|The Honourable John Hubert Plunkett|
Image : State Library of NSW
In this post, we include parts of two of a number of addresses which were made on that 8th December, 1868, one hundred and fifty years ago. One thing very clear from both addresses was the still-present sorrow felt at the destruction of their first cathedral by fire in 1865.
The first address was made to Archbishop Polding by the Honourable John Hubert Plunkett QC on behalf of the Catholics of the Archdiocese. Mr Plunkett, an Irish Catholic, arrived in Sydney in 1832 as the colony's Solicitor General. He subsequently was appointed Attorney-General (a position he held on-and-off over thirty years), as well as being elected to Parliament on several occasions. Mr Plunkett was an highly significant figure in the early history of Australia and arguably the most important Catholic layman of that period. In 1835, he presented an address of welcome to Bishop Polding when he arrived in Sydney as the colony's first bishop. Here is part of Mr Plunkett's address on Foundation day :
To the Most Reverend John Bede Polding, Archbishop of Sydney and Metropolitan.
May it please Your Grace.
On this most solemn and eventful occasion, we, the Catholics of the diocese of Sydney, big to offer to Your Grace the expression of our hearty congratulations on the auspicious undertaking of today.
The sorrow arising from the calamity by which, in a few hours we were deprived of the sacred edifice, which for upwards of 30 years had been the mother Church of Australia, was to us the more difficult to bear, because we knew how bitter and how deep would be the suffering of your Grace for that great loss. With that edifice then destroyed, all the dearest and holiest associations of your ecclesiastical Government of this portion of Christendom were intertwined …
It was, however, our great consolation that your Grace was upheld in the midst of your affliction by the generous and noble sympathies of the people of this country … You had then the happiness of discovering that your tolerance, your charity, your thirty years of blameless and exemplary life amongst our fellow colonists, who do not recognise your spiritual authority, had borne fruit in the universal expression of sympathy with your Grace’s sorrow and with ours.
And now the moment has arrived when, assisted by the generosity of many of those separated from us in religious opinions, we have commenced the erection of a building, the proportions and magnificence of which will be the noblest monument of Your Grace’s rule and the most enduring testimony of our faith and love.
We owe much to those who have so aided us in our efforts towards the erection and completion of a structure, which, while it will be to us the House of God, will only be to them a great architectural adornment of this city …
With our prayers that Almighty God make preserve you in the enjoyment of health and of all blessings, till the great object of Your Grace’s life shall be attained.
We have the honour to subscribe to ourselves Your Grace’s faithful servants.
JOHN HUBERT PLUNKETT
President of the Committee
for the Catholics of the Diocese.
The Archbishop, in part, replied to Mr Plunkett, as follows :
Your congratulations are a comfort and happiness to me. I am thankful, first of all to our good God, who has wrapped me round with such kind sympathy in my sorrows and joy; and next, to you who, with such true instinct of filial friendship, have ever chosen the most opportune moment to cheer and strengthen my heart, by showing me what was in your own. May God bless you with every form of temporal and spiritual recompense!
This is, indeed, as you say, a solemn and eventful occasion; and it is to me peculiarly an occasion of consolation and happiness. It proves to me that I am building in my people’s love, and that their love for me is for God’s sake. This is the right order, this is as it should be. We sorrowed together with a sorrow that had its chief source in what seemed a sweeping away of dear and holy memories, and an injury to the service and work of God among us; we have now our common gladness in the renewal of those memories, the near prospect of more than restoration to that sacred service and work. After the night of our misfortune the bright day has dawned on us and with thankful joy we are exulting in its light “This is God’s doing, and it is wonderful in our eyes.” We realise that ancient, oft-repeated mercy of the “God of patience and comfort” : “I will turn the mourning into joy, and will comfort them and make them joyful after their sorrow.”
My dear friends, you have most justly styled our old Saint Mary’s 'a great historical fact', and you are right. No one knows so well as I what sorrows, what hopes, what faith, had glorified those old walls. Yes, it was to the world a great historic fact, but it had around it an inner history of facts more real than its stones; a history legible only to the eyes of God and His angels, until the last great day of revealing shall come; histories of penitence, and hope, and confidence, and radical conversion of life: all these sacred forms of the manifold grace of God in men’s hearts. And now we have begun a new history and I agree with you in desiring to inscribe on its very first page the most generous sympathy and help, offered to us and accepted, when we first gathered together after disaster, from many who do not share in our Catholic responsibilities. May God reward them as He best knows how…
And now, dear friends and children, once more receive my own hearty thanks; once more let us resolve together at the work we have so happily begun this day, shall henceforward, please God, never suffer let or stop as far as we can help it, until its completion.
When the ceremonies had concluded, the Official Party walked down to the building now known as the Chapter House, where a formal luncheon was held. Guests of the Archbishop included Bishops Bataillon, Murray, Quinn and Lanigan, in addition to the Consuls of Spain and France. To conclude a long day, a concert was held in the evening, which was open to the public.