Archbishop Anthony Fisher Visits Offshore Parish

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
8 Jan 2015

Archbishop Fisher with the Hon David Buffet, Speaker, Rev Canon Stuart Broughton (Church of England) and Pastor Karl & Mrs Naima Tui (Uniting Church)

It might lie 1,412kms off the coast of Australia, but Norfolk Island's St Philip Howard parish is nevertheless part of the Archdiocese of Sydney, and while Archbishop Anthony Fisher has visited many times, he is there this week for the first time in his capacity as Archbishop of Sydney.

Yesterday he attended a civic reception hosted by the Speaker and Assembly of Norfolk Island, the Public Service, Business community and Ministers fraternal where the long history of the Catholic community on the Island, going back to convict times was recalled.

The parish of St Philip Howard on Norfolk Island, established in 1959 by Cardinal Gilroy is the most distant of the Archdiocese and has had no resident priest for the past 24 years; nonetheless the laity have continued the worship and community life of the parish, relying on visits from the Parish Administrator, the Dean of St Mary's Cathedral Fr Paul Hilder and visiting priests to provide Masses from time to time.

A civic reception on Norfolk Island with the Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher

"It is truly admirable how hard a community of about twenty 'regular' attendees has worked at keeping up the church and presbytery, conducting Sunday Liturgies of the Word with Holy Communion, bringing Holy Communion to the sick, and welcoming visitors such as their new Archbishop" said Archbishop Fisher.

At the civic reception the Archbishop recalled the visits of several previous Archbishops including Cardinals Gilroy, Freeman and Clancy. Norfolk Island's link to the Catholic Church goes back to its bloody convict days of the late eighteenth century when the Island, named after the Duchess of Norfolk, wife of Edward Howard Duke of Norfolk, was known for its harsh conditions.

Archbishop Fisher with the Hon David Buffet, Speaker, Norfolk Island

Father William Ullathorne, the Benedictine priest who travelled to Australia to work with fellow Benedictine and first Bishop of Australia, Archbishop Polding, not only visited Norfolk Island on two separate occasions, but published a pamphlet "The Catholic Mission of Australasia" in 1838 exposing the horrors of transportation and unjust treatment of convicts who were used as little more than slaves. He later testified before London's House of Commons and transportation ceased and eventually the cruel treatment halted on Norfolk Island as well as Port Arthur thanks to the unstinting efforts of the Church, and in particular Robert Willson, the first Bishop of Hobart, who had jurisdiction of Norfolk Island at the time.

For many years the parish on Norfolk was looked after by a resident Marist priest. But when the last Marist priest left the island in 1987, the Archdiocese of Sydney instigated a system where different priests and clerics would travel to the Island and spend one to two weeks there ministering to parishioners, celebrating Mass as well as conducting marriage ceremonies, baptisms, confirmations and funerals.

The Parish Church of St Philip Howard, Norfolk Island

Archbishop Fisher is committed to ensuring such support continues to minister to the Island's Catholic Community and make sure parishioners as well as Catholic tourists are not forgotten and are able to attend regular services whenever possible.

"I expressed the commitment of the Church to contributing to the social and spiritual infrastructure of the island community in a time of very considerable change in governance and administration and of some economic anxiety" he said.