A Brief History of our Parish
St Aloysius Gonzaga Cronulla was officially established as a parish in 1924, and our area has an even longer association with the church.
Before the Parish
The history of St Aloysius Gonzaga Cronulla Parish is linked to the birth of Australia. Captain James Cook landed in Kurnell in April 1770, which is part of Cronulla Parish. When Captain Cook landed in Kurnell, people of Gwea tribe known as Gweagal of Dharwal (Tharwal) nation encountered them. The sailors on the Endeavour were the first Christian presence in the Parish and that happened in April 1770.
A plaque of acknowledgment of the Gweagal people of the Dharwal Nation was placed outside St Aloysius Church in Cronulla in 2005 as an initiative of the Parish Social Justice Group.
A more established Catholic presence in the peninsula did not happen till over a century later.
The start of the parish, like many parishes in Australia, was with the home church or the domestic church. In the early twentieth century a small group of Catholics gathered in the house of Agnes and Albert Giddings. After several years, Agnes and Albert Giddings donated a piece of land on which a small church was then built in the name of St Aloysius Gonzaga, a youthful Jesuit saint. The name of the street where the first church and school were located was and is still referred to as Giddings Ave.
In the year 1915, Mass was celebrated in Cronulla under the pastoral care of Fr John O’ Driscoll of Kogarah Parish. Kogarah Parish at that time extended from Tempe to Heathcote. The following year (1916), Penshurst parish was constituted and Cronulla became a part of it. Father Michael O’Kelly was appointed Priest in Charge.
Becoming a Parish
Nine years after St Aloysius church was built, in January 1924, Cronulla became a parish and the first Priest-in-Charge was assigned. Fr William Hawe, a young Irish priest, who arrived in Cronulla in 1923, had the responsibility of all the area that we now know as the Sutherland Shire. Fr William McDonald followed him as the priest in charge.
In 1934 Fr Lloyd became the first Parish Priest of St Aloysius Cronulla. The decade of the 1930s were unhappy years for many Australians. The Great Depression hit the country and Sydney alone had 125,000 people out of work. That did not stop the religiously motivated parishioners and its pastor from working on expanding the church.
Fr Lloyd saw the need for a church in Kurnell. He rejoiced most at being a ‘Man of the People’ a reputation that brought extraordinary generosity from his Parishioners and friends whenever he had the occasion to appeal to them. During his tenure, with the help of his friends in the boxing fraternity, he organised a raffle throughout Sydney and raised funds to commence the church at Kurnell.
He also added extensions to St Aloysius Church/school, which had no Sanctuary. He built a Sanctuary at the Nicholson Parade end of the church; added a porch on the left hand side of the Sanctuary which the Sisters occupied during Mass and another porch on the right hand side to serve as a sacristy. He also extended the Cronulla Street entrance.
In the year 1934 Kurnell church was blessed and Msgr Donavon replaced Fr Lloyd as Parish Priest. In time, he established Caringbah Parish with its school and church.
In 1956 Fr John Madden took over from Msgr Donavon as Parish Priest. He planned and built the present church of St Aloysius to replace the old one. It was done in two years and was blessed by Cardinal Freeman in November 1965. The stained glass windows from the old church were transferred to the new church.
Fr Paul Foley succeeded Fr Madden in 1988 and undertook a major renovation of the church in 1990. This saw a separate Chapel for the Blessed Sacrament, and an enlarged Gallery at the rear of the church, above the foyer.
In 1995 Fr Michael McLean was appointed to succeed Fr Foley and he too was keen to maintain the church in good shape. He did much needed restoration of the roof of the church and installed lighting on the exterior cross, making the church more visible to the Cronulla area. On January 29th, 1999, St Aloysius Gonzaga Church was solemnly dedicated by Cardinal Edward Clancy on the 75th Anniversary of the Parish.
Fr Thomas Kurunthanam was Parish Priest from January 2006 until 2012. He initiated a development of the Parish Centre and the building of a new Presbytery. He also began a stain glass window building project for the church. He also oversaw significant rebuilding projects with St Aloysius Primary. With the parishioners, he hosted thousands of international pilgrims as part of World Youth Day Sydney 2008.
Rev Dr Thomas Carroll was appointed Parish Priest in 2012. He completed the stained glass window projects in the church.
Fr James McCarthy was appointed Parish Priest from July 2019. He previously served the parish as a seminarian catechist at Woolooware High (2004) and also served for 10 months as a Deacon in the Parish (2007-2008).
Our Lady of the Way Bundeena
On the 10th of December, 1951, the Bundeena “Our Lady of the Way” Church was blessed and opened by Cardinal Norman Gilroy after years of celebrating Mass in the Soldiers’ Hall (RSL Club).
On the 6th of May, 1973, the Bundeena Church was blessed by Cardinal James Freeman after the renovations, and became known as the Church of St James.
On the 1st of July 2007, the Bundeena Church was blessed by Bishop David Cremin after renovations and once again became known as the Church of Our Lady of the Way.
