Archbishop to Open & Bless Sydney University's Superb New Chapel

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
11 Sep 2015

Builders put finishing touches to the Chapel of St John Paul the Great at the University of Sydney

The Archbishop of Sydney, the Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP will officially open and bless the superb newly-completed St John Paul the Great Chapel at the University of Sydney on Wednesday, 16 September.

The ceremony to mark the opening of the light-filled spacious Chapel with its superb marble altar and ceiling of graceful arches will be attended by the Chancellor of the University of Sydney, Belinda Hutchinson, AM, Rector of St John's College Adrian Diethelm, and other dignitaries. Also present will be Daniel Hill KHS, Convenor of Catholic University Chaplaincies for the Archdiocese of Sydney, the University's Catholic Chaplain, Fr Mannes Tellis OP, the Episcopal Vicar for Education, the Very Rev Michael McLean and other concelebrating clergy.

The heritage-listed Regency villa is part of the new complex that includes the Sydney Uni's new Catholic Chapel and accomodation for 470 students

Staff and members of the University of Sydney's Catholic Chaplaincy (USCC) along with academics, deans from the University's many faculties, Catholic alumni and a large cohort of students will also attend.

The organist for the blessing of the University's new Catholic Chapel will be Thomas Wilson, Director of Music at St Mary's Cathedral who will be accompanied by St Mary's Cathedral Special Service Choir.

The St John Paul the Great Chapel is part of a reconstruction of the site that once housed one of the university's oldest buildings and which had under gone many changes and additions before finally falling into disrepair.

Sydney's first Archbishop, John Bede Polding established St John's College at the University in 1857, the first Catholic tertiary institution in the British Empire. Three years later a house on City Road, the site of today's Chapel, was rented by those in charge of St John's while the College was being built.

Known as Cypress Hall, three-storey building was later rented to Sancta Sophia College and in 1930, under Archbishop Michael Kelly, the building was purchased by the Archdiocese as a hostel for women students attending the University under the care of the Sisters of St Joseph, and renamed St Michael's College.

When purchasing Cypress Hall, the Archdiocese also aquired Darlington House which shared the same site. Demolished in 1967 when Cardinal James Freeman was Archbishop, Darlington House made way for the construction of the University of Sydney's Chapel of the Resurrection.

Cardinal Pell blesses the construction site at the ground breaking for the new complex in November 2013

The history of Catholicism at the University of Sydney began in 1951 at the University's first senate meeting which was attended by a vocal Archbishop Polding. With St John's College, Catholic students formed discussion and prayer groups but it wasn't until 1928 that these student groups were formalised, and the University of Sydney's Newman Society established.

The Archdiocese of Sydney's USYD chaplaincy has continued to serve the needs of Catholic students and staff ever since with numerous priests, religious, and lay people offering pastoral care, counsel and understanding to students, faculty and staff.

But by the beginning of the new Millennium St Michael's College had fallen into disrepair and by 2013 the 1930s façade, added to what had once been Cypress Hall housed little more than a shell. The building was derelict and had become a favourite home for down-and-outs and squatters.

The Georgian cedar staircase uncovered during demolition has been fully restored

This was when Cardinal George Pell, the then Archbishop of Sydney, in partnership with Urbanest moved to redevelop the site that would see the old St Michael's College and Chapel of the Resurrection demolished to make way for a new beautifully-designed chapel, new modern offices and facilities for the USYD Catholic Chaplaincy including a student centre and library, as well as providing a state-of-the-art 470-bed residential accommodation complex above.
Ground breaking and blessing of this ambitious new project took place in November 2013, after which work began in earnest.

To the surprise of many, it turned out that the 1930s facade of the derelict St Michael's College hid an unexpected gem. Cypress Hall in all its original Georgian splendour was uncovered complete with its Australian cedar floors, marble fire place and entrance hall.

As the original building had been rendered in 1930s style with ceilings and cornices covering over the Georgian gem, it took a trained eye to see the original building underneath.

An heritage expert was immediately brought in who recognised the building as one of the few Regency-style villas in the inner west with joinery, interior, cast iron fence and the carriageway gates still intact.

This can all be seen on the carefully preserved heritage section of the complex.

Construction of the $60 million chapel, chaplaincy and accomodation complex took less than two years

Residential accommodation rises above what was once Cypress Hall with modern offices and student centres flanking the 1850s building. The St John Paul the Great Chapel is on the second floor of the original building.

The Chaplaincy Offices now known as the St John Paul the Great Chaplaincy Centre include a student centre and impressive library and are part of the superb new complex.

The Chapel and Chaplaincy Centre have both been named after St John Paul the Great in recognition of the visit to the University by Pope John Paul II on November 26 1986 which continues to be regarded as one of the significant events in the history of Catholicism at the University. With the Papal Ensign flying from the Carillion, the Popemobile carrying the Holy Father passed though the University gates to much excitement.

Greeted by the then Chancellor, Sir Herman Black, Pope John Paul II delivered an address to students, academics and dignitaries in the University's famous Quadrangle.

It was a visit many still vividly remember and the decision to name the University's new Catholic Chapel and Chaplaincy Centre after St John Paul the Great has been widely endorsed and welcomed.

The Georgian interior of Cypress Hall with its Australian cedar door and marble fireplace has been restored and retained

Having the Chaplaincy Centre on site also means that for the first time in many years the Chaplaincy team are accessible and in the midst and hub of the university rather than being disconnected from the main campus in their former semi-temporary offices across the road on Broadway.

"We moved into the new Centre in July and ever since then we have had a constant stream of students keen to know what is going on, who we are and many are keen to become members," says Daniel Hill. He says the new Chaplaincy Centre and the soon to be opened Chapel have invigorated and given a real impetus to Catholicism at the University.

"Part of the mission of the Church is in forming young minds and helping young people grow in wisdom and knowledge and the chapel and our new facilities mark a significant step in the vision of Catholic life for students, faculty and staff at the University, of Sydney," he says.