Two hundred years young
In 1818 Catherine Fitzpatrick (1785–1861) convened a group of singers—including, perhaps predominantly, her own sons—to provide music at Catholic liturgies in the young colony of New South Wales. Fitzpatrick was an educated Irish woman—a schoolteacher—who had freely come to New South Wales to be near her husband Bernard, who had been transported to the colony with a conviction of embezzlement.
Catherine Fitzpatrick was part of the group of Catholics who sheltered Fr Jeremiah O’Flynn, an Irish priest who had himself come to the colony to minister to Catholic convicts against the wishes of the colonial government. O’Flynn was deported on 20th May 1818, and Catherine Fitzpatrick worked with a certain McGuire to train singers for a choir to sing at Mass and Vespers in anticipation of a time when priests would officially be appointed to minister to the colony.
Those priests arrived in May 1820 in the form of Fathers Philip Conolly and John Joseph Therry, and the choir was ready for them. When the first St Mary’s Cathedral was founded in 1821, the choir was an obvious choice to provide music to assist at the Cathedral’s liturgies when its construction was completed, and Catherine Fitzpatrick was its first conductor.
Saint Mary’s Cathedral Choir has been through many forms in the intervening years, but when Fr Ronald Harden was appointed Director of Music in 1955 he re-formed the Choir as an ensemble of men and boys to reflect the vision of the first Archbishop of Sydney, John Bede Polding, for the Cathedral to be a Benedictine monastic foundation. It is in that formation that the Choir continues to exist today.
With clear evidence for its origins in 1818, Saint Mary’s Cathedral Choir is acknowledged as the oldest musical ensemble in Australia still in operation. Our 200th anniversary in 2018 will be a significant occasion not only for the Choir and our regular audiences, but also for musicians around the whole country.