Arriving in 1918, the Sisters of St Joseph were the first religious to come to Cronulla. They began a school. The Giddings family donated a weatherboard cottage opposite the church for the nuns to use as their convent. The weatherboard cottage is now the site of our present presbytery.
On the 18th December, 1921, the foundation stone of the new St Aloysius School in Cronulla was blessed by Archbishop Michael Kelly of Sydney. In due course, the school was to be a single story building containing three classrooms and amenities.
On the 1st January, 1924, two Sisters of Mercy, Sister Mary Peter (Hartigan) and Sister Mary Gerard arrived in Cronulla to take inventory of the Convent that had been the home of the Sisters of St Joseph for the past 8 years.
January 7th, 1924, was the Foundation Day of the new Mercy Convent in Cronulla. Mother M. Francis and several Sisters arrived in Cronulla laden with good things and set up the first Sisters of Mercy Convent in Cronulla. Sister M Peter was the first Mercy Principal of St Aloysius School.
The rapidly growing population of 1950s and early 1960s necessitated additional accommodation within Cronulla parish area.
Therefore Fr John Madden, the Parish Priest, purchased land in Ocean St, North Cronulla. This land was later sold to buy a property in Hill St, Woolooware. On this property was built a church and four class rooms on the top of the church.
That was the beginning of St Francis de Sales Primary school in 1963. It was blessed on the feast of St Francis, 29 January, 1963 with 133 students from Kindergarten to year 3.
Mercy Sisters were to look after this new school and Sister Mary le Merci Anderson (Patricia) was the first principal. She was assisted by Mary Rose O’Connor of Sisters of Mercy and Mrs P Logan. From the very beginning parents were deeply involved in all aspects of this school life. Though the church was eventually closed down, the school flourished with greater facilities to what it is now, a good single stream school from Kindergarten to year six.
At the end of 1976 the Sisters of Mercy withdrew from the leadership of the school. Mr Gregory O’Sullivan was the first lay principal to be appointed. The current principal, Mrs Diane McInerney was appointed in 2001.
In 1934, the parish saw a need for a senior boys’ school. Under the leadership of the new Priest in Charge, Fr Lloyd, and with the generous financial support of Mr James Thornton, plans were drawn up for a large hall on the site of St Aloysius School.
The foundation stone of the new high school and parish hall was laid and blessed by the Archbishop of Sydney, Archbishop Michael Kelly on the 15th July, 1934. It was named Thornton Hall in recognition of James Thornton’s magnificent gift to the parish. The building cost in the vicinity of 1,500 pounds, a large fortune in those days.
De La Salle Brothers came to the parish in 1936. On the 21st of May, 1936, Thornton Hall welcomed its first teachers for the new senior boys’ school. Rev Brother Donatus fsc was appointed first Director and Rev Brother Louis fsc was the Principal of the St Aloysius Senior Boys’ School.
The same year the De La Salle community purchased the 9 acre property at Gunnamatta Bay. When purchased, the bush land property was named “Kilkivan Grange” and the existing house on the property was opened for boarding students. The College provided an education for students from Primary classes to Leaving Certificate level until 1967 when the present structure of a Senior College for Years 11 and 12 only was established.
In 1975 the Brothers recognised the need of local families to provide a senior education for their daughters in the local area. Consequently the College became coeducational, taking school certificate graduates from Our Lady of Mercy College, Burraneer.
In 1990 the College became part of the Sydney Archdiocesan system of schools, administered by the Catholic Education Office and in 1994 the first lay Principal was appointed. Girls High School has been an initiative of the Sisters of Mercy (Parramatta).
Our Lady of Mercy College (OLMC) was first established in the 1930s on the Esplanade at Cronulla and was located there until 1960 when it was moved to the current location at Burraneer. The new College in the new location was officially opened and blessed on Sunday October 16, 1960 by Cardinal Gilroy. The total number of students enrolled was 199 with 7 staff and Sister M. Alphonsus the Principal.
In 1966 the Catholic Education Office established Our Lady of Mercy College as a Regional School and enrolments increased to 439. In 1982 the Sisters of Mercy Community moved out of the Convent and in 1984 allowed the school to extend into the convent building.
St Vincent de Paul Society
On the 19th February, 1922, a Conference of the St Vincent de Paul Society was formed in Cronulla, at the request of Fr O’Kelly.
On the 28th of December 1925, the St Aloysius Conference of St Vincent de Paul was aggregated with 12 active members.
In the first year of aggregation, 3 visits were made and their total expenditure for the year was 54 pounds 12 shillings and 4 pence, a lot of money in those days.
An extract from the 1922 report submitted to the Sydney Regional Council of the Society reads: “St Aloysius Cronulla: There was practically no local distress during the year, but the Brothers made up for this in increased zeal in other directions. Every one of the Special Works received generous help. Waterfall Hospital was visited regularly, and the patients were cheered by gifts of reading matter, tobacco, cigarettes, and, where necessary, clothing also was supplied. Exceptionally good work was done in the way of providing school fees and books to enable poor children to attend Catholic schools.”