Naming Of The Church

The story goes that Archbishop Polding’s ship was caught in a storm off Freemantle. It was so severe that he thought he would die. He made a vow to Our Lady of Mount Carmel that he would build a church on the highest hill he could find and dedicate it in her honour. Whether this is true or not, it simply adds the allure of the church.

At the time of the building of the church, you could see from the top of the hill the waters of Botany Bay and Sydney Harbour, with views of the North Shore, South Head, Randwick, Waverly, Newtown, and Cooks River. Also, it is said that the Tank Stream has it beginnings of the eastern slope of the hill. Water flowed down into the then Botany Swamps and rose in what is now Centennial Park and flowed finally into Farm Cove.

Furnishing Of The New Church

Fr Cunningham had the high altar built. In the parish at that time lived a German family named Schimel. James Schimel was a wood carver and he built and carved the woodwork in from of the gallery. The oldest piece of furniture is the credence table which bears the inscription: “Presented by James Schimel, 15th July 1861.”

A reported dated 27th December 1877, Fr Cunningham states: “to take the people on the whole, they are really good and religious. They are poor. Their greatest faults are those which so often are to be found where worldly respectability is absent: intemperance and the neglect of parental supervision. Even these are confined to perhaps as almost limited a number as in other suburbs of Sydney. They are however the faults and failings which most loudly call for the exercise of the Church’s healing influence.”

Fr Cunningham was replaced by Fr J. J. Carroll in 1878.

Fr Plaid Quirk OSB arrived in 1881. Fr Quirk was Sydney born, a Benedictine and received a Master of Arts from Sydney University. He remained for less than a year due to failing health. He was responsible for the installation of gas lighting in the church.

Fr Collins, later Monsignor, arrived in 1882. He remained until 1926. Shortly after arriving, he arranged for the Sisters of Mercy (North Sydney) to take charge of the “Roman Catholic School at the Waterloo Estate”. [1] A new Presbytery was built (the current one) and the sisters moved into the old and enlarged one as their convent in 1885. Until then they lived in a rented terrace house in Wellington St.

Up until 1883 the school catered for all children and was run by lay staff. With the arrival of the sisters, the school was divided into two sections. The sister took charge of the girls and a lay staff continued to teach the boys until the arrival of the Patrician Brothers in 1886.

In 1885 Fr Collins began the building of a school at Redfern and St Vincent’s Church was opened the same year and serviced from Waterloo. An assistant priest, Fr Long, was appointed to Waterloo. The same year, Archbishop Moran was called to Rome to receive the red hat of a cardinal and Fr Collins accompanied him as secretary. Pope Leo XIII presented to Mgr Collins a beautiful painting of Our Lady of Mount Carmel which was hung in the church. Sadly, it was destroyed in the fire of 1956.

Land and building were purchased in Roseberry which became the basis of the current parish. The Sisters of Mercy conducted the school and walked daily to and from their convent at Waterloo.

The current Presbytery was opened by Cardinal Moran on 4th October 1890. It consisted of 14 rooms: five bedrooms, library, office dining and sitting rooms with a wide varandah and balcony.[2]

A Girl’s High School was opened in 1890 (the current Eileen O’Connor Hall) and extensions to the convent to cater for the additional sisters needed to run the new school. The convent could accommodate up to 17 sisters.

In 1890, St Vincent’s Redfern became a separate parish under the care of Fr Tuckwell. This meant that the Patrician Brothers’ school was cut off from Waterloo but a new Boys School, also operated by the Patrician Brothers, was built in 1908 (the current Patrician Brothers Building).

The Parish’s Golden Jubilee was celebrated on 15th August 1909. The Catholic Press had this to say: “For 50 years the doors of the Church of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel have been open and many a sad spirit and many an aching heart have sought consolation in the sacred shrine. Much the joy, too, have been found within the holy walls…. It crowned that hill where there were nought but scrub and sand on its barren slopes; it has looked down on the growth of the district from a few scattered houses on the level ground below, until today… Half a century ago there were but a dozen Catholic families in the neighbourhood, now the parochial register contains the names of between 3,000 and 4,000 parishioners.[3]

Cardinal Moran said as part of his speech after the Golden Jubilee Luncheon: “I am told that Fr Collins was thinking of getting a small railway to bring the people up to the church[4], but as the efficiency of the aeroplane is developing so rapidly, who knows he will not bring his people to this height in airships. It is a beautiful name, ‘Our Lady of Mt. Carmel’, that our predecessors of fifty years ago gave to this shrine and the spirit of piety which characterises the Mount Carmel of old characterises this Mount Carmel in new Australia.”

