The need to build a larger church to satisfy the needs of a growing Parish, was one of the first situations encountered by Fr Laurie Cruikshank when he moved to Sutherland to take up the position of Parish Priest in 1972.
The site for construction of the Church was on the crest of a hill, but rather than follow a traditional solution to build a church for all to see, architect John King of Glendenning & King, designed a church to blend in with the natural bush beauty of nearby Royal National Park. The concept of an 'underground' Church was planned, retaining the top of the hill as an open space, the church itself surrounded by its own intimate environment which overlooks sunken courtyards providing a serene world away from surrounding suburbia atmosphere. Large courtyard areas and walls glass add to the feeling of the outside 'coming in'.
The atmosphere within is gently and inviting; it is a beautiful place to reflect and worship. St Patrick's Church is unique, not only in its concept and design, but in the fact that it was built largely by teams of volunteer Parishioners, who formed a monthly roster system to help build the church, under the direction of builder/parishioner Veri Laarakkers and Fr. Cruikshank.
St. Patrick's took a little over two years to build and was completed in 1982 and dedicated on 12 December 1982 by Cardinal James Freeman, Archbishop of Sydney.
The Statue of St Patrick, standing in welcome in the Church courtyard, is of Ortesis making and was purchased in October 1994. The parishioners contributed generously to the cost of this statue.
A gift from Bishop Cremin - At the front of the church in the forecourt there is a piece of stone set in a gaelic cross laid in the slate. It was brought from Ireland and comes from the Hill of Slane in County Meath where St Patrick lit the first Pascal fire and preached the first gospel to declare the faith openly in Ireland.
The Church opens off a north-facing forecourt, at the center of which is a garden and this courtyard is often used as an area for gathering and socialising by parishioners, after Mass, and for special celebrations.
The principal entry to the Church is protected from the elements by an overhanging roof and the entrance is into a low-ceiling space with the Blessed Sacrament Chapel at one end (to the left) and the sacristies at the other (to the right).
The idea was to have a maintenance-free church, as far as possible, and the materials used to build the church reflect this immediately upon entering. One needs to go back twelve years prior to the building of St Patrick's, to discover the history of the granite blocks used. These blocks were the floor of the animal sale yards, smoothed by the hooves of thousands of animals over the years, and redeemed from Flemington Sale yards when it was demolished. Fr Cruikshank, with much foresight, stockpiled thousands of these blocks, for which their first use was the Church Hall at Berowra. St Patrick's Church at Asquith followed. The blocks were originally quarried in Scotland and used as ballast in the early wool clippers and other sailing ships coming from England to the Australian Colony. The slate used on the floor came from China, while the main ceiling is Radiata Pine from Western Australia. The doors, window frames and other joinery are all made of Tasmanian Oak, which was locally manufactured by Ron Beslich & Sons.
Blessed Sacrament Chapel
As you move past the Stations of the Cross you will approach the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, where weekday Masses are usually said. The intimate space of this Chapel enhances a sense of deep peace and spirituality, the seating allowing for smaller gatherings (capacity 70 people).
The Tabernacle, where the Eucharist is reserved, is located in this chapel. The symbol on the front of the Tabernacle is the Greek symbol of Alpha & Omega, meaning the beginning and the end.
The ceiling in this chapel is lined with baffles, and made of Tasmanian Oak. The chapel also houses the confessionals, giving off onto the Eastern Courtyard.
The Lady Chapel
To the left of the altar a stone tunnel, intriguing and enticing, directs us to this chapel. From the main church you find yourself approaching a bronze, lifelike statue of Mary, supporting the Baby Jesus on her right arm, and with her left hand welcoming, yet deferring to Jesus, whose arms are stretched out towards us in a heartwarming gesture. This statue is called the Smiling Madonna and Mary seems to be looking directly at us, at once attracting us by a delightful smile, drawing us to the shrine to experience the joy of praying in private mediation. There are only three others like her in the world as the mould was broken when the four statues were made. The Statue comes for Ortisea in the Dolomites, Northern Italy, and was fashioned by Sr Angelica Ballard, Rome.
Upon entering the Church it is the beauty of the Sanctuary area that inspires a sense of arrival, of invitation and of the presence of the Spirit. This sense is, in part, created by the ceiling, which swoops up over the Sanctuary and becomes a rooflight of coloured glass, graduating in colour - signifying darkness to light - from deep tones of blue through purple, red, amber, to clear light colours adjacent to the Sanctuary wall, providing a changing wash of colour over the sanctuary furniture and wall. Combining the effects of this reflected light with a gently sloping floor and the overall fan shape lay-out of the seating, ensuring people experience a sense of shared involvement, focuses attention on the altar, and on the figure of the Risen Christ over the Altar. (The crucifix comes from Florence, Italy.) The glass skylight, comprising 90 sq metres, was designed and made locally at Peakhurst NSW, by an Irish woman (Paddi Robinson). A design marvel of the Church is its large "obstruction free" area, measuring 30 metres wide and 20 metres deep, accommodating seating for 500-550 people.
The Baptismal Font is seen to the left of the altar and, on the floor surrounding it are seven red flames, signifying the tongues of fire of the Holy Spirit received at Pentecost. These symbolise the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist (Holy Communion), Penance, Holy Orders, Matrimony, & Anointing of the Sick).
Our Lady of Perpetual Help is a gold mosaic from Rome. Fr Cruikshank carried her home on a plane as hand luggage.
The Pipe Organ to the right of the altar was built in Orange NSW by Roger Pogson. This organ is not only used at Masses and other celebrations, but is used on many occasions for classical recitals. The seating area for the choir accommodates 16-20 people.