The generosity of the Maltese towards the Catholic Church

The Maltese community established a very good connection and were the main financial contributors to the Catholic parishes of Wentworthville and Pendle Hill, as the early Maltese made these suburbs their home.

Wentworthville and Pendle Hill (later known as Greystanes) are adjoining suburbs in Sydney, in the state of New South Wales, Australia located about 27 kilometres from Sydney CBD and are part of the Greater Western Sydney Region.

The Voice of the Maltese through our good friend John Cassar, a past pupil of Don Bosco from Wentworthville, came into possession of an original letter written on the 14th April 1996 by the first parish priest Rev P.J. Knuppel O.Carm. The letter is transcribed here without editing.

“I arrived in Sydney in June 1956 from New Zealand and went to our novitiate in Wahroonga. The day after my arrival, I rang Father Tim Kennedy at Wentworthville. He invited me to lunch the following day. He and his housekeeper must have lived very frugally as lunch consisted of a small chop and one small potato. This was on a Wednesday. He gave me a key and said he was leaving the following Friday.

I duly arrived late on Friday afternoon and found not a scrap of food in the kitchen. Everything had been taken. I had no money and wondered what I was going to have for tea. Then John Harcombe junior (then an altar boy, now a priest in the Archdiocese) called to say his father invited me to tea. Problem solved.

The next morning I went back to the Novitiate to borrow some money. Father Michael Camilleri had arrived and had to be fed also. The collections on Sunday relieved the situation.

I was appalled at the poor school, so I decided to have a decent school as soon as possible, but first, the Maltese at Pendle Hill wanted a church and school. Father Camilleri said some Maltese were willing to make donations.

Fr Camilleri (right) with Bishop Nikol Cauchi of Gozo and Lawrence Dimech in 1968 in Sydney.

The next week he took me to six Maltese homes and I came back with over $7,000 and feeling a bit poorly as I had to have a drink in each home. After that four homes were my limit.

Anyhow we bought 12 acres of land in Pendle Hill and engaged an architect Clem Glancy. Later we bought seven more acres. I suggested to the architect that as the building would be a school church, an arrowhead design would be an appropriate one. The sanctuary at the tip of the arrow with three wings, so the altar would be visible to all.

Our Lady Queen of Peace church in Greystanes

Being unable to get a bank loan, I began a Parish Loan which realised some $750,000 (mainly from the Maltese) up to my departure in September 1965. A lot of the loans were without interest and the remainder at one, two and three per cent.

With that money, we were able to continue building. I remember one evening Frank Cefai, who put up all the buildings, told me he needed $10,000. We had no money but the next morning after mass, a Maltese gave me that sum for a loan.

Father Camilleri, without whose contacts and help I couldn’t have managed and he was always supportive. I remember him taking me to a Maltese farm near Baulkham Hills and the husband took us outside where he dug up a tin containing $10,000 buried under a pile of fowl manure. The notes were damp and smelt to high heaven. The bank manager was appalled the next morning.

Frank Cefai, builder of the Greystanes church, then part of Pendle HIll

The parishioners at Wentworthville and Pendle Hill were wonderful. Anyway, the buildings went on and I remember meeting two surveyors mapping out a sewer line. At the cost of a bottle of scotch, they put the line right against where the school toilets were to be which saved us a mint in connecting costs.

I remember the first school week in 1960. I had returned from Rome on October 31 1959 to find the back half of the priory finished. Anyway, the hot weather struck as school began at the end of January.

We had four consecutive days of heat 116 to 120 degrees. I closed the school on the first day until the end of the week and I and my community sat on the floor of the old presbytery for a couple of days drinking cold beer. Someone had brought us a keg so we filled the bath with ice to keep the keg cold.

Another highlight of my time in Wentworthville was the formation of the Cumberland Catholic Club at Pendle Hill. My idea was to raise funds for the schools. For the last two years of my stay at Wentworthville, parish expenses totalled $54,000 per year (mainly teachers’ salaries) while income was $46,000 per year, so something had to be done.

Wentworthville Church – Our Lady of Mount Carmel

There are so many helpers I could name but had better not for fear of leaving someone out. But I am very grateful to the priests of my time there, chief of whom was Father Camilleri.

Another thing I like to mention is that our Boys’ School at Pendle Hill (St Simon Stock) was the second school in Australia to receive the Menzies Government first aid to private schools in the form of the Science grant.

Another recollection of mine was the morning I walked to the Commonwealth Bank carrying $50,000 in a paper bag hoping it would like my lunch.

On Right: Fr R Cassar, Fr P. Knuppel, Dr Tony Buhagiar MD & Fr Camilleri. On left, Hon G. Whitlam MP (former PM of Australia) can be seen.

The Pendle Hill school opened with two sisters from Parramatta and two lay teachers. For a long time, Father Camilleri and I used to pick up the sisters in the morning and take them back after school.

There were no traffic lights at the corner of Ettalong Road and the Western Highway. Soon getting sick of trying to cross over, I used to get the children (we used to take some home each afternoon) to get out of the car and use the pedestrian crossing thus halting the traffic and allowing me to cross over.

I regard my time in Wentworthville as the best years of my priesthood.

Fr Knuppel O’Carm

Maltese are known for their generosity, especially towards the Catholic Church both in Malta and here in Australia, and this reminiscing scribe is another confirmation.

Cardinal Norman Thomas Gilroy (1896/1977) appointed the Carmelite Friars to care for the parish of Wentworthville in 1956.  They immediately sought to share with the parish their Carmelite charism, provide pastoral care to the growing Maltese community and upgrade the parish primary school. 

They also began the work of establishing a church and schools in the Pendle Hill area; these became the beginnings of the parish of Greystanes.

The church and pastoral facilities were improved with the opening of the Paul Knüppel Parish Centre in 2000.  The parish hosted the pilgrimage of the relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux in 2003, and World Youth Day catechesis and events in 2008. Extensive repairs, maintenance and renovation works were undertaken on the church in 2017. More recently in 2020, the relics of St Thérèse were welcomed back to Wentworthville, accompanied by the relics of her parents, Sts Louis and Zélie Martin.

By TVOTM Community Desk

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