On Tuesday, 11 August 2020, the 80th anniversary of the blessing and opening of St Joseph’s College Chapel was celebrated with Mass attended by students and staff, with College Chaplain, Fr Gavin Foster SM, presiding. 

80 years ago, when the chapel was blessed and opened in 1940, the St Joseph’s College chapel fulfilled the wishes of all the Marist Brothers who had been associated with the College since its foundation in 1881. Lack of funds had delayed the building of a permanent chapel when the southern, central and northern wings of the main stone building were completed by 1894.

In 1912, Br Stanislaus (Headmaster 1890-1894) made his will leaving a large sum of money he had inherited to be invested and used for the beautifying of the sanctuary of the College chapel when it was to be built. In 1918, his executor tried to arouse interest in having a chapel completed for the Golden Jubilee of the College in 1931. In 1928, and again in 1930, architects were approached to draw up plans. In 1937, with enrolments of more than 400, the temporary chapel (current staff common room) had been outgrown and the Headmaster, Br Louis (1935-1940), approached renowned ecclesiastical architect Clement Glancey, after rejecting earlier designs.

During 1937, detailed discussions took place regarding the finer details of the chapel – a vaulted, barrel or flat ceiling; construction from brick and stone or steel and concrete; plaster or brick interiors. During the 1937-38 Christmas holidays, some Brothers and Juniors worked on clearing the site, digging foundations, clearing shrubs and transferring grass to the Park under extreme weather conditions.  On 13 February 1938 the Foundation Stone was blessed and laid, witnessed by many priests and more than 100 Marist Brothers. Heavy rain meant this ceremony was conducted indoors.

Above: 1937 rev Br Clement (Assistant general) turning the first soil of the chapel

Construction work began in earnest in March 1938. Mr J Ormsby, a significant benefactor to the College, did the excavation work, assisted by student boarders from various rural areas. Mr HA (Jack) Taylor was the builder, Mr Gordon Woolford was overseer and master stonemason, and Mr Frank Laidlaw led the highly skilled team responsible for cutting and trimming the stone.    

Br Louis, had no fear for the success of such a large building project, likening the challenge to that of the first Brothers when they began the College building in the 1880s. With the cost of construction estimated to be £40,000, Br Ignatius was relieved of his duties during 1938 and placed in charge of an appeal for funds. The Parents and Friends Association held a special fete in September 1938, opened by the Governor of NSW, Lord Wakehurst.

Above: Stone masons work sandstone blocks, amongst newly erected internal walls.

The Marist Brothers’ quarry on the Lane Cove River was reopened, having been used in the construction of the main building. An Old Boy, Mr TD Kelly, then President of the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board, enabled additional good stone from land owned by the Board, having previously accessed the Brothers’ quarry for their requirements. The chapel was to be built to match the existing main building with 12 inch sandstone courses.

Br Louis placed in the foundations of the chapel some objects of special significance to him: relics of the Little Flower, St Therese; medals blessed by Popes; some pieces of Canterbury Cathedral and a wooden cross from the Stations of the Cross from the church in which he was baptised in Invercargill, NZ.

It was Br Flavian, Mr Laidlaw and his two sons, who placed the large stone cross above the west end of the chapel on 20 October 1939.

In August 1939 the roof trusses were erected. Tireless in all activity around the College and the construction of the chapel was German-born Brother Flavian, who was Manager of the College, responsible for purchasing supplies and managing the College’s finances. It was Br Flavian, Mr Laidlaw and his two sons, who placed the large stone cross above the west end of the chapel on 20 October 1939. The roof was covered with Purple Bangor slate, supplied and fixed by the renowned Maxwell Porter and Sons, and personally supervised at great height by Mr Maxwell Porter himself.

Above: The College chapel, then and now.

The final stone was blessed by Fr Richen SVD in front the assembled school on 9 November 1939. Two pupils, Michael Boland and John Cookley, climbed the scaffolding and assisted with its placement.

The outbreak of World War II in September 1939 restricted supplies and meant the stained glass windows, being made by the Germany firm, Franz Mayer in Munich, could not be shipped. Temporary amber glass was used in the nave and stained glass designed by Mr Arthur Benfield, the director of Frank O’Brien Pty Ltd of Waterloo, was used in the apse or sanctuary. The Mayer windows from Germany arrived in Sydney in June 1949 and were installed by early September – five in the sanctuary, 20 in the nave. The circular windows and the four symbol windows in the sanctuary were not replaced, and together with the geometric windows in the cloister aisles, remain Mr Benfield’s design. The original red cedar high altar came from St Mary’s Cathedral and was remodelled to Br Raymund’s design, as the war meant the initial plan to have a marble altar made in Italy was not feasible. The altar stone was moved from the temporary chapel, and has graced each subsequent altar throughout the history of the chapel.

The chapel was blessed and opened by the Archbishop of Sydney, Archbishop Gilroy, on 11 August 1940 and he returned the following Thursday, 15 August, the Solemnity of the Assumption, to say the first Mass. The dedication of St Joseph’s College chapel coincided with the centenary of the death of St Marcellin Champagnat, founder of the Marist Brothers.

The marble high altar, replacing the original wooden altar, was built in 1958, following a bequest by Old Boy, Mr Francis Gilmore KCSG. Mass was first said on this altar on Sunday 2 November 1958. The liturgical changes that were implemented as a result of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) profoundly altered many aspects of daily life and liturgical practice at the College and in the broader Catholic Church. In Australia, at the simplest level, English replaced Latin for Mass and other sacraments, and the high altar was to be placed to allow the priest to face the assembled people, gathered around the Lord’s table. In 1970, a temporary refurbishment bought the altar forward, using parts of the original marble and the original altar stone, given by the first Archbishop of Sydney, John Bede Polding. By 1972, as the College prepared to celebrate the Centenary of the Marist Brothers in Australia, the implementation of Vatican II liturgical reforms required further renovation of the chapel sanctuary.

The history of the chapel’s renewal and renovation has been ongoing since its dedication in 1940. After more than 75 years, the dated electrical infrastructure and floor coverings were replaced in 2017, and the chapel has been reordered so as to better reflect post-Vatican II theological and liturgical principles. From 2005 until the rededication of the chapel in 2017, a determined program saw the ongoing restoration of the 25 Mayer stained glass windows and the installation of the 1911 Norman and Beard pipe organ, originally a gift from Mr Ian Summerville and restored and augmented with the generous support of the Friel family. The final stage of the chapel’s renewal construction commenced in January 2017, with handover to the College in early September in readiness for the Class of 2017 Graduation Mass. The renewal project was celebrated with a Mass of Rededication on 27 November 2017. All this was made possible through the extraordinary generosity of donors, including some who left bequests.

The final stage of the chapel’s renewal construction commenced in January 2017, with handover to the College in early September in readiness for the Class of 2017 Graduation Mass.

Our magnificent chapel is the spiritual and physical heart of the College, deliberately constructed at the symmetric centre of our main sandstone building to remind all of the centrality of Christ in our lives. We gratefully acknowledge those generous supporters and benefactors who, over the past 80 years, have given our Marist community such a fitting and contemporary space of noble simplicity which continues to speak to your people today.