Fr Collins was appointed Monsignor and Archpriest in 1916 and celebrated his Golden Jubilee of Ordination on 28th June 1923. He died in 26th June 1926. He was buried in the Priests’ Section of Rookwood Cemetery. His headstone was inscribed with:

“Sacred to the memory of Rt. Rev. Mgr. Joseph Collins PP, Archpriest.

Born at Larch, County Derry, Ireland. Died on 25th day of June 1926, in the 79th year of his age and the 53rd of his priesthood, being 44 years pastor of Mount Carmel Waterloo


Fr Brian McDonnell, a native of County Kerry, was appointed as the next Parish Priest. Shortly after his arrival he began the building of St Joseph’s Church Rosebery. The foundation stone was laid on 3rd August 1927.

Archpriest McDonnell died on12th September 1932. Father Joseph Bowers was appointed as parish priest and stayed for nine years. He was followed by Fr John Kissane in 1941. In 1949, the District of Rosebery became a parish in its own right. Fr Kissane undertook extensive renovations of the school. He resigned due to ill health in1957 and Fr William Malone was appointed as Parish Priest.

[1] The report of the Denominational School Board 1858

[2] From description published in the Freeman’s Journal of 28th September 1890

[3] Catholic Press of 19th August 1909

[4] My inclusion in italics

The Fire

A fire broke out in the Altar Boys Sacristy on Sunday evening of 18th November 1956. The Sacristies and much of their contents were destroyed and much of the beautiful carved woodwork in the Sanctuary. The picture of Our Lady of Mount Carmel hanging behind the High Altar was destroyed. The damage was conservatively estimated at 10,000 pounds. In the space of six months, two thousand pounds had been donated and a further two thousand pounds raise by the restoration committee. The restoration cost 4,500.00 pounds which just under half of the estimated cost.

New brick sacristies were built (the current ones), which were blessed on 16th July, the Parish Feast Day, 1957 by Bishop Freemen, Auxiliary to Cardinal Gilroy. The great window behind the main altar was added instead of the painting of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. It was crafted by Mr Stephen Moor of Ars Sacra Studio. The Sisters of the Sacred Heart presented a painting of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception which painted by Mother Zahel in 1915 after the painting by Murillo. It is still hanging in the church.

Centenary Building

The centenary of Mount Carmel Parish was celebrated in August 1959. These began with the Centenary Ball in Waterloo Town Hall on 12th August. On Sunday 16th August Solemn High Mass was celebrated with Cardinal Gilroy presiding, Fr W Malone, celebrant, assisted by Fr J Roche, PP Broadway, as deacon and Fr P Gillic, PP Redfern, acting as sub-deacon. On Wednesday evening, 19th August, there was a Centenary Dinner at Waterloo Town Hall. The climax was a procession of faith and outdoor Mass celebrated on Waterloo Oval on Sunday 23rd August.

2nd Vatican Ecumenical Council

The reforms of this Council brought many changes to the liturgy. A small altar was installed in front of the high altar which was donated by Tom Clark in memory of this brother, Mgr William Clark, PP Chatswood, who died on 24th May 1953. Tom Clark of Portman St died on 27th May 1977 and was buried from Mount Carmel.

Fr Victor Doyle, known by all as Fr Vic, was appointed Parish Priest in 1974 after appointments as a migrant chaplain and chaplain to the Port of Sydney. He became a well-known and much beloved figure as he moved among the people, visiting them in their homes and going out of his way to assist them in their need. There is a story about him that since there was not much of a kitchen in the presbytery, he would ring families and invite himself to the evening meal. He was awarded the OAM for his services to the community and the Church especially through his care for the less fortunate. He was joined in his later years here by Fr John Knight, who subsequently was appointed Administrator and then Parish Priest. Fr Doyle retired in 2000.

