Blessed and opened in 1936 the church has remained in its original condition. The building has a Romanesque quality about its design, the fairly massive brick walls have small regular openings, yet the windows are Gothic Revival and the mass of the building is broken up with decorative brickwork.
This would possibly be the finest example of brickwork in the Illawarra.
Shaped bricks are used to form hood mouldings over doors and windows, to deflect driving rain running down the face of the building into the window. Patterns are created in brickwork bond showing the dedication and craftsmanship of the tradesman.
This is the first building in the Illawarra to express “modern” materials with concrete coping and quoins revealed on the outside facade.
St Patrick's Community, Berry
The township that we know today as Berry was, until 1890, known as Broughton Creek. Having secured the permission of David Berry, the name was changed to Berry on 9 December 1890 by an Act of Parliament. [Shoalhaven by W.A. Bayley]
There are baptisms recorded in the Parish Register for ‘Broughton Creek' in 1862. In fact by 1866 the small Catholic community had built its first little chapel with a capacity for 40 people, north of Broughton Creek Mill opposite what is today the Mananga homestead. In the Shoalhaven Mission report dated 14 November 1872 Broughton Creek (Berry) is noted as having a chapel in fair condition with monthly Mass. However in the 1880 report the Chapel was described as in poor condition, and soon to be replaced.
By 1884 the prospects for the Catholic people of Broughton Creek were more positive. The original Church dedicated to St Patrick was erected in 1884 on the present day site, donated by David Berry. It was a wooden structure with an iron roof, and it replaced the chapel that stood beyond Broughton Creek Mill.
A six-room wooden cottage was purchased adjacent to the Church and this served as the first Convent in Berry. Accounts differ as to the year the Sisters of St Joseph came to Berry. However according to the Catholic Directory for that period the first community came to reside at Broughton Creek or Berry in 1891. Records show that Mother Mary MacKillop came to Berry early in January 1891. We can assume that it would have been her practice to affirm the Sisters by her presence at the commencement of yet another foundation, or by an early visit.
There was an original community of three Sisters, Sister Mary Sylvester being the Superior. The Church as was frequently the practice, served as the school. The building of the Church and the purchase of the cottage cost 1,120 pounds. By 1891 the debt was reduced to 56-7-6. (Fifty-six pounds, seven shillings, and six pence). Mother Mary MacKillop again visited the Berry community on 6 March 1899.
The foundation stone for the present Convent, which has been recently renovated, was blessed and laid by Fr John Dunne of Wollongong on 6 November 1921. This replaced the old cottage, which was sold and transported to Queen Street in the Berry township. For many years the Sisters catered for a small number of boarders. They also taught some basic bookkeeping and secretarial skills to older students.
The foundation stone for the present St Patrick's Church was blessed and laid by the Rev. Michael Sheehan Co-Adjutor Archbishop of Sydney on 24 November 1935.
The builder was Mr H.A. Taylor (Concord) and the architect was Clement Glancey (Sydney). The building of such a Church in the years following the Great Depression would have been a great challenge for a small community, but parishioners responded enthusiastically.
Monsignor King, representing Archbishop Sheehan, who sent his apology, blessed and opened the Church on Sunday 31 May 1936. According to architect George Adams, "the building has a Romanesque quality with Gothic Revival style windows. This building would possibly be the finest example of brickwork in the Illawarra... this was the first building in the Illawarra-Shoalhaven to express 'modern' materials with concrete coping and quoins revealed on the outside facade."
The Church was built to accommodate 300 people, although the entire Catholic population of the Berry region at the time was no more than 200. For that reason (according to the Shoalhaven Telegraph reporting the opening) Father Galavan remarked that he had invited their friends from outside along, to help them out! Fr Massey, the recently appointed curate to the Shoalhaven made the special appeal for funds, to which there was a very generous response. Ald Strong, Mayor of Berry congratulated all responsible for the beautiful Church. According to the address by the parish priest Fr Peter Galavan at the official opening, the contract price for the Church was 3,000 pounds with an extra 500 pounds being allocated for furnishings. It is interesting to read that originally the Church had five bays or aisles.
