Short snippets of key moments in our parish history with its beginnings in 1886 (as part of Bulli Parish) with the current church dating to 1913 and the Corrimal parish to 1940…
Up until 1886 when St Joseph’s Church at Bulli was opened St Francis Xavier’s Church was the closest Catholic Church for those living in Corrimal. The only means of transport would have been by horse drawn vehicle or on foot. The road north of Fairy Meadow was just a track until 1847. The road to Bulli along the present highway was not possible until after the 1870s and initially a toll was charged for using this road. The railway between Clifton and Wollongong was not opened until 1887. After Mass many families would have a picnic lunch in the Church yard or Bulli Beach. The new St Columbkille’s Church in Corrimal was blessed and opened by the Rt Rev Monsignor O’Brien, President of St John’s College Sydney, on Sunday 28 September 1902 at 11am. The original contract price of the new Church was £413 but with improvements and additions the final cost was £565 16s 6d. The total debt was £297 3s 11d. After the sermons given by Father Dunne and Monsignor O’Brien a further £94 was received within half an hour.
Over the next few years the population of Corrimal continued to grow as more land for housing was released and there was more employment in the coal mines, the coke works and the port at Bellambi. By 1911, there was a Post Office, School of Arts, the Princess Theatre and a bowling club in Corrimal. There were many men working at the Clifton group of collieries and the shortage of local housing meant that the demand for housing as far south as Corrimal was continuing to increase. As the population of Catholics in the Corrimal area rose, the need for a bigger church was evident. It was decided that a new church was essential but it would not be built until all of the existing debt was cleared. Within twelve months the community raised £1200 which not only paid all money owed but gave a credit balance of £394. The foundation stone for the new St Columbkille’s Church was laid on the 1 December 1912; it was completed and opened on 26 October 1913. His Grace, Archbishop Kelly, was accompanied by Fr Walsh, Fr Dunne and Fr O’Farrell. Many families were present at the opening and contributed to the collection. These included Cawley, Charlesworth, Christiansen, Commensoli, Farraher, Gallagher, Kenny, Kirton, Madden, McGoldrick, Riordan and Woods.
The list of donations for the new Catholic Church contains many familiar family names. Charles (Chas) Farraher donated those wonderful stained glass windows behind the altar. The windows cost £100, and the donation is in memory of his father and mother. Remember that his parents, Murty (Murtough) and Bridget are the couple who donated the land for the Catholic Cemetery at Corrimal. Mr and Mrs J Kirton donated a pair of adoring angels in memory of their son Leo. Mrs Jas Farraher donated the candlesticks. Miss Winifred Farraher had already contributed £100 towards the erection of the sanctuary and gave the final balance to cover the total payment. The St Vincent de Paul Conference was established at Corrimal on 27 April 1913. Since Corrimal was not a parish at that time, this Conference was noted as part of Bulli Parish. The first church then was used as the school. The first couple to be married at the new St Columbkille’s Church was Mr and Mrs William McGoldrick. Their wedding took place on the first Saturday in the month of November in 1913.
Up until 1940 Corrimal was part of Bulli Parish. In 1940 Corrimal became an independent parish and the first Parish Priest was appointed. He was Fr Edmund Downey. When he first arrived, there was no presbytery and he lived in a cottage at 18 Princess Street Corrimal. Father Downey had to apply to Archbishop Gilroy for permission to have a presbytery built in Corrimal Parish. This application was necessary because Corrimal was part of the Sydney Diocese. Wollongong Diocese did not exist at this time. Permission to build the new presbytery was granted and work was started. The contract price for the new presbytery was £2800 and the congregation had raised £1200. The new lighting system was funded by Mrs E Shepherd, Mrs Pollock, Mr W McGoldrick and Mr Comensoli.
In the early 1900s, the Corrimal Catholic Community had many social groups. The tennis group was very popular. The community had its own tennis court. This was situated on the site of the old presbytery, the present parish centre. Many organisations had their own Debating Societies. These societies were church based or area based. Every week The Illawarra Mercury contained results of various competitions that were held. Corrimal had its own Catholic Debating Society. They met on a regular basis not only for debating but also for outings. One of the ways the Corrimal Catholic Community raised necessary funds was by having Euchre parties and social nights. These were held in Bellambi Hall. According to reports in the newspaper in 1921 the gent’s prize was a set of brushes and the ladies prize was a box of handkerchiefs.
The first “housie party” was held in the school hall on Thursday the 24th of July 1941. The school hall at this stage was in the original Church building. The first such housie nights were aimed at raising money for the “Sisters’ Appeal”. Housie was to continue in Corrimal Parish for the next sixty years. This first evening was organised by Frank Kenny. The first callers were Darby Copas and Pat Melouney. The profit made on this evening was 18 shillings. Euchre parties continued on a fortnightly basis and the prize was £5. As Housie became more popular the game had to overflow into adjacent class rooms. This necessitated the use of a bell which had to be rung to indicate a winning card.
November 1941 was a time when there was a great deal of time devoted to issues arising in regard to World War II. Archbishop Gilroy asked the parishes to have a novena of Masses and Benedictions “for a just and charitable peace”. Mr Rose, from the Rescue Station, gave a series of four lectures in the School hall on precautions that the households should take. Wardens were required for the Church property and the convent. At Christmas the midnight Mass was not said due to the national emergency. According to the records left by Monsignor Downey there was a request for volunteers to dig an air raid trench in the Parish grounds for the children. This trench was dug during the following week. First aid classes were attended by some women of the parish. These classes were held in the school hall.
Following the ending of World War II Corrimal Catholic Parish focused its attention to the plight of the victims of the war. They began the year with collecting clothes for the “destitute people of Hungary”. The congregation was thanked for the donation of the 180 articles collected. There was the annual collection for African Slaves in January 1947. In May the focus was the people of Britain and parishioners were asked to “give donations of money and also food coupons”. The second collection at Sunday Mass on the 18 May was given to the Food for Britain Appeal. The proceeds for this collection included the cash amount of £23/2/6 and food coupons for meat, sugar and butter.
In August 1942 it was announced that there was a general dispensation from the laws of abstinence on Fridays and this was to last for the duration of the war. Thursday 3 September was a day of prayer, ordered by the King; it was the first day of the fourth year of the war. Later in the year it was announced that Columban Calendars for 1943 would not be available owing to the war and the shortage of paper.
Due to the post war migration from 1949 there was a need for further additions to the school. In 1941 the school population was 130. In 1950 the number of nuns had increased from five in 1947 to seven in 1950 and the number of students had increased to 350. On 2 December 1951 the foundation stone for a new convent was laid by Cardinal Gilroy of Sydney. The cost of the new convent was estimated to be £15 000. Mrs McKerrell of 8 Midgely St offered her home to the nuns for accommodation during the construction period. She went to live with her daughter, Mrs W McColgan, who lived opposite.