Saint Charles Borromeo Church Ryde - History
The Ryde district, earlier known as Eastern Farms and Kissing Point, lies to the north of the Parramatta River, about midway between Sydney and Parramatta, and was the third area of European settlement in New South Wales. Although there were Catholics among the first settlers, there were few priests in the Colony to minister to them prior to the arrival in 1835 of Dr John Polding, later to be constituted Sydney's first Archbishop.
No records survive of Catholic services in the Ryde area prior to the 1840s, but in 1841 a public meeting was held at Parramatta "to take into consideration the propriety of erecting a Catholic church at Kissing Point", to be named for "St Theresa". Collections were taken up but plans languished, and the population continued to be served by itinerant priests residing at Parramatta. Services in the Ryde area were held in barns and private houses.
In 1847 the Marist Fathers, from France, established a base in the area at Tarban Creek, Hunters Hill, from which they could support their missionaries in Oceania. While Archbishop Polding maintained his dream of a Benedictine abbey-diocese he refused them a formal responsibility in the Ryde area, but he was content to allow them to help the priests from Parramatta in their itinerant ministry.
In 1849 plans to build a Catholic church in Ryde were revived when Daniel McMahon, a successful ex-convict, gave land for the church east of the village of Ryde, on the ridge overlooking the river.
In March 1851 a parish was constituted, and Dr Charles Davis, Bishop Coadjutor to Archbishop Polding, wrote to the Colonial Secretary applying for aid towards the erection of a Catholic church at Ryde, and a stipend for a minister under Governor Bourke's Church Act of 1836 which aimed to advance Christian religion and the promotion of good morals in the Colony by providing aid, without denominational discrimination, for such purposes. The application was supported by a list of 221 names. Fr Michael Brennan, the Parish Priest of Parramatta, was put forward as the priest responsible for the area. In December 1851, the foundations of the new church were set out. Several Catholics from the neighbourhood were described as attending with spades and other implements to assist Archbishop Polding, Bishop Davis, and Frs. Brennan and Hallinan. Within 3 hours the ground had been fully prepared for the mason. The Archbishop then addressed and blessed those attending. The following month, Bishop Davis celebrated Mass nearby, then laid the foundation stone for the church, proclaiming it to be under the patronage of St Joseph.
The discovery of gold near Bathurst in 1851 and the gold rushes that followed set back the building however. Labour was scarce and building expensive for some years: the Parramatta area was described as "almost depopulated". In 1854, Fr John McClennan, who had taken over the responsibility for the Ryde area, reported that the church was still in the course of construction. 120 persons were attending Divine Service in temporary accommodation provided by Mr J.K. Heydon at his property "Ermington House" at the western end of the district; congregations of 60 and 35 were meeting elsewhere in the district; and the Marist Fathers had a chapel at their base at "Villa Maria", Tarban Creek.
In 1856 Archbishop Polding was forced to give up the dream of the abbey-diocese, and he offered the care of the parish of Ryde to the Marist Fathers. Fr Jean Louis Rocher took over from Fr McClennan, and took up the task of completing the church at Ryde with zeal and energy. To a Gothic design by Pugin, it was almost finished when the famous Dunbar gale, in which the ship of that name was wrecked at The Gap, forced workmen to stop and blew slates off the roof.
St Charles Church (1857):
In December 1857 however it was ready and was solemnly blessed and opened by Archdeacon McEnroe, not as St Joseph's but as St Charles', named for St Charles Borromeo, the parton saint of Bishop Charles Davis, who had laid the foundation stone but had not lived to see the work finished. With a handsome stained glass window over the altar, and a belfry for two bells, it was described as "centrally located on the Parramatta Road, leading from Bedlam Ferry to the village of Ryde ... the neatest and prettiest country church we have seen".
Much has changed in the century and a half since. The road the church overlooks is now Victoria Road; the Bedlam ferry has been replaced by the Gladesville Bridge; and the village of Ryde is now the centre of the City of Ryde, with a population of over 90,000. In the last census, over 65,000 of these declared themselves to be Christian,and of them, more than 29,000 as Catholic, more than any other denomination.
St Charles Church 2 (1857):
The original parish of Ryde, handed over to diocesan priests and divided from Hunters Hill in 1890, has given birth over the years to separate parishes of Epping, Eastwood, Gladesville, Meadowbank, Rydalmere, Marsfield, Denistone and North Ryde. The Marist Fathers still care for Hunters Hill, and in the Ryde itself we gratefully acknowledge and recall the services and works of other religious orders of nuns and brothers : the Sisters of Mercy, the Josephites, the Little Company of Mary, and the Patrician Brothers.
That first little country church was sympathetically rebuilt in 1934, with the original stone reused and the original western entrance and belfry incorporated in the handsome new building. Many pioneers sleep in St Charles' historic churchyard cemetery, closed officially at the end of the 19th century but including a few illegal burials for a time after that. St Charles' has always been a multicultural community, and under the grass or their mouldering stones are former parishioners of English, Irish, Scots, French, German, Italian, Swiss and other origins, as well as those born in Australia.
St Charles Church (1910):
The parish has been blessed with a long line of fine diocesan priests since the Marist Fathers, including the Ven. Archpriest Sheehy, last of Dr. Polding's Benedictines, at Ryde from 1888 for 18 years; Fr Gell, Parish Priest for 42 years (1906 - 1948), "the grand old man of Roman Catholicism in Ryde"; Fr Phillip Reeve (1948 - 1966); Mons McCosker; Fr. (now Mons.) Vince Redden; Fr. (now Bishop) Peter Ingham; Mons. Francis Coorey; and the present Parish Priest. Fr. Paul Monkerud. Over the years the Parish Priests have rarely been without an assistant priest to share the work and life of the parish and learn from their experience. St. Charles' primary school, founded by Fr. Rocher in 1858 with lay teachers, continues today, again with lay teachers, to educate the youth of the parish.