Early History of the District
In May 1834 John Bede Polding, the first Roman Catholic Bishop in Australia, was appointed. He arrived in Sydney in September 1835. In April 1837, Father John Joseph Therry was officially reinstated as a chaplain at a salary of £150 a year.
During the 1830s, in the ’Lidcombe’ area, Father Therry purchased a total of 280 acres. Although there were no overt plans, Father Therry’s development of the “Town of St Joseph” near Haslem’s Creek, had the effect of creating a line of Catholic settlements.
On arrival in Sydney in 1842,Edmund and Johanna Keatingmet a holy priest named John Joseph Therry who was attached to St. Mary’s Cathedral. Father Therry engaged Edmund to cultivate the land he possessed at Liberty Plains (where we now have our church buildings) giving him a number of acres for himself and a small tin house to live in. Father Therry’s land was known at “The township of St Joseph at Liberty Plains.” Liberty Plains was all the land between Homebush and Parramatta.
Edmund and Johanna built their first house where the presbytery now stands. It was in this house that the first Mass was said and there was a little bell that was rung to bring the people in to Mass and during the special parts of the Mass. About 20 people attended. On this ground Edmund had a large orange orchard. Later on when they were able to move to a better house they returned this land to the priests. Never one to avoid hard word, Edmund also took on grave digging at the cemetery that would employ a number of his children.
In 1871 the total population of Rookwood was 247 with about half-a-dozen Catholic families, residing in the area. They attended Church at either Parramatta or Concord until 1870, when Dean McCarthy occasionally came from Concord to celebrate Mass
After some months many more Irish Catholic families had come to live at Rookwood and Mass centres were at places where priests were appointed – by now they had to walk every Sunday either to Parramatta, Bankstown or Concord. It was not easy walking from here to the Parramatta Road (known at the time as Sydney Road) as it was all bush and John and Joseph Streets were only bullock tracks. However, later, roads and footpaths were built with John and Joseph Streets named after Father John Joseph Therry.
In 1931,Mrs. Mary Greatrex(daughter of the Keatings) wrote:
“I am now 83 years of age, and the first white child born at Liberty Plains, and I was present at the laying of the foundation stone of the Church by Archbishop Polding over 70 years ago. Father Therry was there also; and the stone was laid where the convent now stands (Mary Steet). Many years have passed since, and today I am proud of our lovely Church built in my Father’s garden”
Mrs. Greatrex died at Enfield, June 9th, 1935. At her own personal request, the remains were brought to St Joachim’s Church, whence the funeral left for Rookwood Cemetery, Rev. Father McElligott officiating.
In 1859 Archbishop Polding, assisted by his Private Chaplin, Father Angelo Ambrosoli, blessed and set a foundation stone of a Church close to the present railway station. The suggestion was made and accepted by the Archbishop that the Church be dedicated to St. Joachim. However, that Church was never built.