The old Church continued to be used as the School until 1954.
By 1952 Wollongong was a Diocese in its own right, and Fr Jeremiah O'Flaherty was parish priest of Nowra (1941-56). The laying and blessing of foundation stones seems to have been a feature of Church history in Berry, for on Sunday 7 March 1954 the newly appointed Bishop of the Diocese, Bishop Thomas McCabe, blessed the foundation stone for the new Catholic School at Berry, located to the southern side of Albert Street.
The Bishop was back in Berry for the Blessing and opening of the new School on 31 July, built at a cost of 8,000 pounds. In response to the special appeal by Fr (Mgr) Herbert O'Reilly 500 pounds was donated on the day. The new School could accommodate 70 pupils.
The number of children attending St Patrick's School fluctuated over the years, but with declining enrolments, and Government rationalisation policy regarding schools in the late 1970s, St Patrick's School was inevitably destined for closure.
On the evening of 22 November 1978 Bishop Murray celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving at St Patrick's with a very large congregation in attendance. The mood was one of gratitude and sadness as the congregation reflected on how significant their little school had been in the life of the community. Following the Mass, a capacity crowd assembled in the Berry School of Arts for a Testimonial Evening and a presentation to the Sisters of St Joseph. Speakers included the parish priest Monsignor Purcell, parishioners, community and local Government representatives. The entire gathering felt deeply indebted to the Sisters of St Joseph for their enriching contribution to the district for almost ninety years.
Parishioners saw a need to keep a vibrant spirit in the Berry Church following the departure of the Sisters and so the Community Group was established. Over the years the Community Group has taken on many and varied responsibilities, e.g. organising a variety of rosters, ground maintenance, and fund raising to mention a few. The funds raised helped renovate and transform the School into a Hall, a much used community centre until 2002.
Much of the land on which the School stood was sold during the 1980s, and the money in the main was directed toward funding the first Stage of St John the Evangelist High School.
With the passage of years the School/Hall needed extensive repair work, and ground maintenance on the remaining portion of the land was also proving an arduous challenge. In the year 2000 a proposal was presented by the Community Group to parishioners that the land with the School building be sold and a new Centre/Hall be constructed annexing the Convent.
The proposal was received favourably and thus began a long and thorough process of discussion, consultation and decision making. The land was sold on 17 November 2001 to Lamble Property Trust. Subsequently Bishop Hitchock and Irwin Architects were engaged to design the new Centre and civil works. On 16 April 2003 Peter Rein was contracted as the builder. The project was completed just prior to Christmas 2003.
Berry parishioners were delighted to learn that the Lamble family decided to give the old School building to Berry Public School that was in great need of such a facility. The P. and C. had the structure transported to the grounds of the Public School where it now stands. There it was reroofed and refurbished, and many parishioners from Berry attended the reopening of the School building that was so dear to St Patrick's for almost fifty years.
It is an appropriate co-incidence that fifty years on to the day Bishop Peter Ingham should be blessing and opening this new Centre replacing the School, the foundation stone of which was laid by the late Bishop McCabe on 7 March 1954. This new Centre with the renovated Convent was truly a community project.
May we continue to go forth building a community of faith, love, and hospitality.
The commemorative plaque unveiled at the blessing of the new Centre and renovated Convent reads as follows:
To the memory of the Parishioners who have gone before us in faith, and to acknowledge with appreciation the contribution made by the Sisters of St Joseph to the Catholic Community of Berry (1891-1978).
This Centre, a community project, was blessed and opened by Bishop Peter Ingham D.D., Bishop of Wollongong on 7 March 2004.
Information compiled by Fr P.J. Faherty (Parish Priest)