Before St Bede’s was built, mass was held at a rented school building on Pyrmont Street. In June 1867 fire damaged the building and the proprietor was convicted of arson.
St Bede’s was built in 1867 by volunteers with stone quarried on the spot, and from Saunders Quarry. The foundation stone was laid on 6 February, and the Church (seating 120 people) opened on 1 September. Next February the Council of Education was surprised to hear that the school building to which they had contributed £500 was in fact a church. The Council only learned about the church when the teacher reported that the priest forbade him from entering.
Fr Eugene Luckie was the first priest in charge. In the 1850s he was the Chaplain on the goldfields at Sofala. Priests in the goldfields often accumulated gold, from lucky miners. In the 1850s Fr Eugene pledged £100 to St John’s College – but failed to pay. When the College sought legal remedies, he complained that he was a poor man, given the most miserable placements in the archdiocese, and had nothing to offer. (In his will many years later, Fr Eugene left £17k to his old seminary in Dublin to train Irish priests for Australia. This scholarship was still operating in the 1940s.)
On 28 June 1880, when there were a thousand Catholics in the parish, the Foundation Stone of St Bede’s School was laid. Attendance rose to 244 in 1891. A rebuilt school opened in 1924 with 220 children: on that occasion the Archbishop attacked the Government and Freemasonry for their attitudes to Catholic Schools. This School served the district until it closed in 1954. John Armstrong, a former pupil became Lord Mayor of Sydney in 1965.
In the early 20th Century priests had to report on ‘special dangers’ to the faith of the people. Priests nominated drink (there was a pub on almost every corner), gambling and the Communist Party. Sailors were also a ‘danger’.
St Bede’s Church has recently had three major repairs. In 2006 the floor was restored. Mass was held in a meeting room in The Star casino – a neighbour since 1997, on the site of the old Powerhouse. Parishioners enjoyed these masses, as the casino was warmer and more comfortable than the Church in winter. In 2009 a new stained glass window, “Majestas Domini” was installed, providing Jeffrey Hamilton’s reinterpretation of the mediaeval image of Christ in Majesty surrounded by symbols of the four Evangelists. Most recently, the pipe organ was replaced.