The construction of the Church of St. Nikola Tavelić began as a dream and an idea in the early 1970’s. Unfortunately it took many years for this idea to become a reality. My contribution to this miraculous work began somewhere in 1983. As 25 years have passed since then, it is difficult to remember it all. There are probably video tapes about the construction and some private material that individuals have stored away such as photos of various stages of the construction work, etc. I am not sure what material could be located, but it would be well worth looking into this.
I do not feel competent enough to describe the construction of our Church from a holistic point of view and without having detailed data. This is because of my human disposition and selective memory in only recalling those events that may have had a special meaning to me personally, whereas others may recall different events and experiences of this time. I do have to say, however, that I am personally and deeply convinced that the construction of our Church in St. John’s Park, as well as all the other Croatian churches in Sydney and Australia, was only possible through the grace of God and the unity of the Croatian community. Furthermore, when we look back at the period of history from 1980 to 1990, we can see the great events and blessings we have received as a nation in our homeland but also as emigrant parishioners. I remember well the pride of our neighbours from Wollongong with the progress in the construction of their church. I remember the joy of the parishioners in Blacktown when they started building their church. All of us in St. John’s Park were also utterly convinced of our success. We were of one mind and united in our work.
Croatian community from 1970 to 1990
It is necessary to mention that the Croatian community in 1983 was completely different from today’s community. The pro-communist Yugoslavs viewed Croatian Catholics as part of the “anti-Yugoslav” section of the Croatian diaspora. Throughout the world, the Yugoslav regime was very intent on ruining the reputation of the Croatian nation, especially those who were of Catholic persuasion. This regime had a particularly active cohort in Sydney.
At this time, the Croatian community in Sydney were divided. Half of our social clubs in Sydney belonged to Croatians who wanted Croatia to become free and for our culture and language to become officially recognised, which is our God-given right. The other part of the community supported the Yugoslav “brotherhood and unity” doctrine. The same could be said about the newspapers, radio programmes and media in Sydney. And the media is one of the most influential elements in the everyday life of a nation and its community. The power of information and disinformation is well known to all of us who had left behind oppressive, monopolistic regimes such as the old communist Yugoslav system.
At the time, the Australian and Yugoslav media tarnished our community in a very aggressive and intentionally systematic fashion. I mention this because without a complete understanding of the circumstances and struggles of our community in Sydney at the time, it is not possible to completely appreciate what it actually meant to build a “Croatian Catholic Church”. Furthermore, the importance of, and what it meant to publicly say that we were of Croatian origin, we believe in God and our family, and that we were grateful for our new home and life in Australia. We only wanted to leave a positive impression of our people, faith and culture so our community would be justly recognised and integrated like the English, Irish, Polish and Italian communities had done. We worked very hard on maintaining our Croatian heritage, faith and culture because at the time we were always viewed as either terrorists or Nazis. Miracles took place in the hearts of many of our people, with many finding their faith and a new path during the construction of the House of God, the house for Croatian Catholics.
Desire for a local church of our own
For years, the Croatian Catholics from the Fairfield/Liverpool area had been asking our priests in Sydney/Summer Hill to approve the building of a local church for our growing community. We assisted in the purchase of the Croatian Church in Summer Hill, however for those of us who lived so far from the city, there was a need to have our own church nearby so that we would not have to drive half an hour by car to Summer Hill and then not be able to fit in as the Church was too full. We were leasing various local churches and premises to hold mass. At first the mass was held in the “Kralj Tomislav” (King Tomislav) Club[i] and then the Church of St. Theresa in Fairfield Heights for a time. But eventually even that Church became too small.
The Club offered to donate part of its land for the construction of a church adjacent to it but this was not considered suitable. Our request for our own church had not been accepted for a considerable period of time, whilst the number of Croatian immigrant parishioners grew. Then finally, land was purchased on the Western Highway in Blacktown for the construction of the church. However, the municipal council declined to give building approval for this land because it was in an industrial zone. For us, Blacktown was the same as Summer Hill in regards to travelling and we remained adamant that we wanted and could build a church for Croatians in our own area.
Owing to the efforts of a group of respectable and persistent Croatians led their by their faith and with the support of Bishop Ćiril Kos, a block of land was finally purchased in St. John’s Park. Those particular people deserve a special mention - Mr. Bernard Rončević, Šime Trinajstić, Mijo Marić, Anđelko Marunčić and many others who continued to support their efforts. There wasn’t enough money for a straight-out purchase but $25,000 was collected for a deposit. Fortunate for us, upon hearing that this land was to be used for the construction of a Church of God, the landowners did not ask for a higher price, and were overjoyed that a Catholic church was going to be built on their farm. These were people of good faith, originally from Italy and they sold us the land for $75,000. The ever-persevering members of our first committee notified Fr. Toni Mutnik and Fr. Josip Švenda in Summer Hill that we were buying land. They helped us pay for the land, whilst the community began to organise themselves to work on the construction. At the same time another new priest, Fr. Gracijan Biršić, an expert in education, arrived in Sydney to help guide us in faith and teach our children. Finally we received the building approval for the church on the newly purchased land in St. John’s Park.
