The history of St Bernadette’s parish began in Baulkham Hills, in the year 1849. For “Ten Pounds of Lawful British Money”, a contract was signed and sealed for the purchase of one and a half acres of land on the New Windsor Road which was to be the site for the first St Michael’s Church.
Catholic settlers, descendants of free settlers and convicts who lived at Baulkham Hills, Irishtown (Kellyville), Vinegar Hill (Rouse Hill) and Castle Hill held many meetings and finally agreed to the above site as a place to build a church. For many years Catholics in the Castle Hill area had to travel to Baulkham Hills to attend mass. Although Castle Hill became a separate parish in 1970 the real beginning was in 1947 during the administration of Father Keily who recognised the future need for a parish in the Castle Hill area. He noted the size of the contributions which came from the Castle Hill area and opened a bank account for the area. Castle Hill parishioners were delighted with this move and commenced fund raising in a most enthusiastic manner supported by their parish priest.
In 1948 Arthur Meehan, Pat Kavanagh, Ted Munro and Ambrose Roddy met at the home of Thelma and Harry McMullen in Crane Road, Castle Hill to consider the purchase of seven acres (2.83 hectares) of land on Old Northern Road for 3,500 pounds ($7,000), or a smaller area for 200 pounds ($400). They had to settle for the smaller parcel of land.
Also, in 1948, Thelma McMullen carried out a survey calling on all Catholic homes in the district. She determined that a Catholic school would be welcomed and supported by parishioners from Castle Hill and nearby areas. The Sisters of Mercy gave their unqualified support to the idea of a school.
Though still in the parish of St Michael’s the first parish church-school, in Castle Hill, was built in 1954 and opened 17 June, by Cardinal Norman Gilroy, Archbishop of Sydney. The building was used as a church for two years becoming a church-school in 1956 when the primary school opened.
The project which cost 14,000 pounds ($28,000) was dedicated to St Bernadette of Lourdes. The school expanded over the years with some permanent and some temporary classrooms; when the present church was built (1972) the original church building became the school library (top level) and the school office. The building, since recent school renovations now contains large classroom areas (top level), special education area (lower Level) and Marian Centre (former staff room).
The Sisters of Mercy were not able to undertake teaching responsibilities in the school until 1956 but they arranged for two nuns, from OLMC, Parramatta, to visit Castle Hill every Sunday for religious education for the children.
Father Joseph Walsh came to Baulkham Hills as administrator in 1956, being appointed parish priest in 1958. Father Walsh inaugurated the first gift-giving system in 1959 and built a presbytery at Castle Hill in that year. On completion of the presbytery (now the parish house) Father Walsh moved to Castle Hill. On May 24, 1970 the old St Michael’s parish was divided. The new parish of Castle Hill comprised Castle Hill, Dural, West Pennant Hills, Glenhaven and Kenthurst. In 1972 the present parish church was built and blessed.
During the 1970’s and 1980’s the population for Castle Hill parish continued to grow. It was decided that the outer areas of the parish, namely Kenthurst, Annangrove, Dural and Glenhaven needed more permanent pastoral care and Catholic primary and secondary schools as school facilities at St Bernadette’s were distant and becoming overcrowded. The pastoral work of the parish increased so much that an additional priest was appointed to assist Father Walsh until 1988. This was despite the fact that Gilroy College, a year 7 – 12 systemic high school has been opened in 1980, as a result of the initiatives and hard work of many parishioners and those of nearby parishes. A new parish site was acquired on Annangrove Road, Kenthurst and the difficult decision was made to sell the two smaller sites and churches at Dural and Kenthurst, to help pay for the new site. Sister Anna Conway, a Sister of Mercy, was appointed pastoral associate for this area and she was later joined by Father Chris Dixon. On 22 May 1988 the new parish of St Madeleine’s Kenthurst was established with Father Dixon as parish priest.
In 1988 St Bernadette’s acquired a property with two buildings at 31 Brisbane Road. The building at the front became the presbytery and the building at the rear the out of hours school centre. The former presbytery became the parish house and is used for the parish administrative offices and meeting place for parish groups and activities. In 1989 a block of land at the rear of 375 Old Northern Road was purchased to increase the size of the school playground.
The parish continued to grow even though St Madelaine’s had been established. In 1988 about 6,000 Catholics were in the parish; by 1998 the number had grown to 11,000. Projections indicate the number could peak at about 12,000 in 2000. Vacant land is fast being converted to housing, with much of the recent housing development in West Pennant Hills, Oakhill and the Knightsbridge Estates.
That growth meant that a second priest was still required and Father Edward Sequiera was appointed Assistant Priest in 1989. When Father Edward moved to another parish in 1990, Father Paul Marshall was appointed as Assistant Priest and in 1994 Father Andrew Robinson became our Assistant Priest. Father Andrew was moved to another parish in 2000 and Father John Hogan became our new Assistant Priest.
Sister Ailsa Mackinnon worked as a part-time Pastoral Assistant in 1988 until in January 1990 Sister Anita Conway, of the Holy Faith Sisters, was appointed the full time Pastoral Associate. After more than five years, Sister Anita returned to Ireland and in 1995 Sister Eily Deasy was appointed as Pastoral Associate.
In 1989 after 33 years service to the parish, Father Walsh retired. He resides in the presbytery until 2001 when he moved to Nazareth House Turramurra. Upon Father Walsh’s retirement, the assistant priest Father David Maguire became Administrator of the parish until 1991 when Father Robert Anderson was appointed Parish Priest. He served the parish for almost two years before travelling to the USA for further study.
Fr Anderson resigned as Parish Priest in 1992 to continue his studies for a second year and Father David Maguire was then appointed Parish Priest in August 1993. In 1993 two part-time Youth Workers were appointed, from the parish, to administer and lead the youth ministry. A full time Youth Worker, began working for the parish in 1998. The Sisters of Mercy at Marymount Mercy Centre and the De La Salle Brothers from Oakhill College have made a significant contribution to the life of the parish and the parishioners over the years even though not directly involved in the parish. The Christian Brothers cared for and taught the hearing impaired children at St Gabriel’s School for 70 years until they moved in 1994.
1997 was a busy year in the life of St Bernadette’s Parish. Substantial school rebuilding and extensions were completed. The project was financed by the Catholic Education Office. The school enrolment policy was revised to provide a fairer means of determining the priority of applications by parents wishing to enroll their children in the parish school. The parish acquired three blocks of land on Old Northern Road adjoining the church/school property. These were consolidated into one block, together with the existing church property and developed into a parish carpark. Part of the acquired land – plus some of the original church block – fronting Old Northern Road was acquired by the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority for road widening which occurred in 1998. A successful parish Planned Giving Program was organised so that the church could be renovated and extra parking area made available. A Silver Jubilee Fundraising Committee received over $170,000 in donations and funds from various functions, was used to purchase works of art for the renovated church including the sculpture “Jesus With The Children”, side stained glass windows and doors and various marble stands. The Church was solemnly dedicated by Bishop Kevin Manning, Bishop of Parramatta on Sunday December 14, 1997.
In February 1998 the Marian Grotto was dedicated while in December 2000 the statue of “Jesus the Good Shepherd” (located in front of the school office) was dedicated as part of the Jubilee Year as a gift from the parish to the school.