• 100 Years at Epping
  • 100 Years at Epping
  • 100 Years at Epping
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
Friday, 21 May 2021 18:52

A century of missionary presence in Epping

firstsvdhouseepping 350The Divine Word Missionaries are celebrating 100 years since arriving in Epping, Sydney, a significant development in the mission to Australia and Papua New Guinea, which was overseen by St Arnold Janssen himself.

“The first chapter of the SVD in Australia is a story of hard years, 45 of them: just like the 40 years of Israel in the desert. They were years of going around in circles, wondering do we have a place of our own or a future in this country, or are we simply an adjunct to the German New Guinea Mission of the SVD,” writes Fr Frank Gerry in a history of the SVD AUS Province.

In 1896, Fr Arnold Janssen, the Founder of the Society of the Divine Word, had appointed Fr Eberhard Limbrock SVD to head a six-man team of missionaries to German New Guinea.

“Fr Limbrock had been a missionary in China for 13 years and, at 36 years of age, had proved himself to be trustworthy and capable,” Fr Frank says.

“It did not take him long to realise that having a house of some kind in Australia would be a distinct advantage.

“It could serve as a source of financial support and would be a logical place from which to do business for the mission, be a port of call for missionaries coming to or going from New Guinea, as well as an excellent place for rest and recuperation for ailing missionaries.”

In 1898, when Fr Limbrock was in Holland for a General Chapter of the Congregation, Fr Arnold agreed to his plan and the SVD presence in Australia was born.

svdpioneers01 350Fr Limbrock and Fr Jacob Fey arrived in Sydney on January 29, 1900 and at the request of Cardinal Moran, the Archbishop of Sydney, they took up residence in Drummoyne with the agreement that as soon as a suitable priest could be found, the Society would take up the pastoral care of what was to be the new parish of St Mark’s, Drummoyne.

Fr Fischer was transferred to Australia to take up the three responsibilities of Parish Priest, mission purchaser for New Guinea and religious Superior.

But, says Fr Frank: “It was not until 14 September 1902, with the arrival of Fr Peter Klein and Brother Leodegard Schmitt that any stability could be established”.

Fr Klein and Br Schmitt were appointed in 1902 to Sydney and would remain in Australia until their deaths in 1941 and 1954 respectively.

In naming Fr Klein to this post in Australia, Fr Janssen said: “Look out for good vocations, priests and brothers: that would be a real help for the Society and the missions”.

Those words would take a long time to be realised, even if in the beginning, Fr Klein’s enthusiasm knew no bounds.

Fr Janssen notes in one of his many letters: “You tell me that you have in mind to found an agricultural school, a trade school, a technical school, a house for young vocations and an art school: these are high-sounding projects but to execute them demands many trained people … don’t be discouraged by my comments … zeal is good, but too much zeal is not good”.

Fr Arnold’s counsel proved wise, as Fr Peter soon found that work in the parish, assistance to other parishes, welcoming missionaries travelling to New Guinea, caring for sick missionaries: all these activities were enough to fill his days and keep him from achieving the dreams mentioned in Fr Arnold’s letter

Fr Larry Nemer SVD, Province Archivist, writes that from the start, the Divine Word Missionaries in Sydney had as their aim, not just to rest content with day to day pastoral work and seeing to the needs of the New Guinea Mission, but also to broaden the basis of their work in Australia so that it might be more in tune with their missionary ideals and eventually that they set up  a mission sending house which would take young Australians and prepare them for work in China and the Pacific.

“All the plans, however were slow to reach fruition, and it was to prove a long, hard haul and two world wars before a missionary training centre was to be established in the small hamlet of Marburg, halfway between Brisbane and Toowoomba in Queensland in 1944,” he says.

After World War I there were many tensions in Australia, including anti-German hysteria, nationalism, racism  and the debate about diocesan clergy versus religious clergy.

“In Sydney, this led the new Archbishop Kelly to ask that the parish of Drummoyne be relinquished in favour of the diocesan clergy in 1919 and Fr Klein and Br Leo now had to search for a new property which would be suitable as a base for recuperating New Guinea missionaries and for a purchaser for the New Guinea mission as well as a possible site for a future mission house,” says Fr Larry.

“For almost a year they ‘floated’ from one rented residence to another in Ryde and Gladesville, from October 1919 to October 28, 1920, when Providence stepped in.”

Fr Patrick Moore, parish priest of Epping, purchased a suitable property – ‘Hillcrest’ – on Midson Road – on behalf of Fr Klein, who, although by now an Australian citizen was classed as an ‘alien’ and was not allowed to purchase property.

Fr Klein, Brothers Leo and Odoricus, named the house ‘Arnoldy’ and it remained until 1965 when, under the leadership of the Regional Superior Fr Lawrence Mack, the Society moved to 199 Epping Road, its current Provincial Centre. The Sister Servants of the Holy Spirit also began their ministry in Australia from ‘Arnoldy’, taking up residence in 1926 and establishing their foundation in 1933, before relocating to Brisbane after World War II.

arnoldjanssenchapel01 350The campus on Epping Road has continued to develop over the years as its purpose changed. The first demountable chapel was replaced with a modern new chapel and buildings were established to accommodate the Province’s administrative centre.

A number of different groups have been accommodated at Epping Road over the years, including postulants, novices, graduate students, immigrant chaplains, asylum seekers, ill or retired SVD members and confreres providing ministry to the laity.

From its shaky start, the AUS Province now has a range of strong and vibrant ministries with multicultural parish communities, Indigenous communities, ethnic  chaplaincy, prison ministry, hospital chaplaincy, formation for missionaries who have been sent out all around the world, and more. The Province has also grown to include New Zealand, Thailand and Myanmar.