I believe that the fact that the Croatians from Wollongong had already begun with the construction of their new church greatly bolstered our hopes in St. John’s Park. There is a whole series of memories tied to those days, as well as the realisation of our hopes. For us it was important that we had commenced this work, which we deeply believed, and still continue to believe, that the Lord God was behind this good deed we had started.
Founding of church construction committee
After successfully finding and securing the land for the church, an inaugural church construction committee was founded in the Fairfield/Liverpool area. We all knew each other because we had been seeing each other at mass at Fairfield for years and worked in various cultural and educational institutions of the Croatian community. I was called by Mr. Bernard Rončević to join the church construction committee as we had known each other for a long time and participated in voluntary work in our local community. I was the youngest member of the new committee, with three small children and a wife.
We lived in Campbelltown and I worked long hours just like everyone else. Despite this I agreed to join the committee with the same commitment as everyone else.
Mr. Bernard Rončević had been the head of the construction of the “Kralj Tomislav” club in the 1970’s and had served as its president and committee member for many years. At the time we were all actively working to expand cultural and educational projects in our fields of interest. We organised the Croatian language schools, the Kralj Tomislav Croatian Youth, the youth folkloric dance group Linđo[ii], a chess club, ŠOHEŠ, (Central Committee of Croatian Ethnic Schools) the Kralj Tomislav Soccer Club and a series of different humanitarian activities. We knew each other through our work and the Croatian community knew us because we weren’t involved in “talking for talks sake”. Rather, we were focused on effectively implementing successful initiatives that promote national and cultural unity. Trustworthy individuals were carefully chosen for the church committee from as many regions as possible so that they would have the greatest possible influence and number of helpers.
The first meetings for the construction of the church were held in the Kralj Tomislav Club. We elected a committee which consisted of Bernard Rončević, our president, and Šimun Trinajstić as vice-president. Mr. Trinajstić had already drafted design plans and together with Bernard they began to seriously work on the construction details. Everyone was given their tasks and we crafted plans on how construction would be carried out; how information and promotion of our work would be communicated; how material and money would be collected; how to organise volunteers; and how to ensure that the cooking, cleaning and all that was necessary to achieve our now achievable dream would take place
We are assigned our own priest and we prepare for construction
We asked Fr. Rajko Gelemanović, the provincial priest in Summer Hill to select one of his priests to overlook the construction of the church in St. John’s Park. We were assigned the newly arrived priest Fr. Gracijan Biršić. Right from the very beginning he had a very good understanding of his flock and together we planned and resolved all challenges: how, when, by whom, what and where
We continued to regularly hold meetings in the Club and we organised clearing of the land and demolition of the old sheds, fences and overgrown shrubs and bushes. On the day of the big clean-up, a good number of committee members and parishioners turned up. This event will always remain in our memories, especially when we recall how Ivan Halar’s truck got two flat tyres during the clean-up and there were no garages open nearby for repairs. Iko Vrdoljak and I mowed the grass with a tractor; he drove and I cleared the grass which at times wrapped itself around the tractor’s axel. Given that we were hurrying to get the work done, we misunderstood each other and I ended up breaking my middle finger which has remained bent to this very day and is a reminder of that event.
For me, the meeting in which we deliberated on what to name our church was very interesting. The majority of suggestions were that the church should bear the name of our Cardinal Stepinac. We couldn’t name our church after Our Lady because Wollongong had already named their church in honour of Her. Fr. Gracijan explained to us that it is the common practice and custom to name churches after saints and our Cardinal at the time had not yet been proclaimed blessed. This is how we came to select the name of the first Croatian saint, St. Nikola Tavelić,. Fr. Gracijan advised and directed us in faith, and we often came to him with questions about the construction. We got along very well and the work began.
Commencement of work
The work logistics, planning, preparation of the land for construction, collection of donations, budgeting, information flow to the community and the way in which toinclude the community at every stage of the work were worked out in detail in the circle of a joint committee of almost 30 people.
If you’ve ever been part of a committee you can appreciate how difficult it is to make decisions with such a large number of people, however with us this actually worked out quite well. There were good and some not-so-good days but they all were in the end, fruitful days. I held the post of secretary and kept the minutes, while in a similar vein everyone else invested their talents to achieve the greatest success. My talent for the shovel wasn’t too great but I still tried, however it was in organisation that I did my best work and I am very grateful to all those committee members who took me seriously even though I was the youngest. To expedite the work, we divided the committee into a number of subcommittees. We performed small tasks with the same dedication and joy which we exercised when working on the more significant duties. We all had the honour of paying from our own pockets to contribute to the effort. I remember contributing to the purchase of three bags of onions, five bags of potatoes, oil, salt, vinegar, etc. for all our picnics organised on the land, so we could update our community and collect donations. We increased the number of picnics on the land so that people could see what was being done. During mass, Fr. Gracijan would inform the people of our progess. We also used the local “Croatian radio program” for our announcements. That is how we, “piece by piece”, collected money, bricks, timber and everything else for the construction of the church. My impression was that no one minded or resented making these contributions.
