On Sunday 14 August 2016 I had the great pleasure of joining with parishioners past and present in celebrating the centenary mass for St Martha's Parish at Strathfield. St Martha's is a vibrant and, in many ways, unique parish, not just in my electorate but in the nation. This Catholic parish is the only one in Australia named after St Martha, and one of a few across the globe. Martha, the sister of Mary and Lazarus, was a model of hospitality in her dealings with Christ, as recorded in the book of John.
St Martha's was established in 1916, which was an interesting year in the history of the Catholic Church, as well as in the history of the Labor Party. Its establishment coincided with the fierce community debate over conscription. As the more historically minded members would know, including the Temporary Speaker, Mr Lee Evans, that led to the first split of the Australian Labor Party. The Catholic section of the party that remained was fiercely opposed to conscription. During that time there was also a rise in sectarianism between the then dominant faiths, the Catholics and Protestants. In Strathfield, unlike in other inner city suburbs, there was not a strong Irish Catholic presence. Some residents even believed that an official Catholic presence in Strathfield would harm residential property values. Amidst that turmoil and debate, St Martha's emerged as an independent parish, thanks in part to the determination and resolve of Monsignor Peter Byrne, who became St Martha's foundation priest.
Much of this history is captured in the book Faith, Hospitality and Service, which was released earlier this year. I pay tribute to Dr Damian Gleeson for the insight he shows in his marvellous book on the history and life of the parish. It tells of the emergence of a strong parish within the Strathfield community. It was and is a unique parish. Not many parishes have had the honour of a Premier of New South Wales and a Prime Minister of Australia as parishioners. James McGirr, Labor Premier from 1947 to 1952, and Frank Forde, caretaker Prime Minister after the death of John Curtin, were parishioners. St Martha's has also had a strong history of producing and supporting priests, brothers and sisters. At least eight priests have Strathfield origins, and many Strathfield women joined orders such as the Dominican, Josephite and Marist religious communities. The role of the Christian Brothers and their ties with the church and the much-respected St Patrick's College is also acknowledged in the book.
The parish in 2016 is very different from that of 1916. The 2011 Census noted the emergence of a non‑Anglo, non-Irish congregation. The top five overseas birthplaces for parishioners now are South Korea, Lebanon, Italy, China and India. This was certainly evident during a packed and wonderful centenary mass that I attended.
It was presided over by His Grace the Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher. I note that it was the first parish event over which he has presided since his illness earlier this year. Of course, everyone in this House wishes him well. His Grace was joined by a healthy number of former priests, as well as the current parish priest, the wonderful Father Christopher Slattery. Also known as "Father Chris", Father Slattery is well known and respected in the parish. I acknowledge and thank the pastoral council and the centenary committee members for organising the day. They include Tony Abiassaf, George Ayoub, Liz Doumit, Jane Farhat, Greg Glass, Erica Hassett, Raywathy, Koelmeyer, Yvonne Martins, Conti Rodrigues, and Helen Williamson.
I always have a burst of confidence when I visit St Martha's parish and St Martha's School and see the number of younger parishioners. That is a statement of hope for the future of this parish and the Christian faith in my electorate. With a patron such as St Martha, the role of women has always been a vital part of the parish. Again, it was pleasing to see women take an active part in the service. St Martha is the patron of many people, but most notably and aptly of those who serve. I look forward to working with the parish as it enters its second century and continues its role as a parish that looks outwards and which explores how it can follow in the footsteps of St Martha and serve people and the faith.