The Dominican Years – 1923 to 1948

A separate account of these years and the Dominican priests who served the parish is contained in an extract from an unpublished short history of the Dominicans in Australia, written by Rev Fr T P Fitzgerald and gratefully supplied to us by Rev Fr L P Fitzgerald, O.P., Provincial Archivist from Canberra and brother of the author.

From the Catholic Freeman’s Journal – March 5 1936:

Report on the re-opening of Holy Cross church on Sunday 23 February, 1936


Very Rev. Father Doherty’s Appreciation
Sydney Priests Also Pay Tribute

Helensburgh has a little history of its own, and particularly so since the Dominican Fathers were placed in charge of the parish some 12 years ago. Though the Catholic population is not large still the Rev. Father Oxenham, O.P. and his assistants are doing splendid work in and around the district, particularly at the Sanatorium at Waterfall and among the Woronora Dam workers. It is now 25 years since Rev. Father H. Morris had charge of the district, and then came Rev. Father M O’Kelly, now Parish Priest of Penshurst, Rev. Father M. O’Connell, Rev. Father R. Darby, of Willoughby, and Rev. Father W. Hawe, P.P. of Waitara.

As time went on naturally there was evident signs that the church wanted renovating, and thanks to the generosity of Mr. O’Driscoll, who gave £200 to clear the church debt, improvements to the building came into view. Thus we find the successful tender of £292 was looked at and reduced through the activities of the people until £262 was found to be a sum which all were confident they could successfully negotiate. On Sunday week therefore Very Rev. Father Doherty, P.P. of Forest Lodge, whose name is well known in the district when he was in charge of Wollongong, blessed the renovated church, and after the appeal for funds was made the sum of £75 was only due on the building – a creditable performance by Father Oxenham, O.P., and his good people.

Among others present were rev. Fathers M. O’Kelly, P.P., C Callaghan, P.P., T. Dunlea, J. O’Farrell, and C. Oxenham, O.P., Messrs. J. Bannon (church secretary), and J. Ettingshausen (clerk of works), Alderman Fackender and Ryan.


“First of all, I must extend a hearty welcome to Father Doherty, who has performed the ceremony of re0opening this church this afternoon,” remarked Father Oxenham. “Father Doherty, it will be remembered, was until recently the parish priest of Wollongong, but his Grace the Archbishop, recognizing his ability, desired to have him on the list of his Consultors, and so he has been transferred to Forest Lodge. To Father O’Kelly and all the other priests, to our councilors, the civic representatives, and to all present do I extend a cordial welcome,” he added.

Father Oxenham then publicly thanked Mr. O’Driscoll for his generous gift and observed that he had been inspired by the receipt of his money to go ahead with the renovations. “Till then we had been powerless to do anything,” he remarked. The bazaar had realised the satisfactory total of £50. The ladies whom he had approached for help had generously given him a cheque for £57. To Mr. Mark Gosling, the contractor, thanks were also due for the helpful manner in which he had carried out his part of the operations. The meeting on that afternoon had been convened for two purposes, added Father Oxenham. Firstly, it was to celebrate a great occasion in the Catholic life of Helensburgh, and, secondly, to appeal to the people for their continued support. In sincerely thanking the voluntary workers, especially their chief organizer and clerk of works, Mr. J. Ettingshausen. Father Oxenham remarked that they were really doing their work for Almighty God, Who would surely reward them.


“When I received an invitation from Father Oxenham to preside at this afternoon’s ceremony I had not the slightest hesitation in accepting it,” stated Very Rev. Father Doherty. He then paid a warm tribute to Father Oxenham’s outstanding qualities, and promised to help him in every possible way. “I am indeed pleased to be associated with him do-day,” remarked Father Doherty. Although times were particularly difficult in Helensburgh, he urged the people to always stand behind father Oxenham, to co-operate with him in all his undertakings, and, on that day especially to give till it hurt. “Father Oxenham is worthy of your help. and again, the upkeep of this church is your own responsibility. I hope Father Oxenham will be spared to your for many years to come,” concluded Father Doherty.

Alderman Fackender’s Congratulations

Alderman fackender extended his congratulations to the Helensburgh Catholics on their great achievement, and expressed his regret at hearing of the death of Father Morris, whom he knew well. Father Oxenham had achieved something that could be well regarded as a civic monument.

Former Pastor’s Reminiscences

Father M. O’Kelly expressed his pleasure at being once more back amongst all his old friends. “It requires a man of sterling character to stand up to seemingly insurmountable difficulties, to overcome them, and then to progress. If there were nothing else than this thought to inspire you, you should give generously to help Father Oxenham, for he is such a man,” added Father O’Kelly in the course of his appeal for funds. “A priest is essentially ordained to care for the spiritual welfare of his people. the temporal necessities come as an added and, in many cases, almost unbearable source of worry.” The courage shown by Father Oxenham, viewing things from this light, had certainly been great. Due to Father Oxenham’s efforts the Catholics of Helensburgh had a school to which they could send their children, and a church in which they could hear Holy Mass. Their present pastor was certainly keeping up the splendid traditions of the pioneer priests who had preceded him, Father O’Kelly told the assembled parishioners. in this respect Father O’Kelly spoke of the work of the early priests, Fathers Dunne and Morris. Father Morris, he observed, was one of the most systematic men he had ever met. The late priest had kept an absolutely accurate census of all the Catholics in the town and in the sanatorium.

Father O’Kelly exhorted the people to adopt as their watchword, “I will help to relieve my priest as much as possible.” It was most disheartening for a priest to find his people were not behind him in his undertakings. If the Helensburgh parishioners were to “get down to it” they would soon find the debt had been wiped off. “The church is bright enough now, but it would be much brighter if it were free of debt,” remarked Father O’Kelly, amidst laughter. “In helping Father Oxenham to keep the school going you are also helping the good Sisters, who are making untold sacrifices to give your children a sound education. Stir up the Australian Catholic pride in your hearts. Show your pastor a spirit of love and co-operation,” concluded Father O’Kelly.

Father Oxenham then announced the result of the afternoon’s collection, and expressed his gratification at the satisfactory total.