At the invitation of Father Doyle a group of four Ursuline Sisters arrived on the 4th February 1981 and lived at 45 Baptist St. they were to be a religious presence within the parish and were to work particularly among those who lived in the high-rise flats. They were Srs Patricia Kennedy, Dorothy Gould, Joan Coleman and Kathleen Dwyer. The house belonged to the Rooney family who gave a share to the Archdiocese of Sydney and the Parish purchased the share belonging to the nieces and nephews. The Ursuline sisters worked in the parish for many years through supporting the St Vincent De Paul Society, and ministries within the liturgy, such are lectors and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion and contributed to the choir through the playing of the organ.

On 17th July 1983, the Sisters of Mercy (of North Sydney) celebrated the centenary of arrival in the parish to teach at our school. At 10am a Commemorative Mass was concelebrated by Bishop Patrick Murphy who spent his early years of priesthood as assistant priest in the parish. Prominent among the very many former parishioners were the Madden sisters, Sisters Magdalena and Philippine whose family lived in 240 Pitt St, known as ‘Madden Place’.

World Youth Day 2008: the theme was: ‘You will receive the power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.’ (Acts 1:8). The parish hosted three Catechises Days during the Days in the Diocese on 15, 16, 17 July 08. Pilgrims from New Zealand, American Western Samoa and parishioners attended the catechesis given by Bishop Julian Porteous, then Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney, on 15th July; Archbishop John Dew, Archbishop of Wellington, New Zealand on 16th July; and Bishop Malcolm McMahon OP, Bishop of Nottingham UK on the 17th July. There was little sleep over the days but plenty of hospitality with breakfast and lunch provided. The Parish worked hard at giving these pilgrims a great ‘Aussie’ welcome. “It is an experience that neither the pilgrims nor the parishioners will forget”, reflects Fr John Knight, Parish Priest of the time.

In May 2003, Sr Gabriel McArdle RSM ceased living in the convent. She was the last sister of the Sisters of Mercy – North Sydney to live there. For a number of years following the sisters maintain contact with the parish with the Mercy Foundation occupied part of the down-stairs area of the convent as offices.

The Sesquicentenary of the Parish (15th August 2009). George Cardinal Pell (8th Archbishop of Sydney) celebrated the Anniversary Mass during which he blessed and rededicated the restored painting of the Immaculate Conception. The painting is hung in its original place in the Church. Two small stained glass windows were added. These depict Archbishop Bede Polding and Eileen O’Connor and are the work of Sean Hardington of Renaissance Stained Glass. All celebrations were the work of a dedicated team ably led by Fr John Knight.

Early Benefactors

Sir Daniel Cooper donated the land upon which Our Lady of Mount Carmel is built dated 25th February 1858. The land was part of the Lachlan Hill Estate which was granted to Sir Daniel by Governor Macquarie.

Joseph Graham O’Connor, known as JG, raised large sums of money for the Church in Wagga, Temora, Broadway, St Mary’s Cathedral and in 1859 raised 800 pounds towards the building of Mount Carmel Church.

The Schimel family lived in Wellington St. For seventy years, they contributed to the church, especially the Mount Carmel Choir which was regarded as the best in the Archdiocese of Sydney at the time and the St Vincent de Paul Society. They assisted with the decoration of the church (see above) which includes the Statue of St Michael, which was given in memory of John Schimel and that of St Francis Xavier, donated in memory of Mrs Schimel.

John Schneider worked tirelessly in church organisations around the turn of the century.

Tom Quinn was the sacristan for about fifty years. He became known as ‘Old Tom’.

Eileen O’Connor had a fall when she was three around 1896. The accident shattered her spine and left her with little use of legs. Her family moved to Telopea St and while most of her schooling was at the Sisters of Mercy School, Pymble, she did some schooling at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Despite her physical disabilities, she went on to found the Religious Institute of Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor (OLN or The Brown Nurses).

Establishment of Parish of Sydney City South

The Parish was twinned with Redfern and Rosebery in on 1st of December 2017 with the appointment of Fr Paul Smithers as Administrator of the Parish of Waterloo. On April 30 2021 after consultation with the parishes of Rosebery, Redfern and Waterloo, the new Parish of Sydney City South was established, effectively restoring the original boundary of Waterloo in 1859. Fr Paul Smithers was appointed first Parish Priest and Rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Mt Carmel. The vision for the new parish is “Love, Truth, Beauty”.