing the lamplighter riding his horse down High Street. He used a sheltered kerosene flame at the end of a pole which lit the lamp when the gas gets were turned on. Next morning he rode around and turned them off. Penrith was the second country town to install electricity, in 1890.

The inscription on the lamp post read "let there be light".

Recent Major Renovations

Old Baptismal Font
The old baptismal font, which now holds the Holy Water at the entrance to the church.
The Church has undergone major renovations over the years.

The two major ones were under the guidance of Fr Geoff Dickinson in the mid 1980s and early 1990s.

The major changes included:

  • The aisles were widened to allow for easier movement up and down them during communion.
  • In the mid 1980s the baptismal font [donated by parishioners Joan and Allan Mullins in memory of Joan’s parents, Charles and Popsey Sligo] was moved from the church’s foyer and placed on the edge of the sanctuary.

    The iron grill around the original font was removed in the late 1970s at the same time the altar rails were removed.

With the renovations of the early 1990s a new baptismal font was installed to blend with the new altar furniture allowing the original baptismal font to be moved back into the foyer of the church.

This now holds the Holy Water used to bless oneself on entering and leaving church.

  • Go to Tree-of-Life Page
    The ‘tree-of-life’ [donated by parishioners Joan and Maurice Renshaw] on the wall of the church housing the tabernacle, and referred to by the Catholic Weekly as “a fibreglass "brass" sculpture by Stephen Moor, depicting appropriate symbolisms associated with the Blessed Eucharist”, was replaced with a large carved wooden crucifix.
  • The ‘tree-of-life’ now hangs in a prominent position on the north-western wall of the church. Extensive travertine marbling around the tabernacle replaced the original black brickwork.


    Old Altar
    Old Altar, prior to the 1988 renovations.
    New Altar
    The new Altar.

    Another major renovation in 1988 was, in keeping with modern conventions, the reduction of the sanctuary from three levels to one.

    The stone altar was replaced with a smaller, more simple and movable wooden altar. The original stone altar was donated to The Outdoor Centre for St Joseph ’s College, Hunter’s Hill. All other altar furniture was replaced with wooden furniture in the same design as the new altar.

    Three much needed air coolers were also installed at this time.

    Stained glass artwork called a ‘chyro’ was installed in the ceiling over the altar. It depicts ‘alpha and omega’ and during certain celebrations it is lit from above the artwork.


    The Presbytery

    original presbytery
    Original presbytery, now used as offices.
    Old school building and priests residence, as well as one side of the Parish Office.
    Old school building and priests residence, and side of the Parish Office.

    The Presbytery, or Parish House, was commenced in late 1931, the stone being laid and blessed on 7 February 1932. The large open verandahs around this brick building have been gradually enclosed to provide accommodation and the parish office. The old presbytery was eventually converted into offices and meetings rooms and the priests now occupy new quarters at the rear.

    From the "Penrith City Council"

    Although lacking the architectural interest and modern design of the relatively new St Nicholas of Myra Church (the old church being demolished and officially reopened on 30 April, 1967 ), the history of the old Catholic Presbytery nearby still deserves our attention.

    When the foundation stone of the present presbytery was laid on Sunday, February 7, 1932 , the local newspaper noted that the new building was to be erected "on the ground to the east of the present presbytery, which is very old and has outlived its usefulness". Unfortunately, very little is known of this older presbytery, probably the first to be built in the grounds of the church.

    The ceremony of the setting and blessing of the foundation stone of the present presbytery was attended by the then Catholic Primate, Archbishop Kelly. He returned to Penrith later the same year when the presbytery was officially opened on Sunday, November 27, 1932 . The ceremony was attended by many church and local dignitaries, the proceedings being watched by a "large gathering". The building contractor was Mr J. Lampard, of Ashbury.

    It is not certain when the first permanent presbytery was established in Penrith, although it is generally assumed that some sort of residence would have accommodated the priests when regular services began to be conducted on the present church site in the late 1830s.

    Before either of the two presbyteries were built in the grounds of St Nicholas', the first Catholic priests that came to Penrith stayed with families at Cranebrook, usually the McCarthy's. Penrith was originally included in the Windsor Parish, which extended east to the mouth of the Hawkesbury and included, among other places, Windsor , Richmond , Kurrajong and Penrith. The priests would come across from Windsor , stay at Cranebrook, celebrate the Mass in Penrith and eventually return to Windsor.

    [Originally published in the Penrith District Star newspaper on 10 July, 1984 (p.21) - rewritten and updated with notes in January 1997.]

    Notes: Information relating to the laying of the foundation stone and the official opening of the presbytery appear respectively in the Nepean Times newspaper on 13 February, 1932 (p.3) and 3 December, 1932 (p.3).


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