18 March, 2020

The Polding Walk 2020

The chanting of Vespers at the grave of Archbishop Polding
in the crypt of Saint Mary's Cathedral, Sydney.
Image : Giovanni Portelli.
On a bright March day in 1877, a huge gathering of the people of Sydney and neighbouring towns of NSW took place in and around Hyde Park. It was, in fact, the largest number of people that had been gathered together in Australia since the colony had been founded almost a century before.

These tens of thousands of people had gathered to pay their respects to an old and much-loved man, an Australian pioneer. He was the first Catholic bishop in Australia, John Bede Polding. He had arrived in Sydney in 1835 from a Benedictine monastery in England and spent the next forty years preaching and teaching the Catholic Faith. He travelled widely by horseback, steamboat, railway – to every settled area of Australia - helping the poor, the convicts, settlers, Australia’s indigenous peoples, educating children, providing means of support for women and orphans whose lives had fallen to pieces in the unruly times of Australian colonial life. This was a Man of Faith who zealous ministry in Australia was not forgotten at the time of his death in March 1877.

Thousands watched the Procession of his hearse from Saint Mary’s Pro-cathedral down Parramatta Road to Lewisham, where he was buried in a simple grave amidst the graves of hundreds of others to whom he was a father and a bishop.

More than two centuries after he was born, the name of Archbishop John Bede Polding is still known to Catholics. But perhaps his life’s work and its significance in the development of the Church in Australia is not as well-known as it might be.  In 1977 to mark the centenary of his death, a great deal of research was carried out and published to make known again the work of Archbishop Polding. Many Catholic scholars were involved and the Bishops of Australia issued a Pastoral Letter to commemorate that Centenary.  But that generation has now gone and again the life and work of the Archbishop is clouded by the mists of time.

A group of younger Catholics (and some young of heart) has decided to help promote the life of Archbishop Polding. They believe that the Church should declare the Archbishop a saint and are seeking to make known his inspiring life and work in this new generation.  This is the Guild of Archbishop Polding.

Each year, to commemorate the occasion of his death and burial, this Catholic group makes a pilgrimage from the site of Archbishop Polding’s burial at Lewisham to the place where - in the 1940s - he was reinterred with other Catholic bishops and pioneer priests in the crypt of Saint Mary’s Cathedral.

The Pilgrims gathered at the Church of Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Lewisham.
Image : Giovanni Portelli.

The Polding Walk commenced on Saturday morning 14th March with the singing of an hour of the Divine Office at the church of Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Lewisham. From there, the pilgrims walked to Saint John’s College at the University of Sydney, where another hour of the Divine Office was sung, lunch partaken and an occasional talk was given.

This year, during luncheon, the group received an entertaining address from Father Colin Fowler OP, who discussed his recently-published book At Sea with Archbishop John Bede Polding.

The Pilgrimage concluded at the tomb of Archbishop Polding in the Cathedral, where Vespers was sung, celebrated by Bishop Richard Umbers, auxiliary bishop of Sydney. The bishop was assisted by Father Pius Noonan OSB, and Father Terence May Naughtin OFM Conv.


Pilgrims at Saint John's College in the University of Sydney
with the large portrait of Archbishop Polding on the wall in the background.
Image : Giovanni Portelli.

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