Our History

A Brief History of the Parish

St Benedict’s parish has played a central role in Sydney’s history. In September 1835, John Bede Polding, a Benedictine monk (who would become Australia’s first Archbishop) sought a central location for a new church. He secured a site in late 1838 on the corner of what was then Botany Bay Road and Parramatta Street.

A Franciscan, Fr Bonaventure Goeghegan, was appointed as the first parish priest. He and his successors ministered to a steadily growing population of convicts, emancipists and free settlers. They lived in small terrace houses and worked in nearby factories and on the wharves. In 1840, Bishop Polding travelled to England and, inspired by the architecture of Augustus Pugin, envisaged a similar design for St Benedict’s. Dr Polding laid the foundation stone of the present day church on 21 July 1845 in the presence of 3000 people. William Morris erected the church to Pugin’s design and it was completed in 1852.

During the middle decades of the 19th century, the parish expanded with a surge of migrants fleeing famine-ravaged Ireland. In 1880, the Good Samaritan Sisters took over the girls’ school. By 1883, the whole of St Benedict’s school had the largest enrolment in the Archdiocese, with the Marist Brothers having come to conduct a school for boys.

The parish continued to grow in the first decades of the 20th century, with second and third generation parish families. By 1924, the parochial district of ‘George Street West’ was the second largest in the Archdiocese, after St Mary’s Cathedral. In 1926, a new St Benedict’s Hall was opened. It would be used for many balls and concerts.

By 1939, Parramatta Road was becoming a major gateway to the city and required widening. In a cooperative spirit, it was agreed that part of the parish’s land be resumed. The church was subsequently reconfigured to its present design. In the 1970s the parish population fell as families moved to the outer suburbs. Fr Terence Purcell was appointed as parish priest in 1974 and in 1976 the parish celebrated the 125th anniversary of the consecration of St Benedict’s bells, the oldest set of bells on the mainland.

In recent years, the population of the area has risen again with the general revival of inner-city living. In 2005, the parish church and buildings were restored by the University of Notre Dame Australia. St Benedict’s continues its central role in the life of Sydney, serving both the parish and the university community.

List of previous Parish Priests

History and restoration of the church building

The 1882 Baker pipe organ

St Benedict’s bells

Family History Research


Fitzgerald, Shirley (1990). Chippendale: beneath the factory wall. Sydney, NSW: Hale & Iremonger.