The fact is that a good number of us were in less than favourable financial situations. Some had young families, some were pensioners or suffering illnesses, some were even unemployed. There were people from all economic levels but we all had the same faith in our community and in our dream. We also of course had the spirit of unity and thus God’s inspiration could be felt in our work. I often remember certain events and the circumstance and instances in which they occurred at that time. It would be impossible to replicate them today, which is where the beauty of this story lies.
Blessing of foundation
Then the time came for the blessing of the foundation and our first Midnight Mass on the concrete slab under a star-filled sky.
Led by Fr. Gracijan’s inspiration, it was decided that we would include a time capsule in the foundation. The common practice is to include some special items from that era, yet Fr Gracijan thought it would be more appropriate and meaningful to include “words” instead. The text was prepared by Fr. Gracijan and read by Mr. Trstenjak just before they were enclosed in the foundation. The blessing of the foundation was given by well-known Bishop David Cremin from Hurstville who was our friend and always happily obliged to the requests of our community. On this occasion more people than ever had gathered and after that people started helping and supporting our work more than ever.
And while we were building and diligently keeping track of everything and anything at the building site and in the community, we received a pleasant surprise one day from our priests in Summer Hill. They sent us a donation which came from a sum of money which they had shared with us and other church communities in Sydney. This money had come from the sale of the land in Tumbi Umbi which had been purchased many years ago by the first Croatian priest in Sydney, Fr. Rok Romac. I can’t quite recall the exact amount but I do remember that it came in really handy at the time. I would also like to mention that we had hoped to secure for our church at least one bell, possibly one of the two that were in Tumbi Umbi To our disappointment we didn’t manage to do so, but we still see and hear them when we come to the church in Blacktown.
When the construction began with the digging of the foundation, Fr. Rajko Gelemanović, the provincial from the Franciscan province in Zagreb, was visiting Sydney. Together with Fr. Gracijan he asked for the blessing of this activity carried out in honour of Our Lord. It was early in the morning on the building site. It was somehow touching to be standing on that empty field and feeling such indescribable joy in this work of sacrifice, love and pain. I remember well the trembling hands of the late Mr. Vilim Ševo as he held his well known farmer’s hat during the prayer. Standing there were people in work clothes. There were no suits, long speeches or a great ceremony, but we all felt God’s presence, inspiration and the strengthening of our “stubborn resolve”. I noticed many teary eyes among us. One of our prayers was that no one would be hurt or become ill at that site and for the work to progress well. That is exactly how it was in the end.
Work advanced quickly and in an efficient manner. When the digging of the foundation began, the community realised that serious work was being done and help arrived in greater numbers than ever. Not even the rain could hold us back, which sometimes came down quite heavily. When it did rain, rainwater had to be pumped from the foundations whilst we were still undertaking work. We can still see Mijo Marić and Jerko Čurković standing there covered in yellow muck from the clay, while pumping out the rainwater from the ditches, which occurred on more than one occasion.
.We didn’t have a lot of money and we used it very strategically. We always used what had been collected for the planned tasks and tried to be resourceful. We made budgets for known upcoming costs and somehow managed to get by through paying for things we needed, obtaining donations or receiving much appreciated donations. We diligently watched every cent. We didn’t want to borrow money. Instead we decided that our church would be built by our community, not only with its own money but also by its own hands and donations of construction material. This decision not only helped the building of our church but it also raised the possibility of building a new church in Blacktown. When the parishioners from the Blacktown area saw that we had begun work then they become inspired, and soon purchased new land near a school to build their own church.
One of the interesting events during the construction was that there was a secret “competition” at the site to see who was the most diligent and flawless bricklayer, and who would finish their assigned task first. For me it was like a sign that God had sent us to that field to “build a church”. Now almost 25 years later, we have realised that we built our church just like St. Francis built his. As much as we built the physical church, we realised that this Church was actually building us, our faith and our characters.
Of course, there was a multitude of surprises and wonderful events that happened during construction and they have been entered in the minutes of the meetings. I remember well the Catholics of Hungarian descent, who for years had attended church and mass in the Croatian language with us and still do to the present day. They regularly brought stuffed peppers and other food to our workers on the building site. They also brought roast meats and refreshments, and together with us they donated money for now our church. Neighbours from the area also visited us and brought food and drinks for our workers and volunteers which was truly a very pleasant surprise. A palpable indescribable joy and spiritual peace reigned over the building site, as well as a determination for everyone to contribute something and help one another.
There were also surprises where individuals in the construction industry sent their machinery and workers free of charge to paint and finish the steel construction. Cranes for lifting large steel beams also arrived at the site...For me, it was a special joy to go to the building site and receive new lists of volunteers and workers constantly joining. I witnessed our church and community blossom like a flower from the soil that we were toiling.
The majority of people building and donating were actually the ones who preferred not to sit in the front pews in the church. Truth be told some didn’t even attend church regularly but they still gave donations and fulfilled their duty.
We wanted to build the vestry (the room to house the sacred objects and vestments) and presbytery for Fr. Gracijan first so that he could move in as soon as possible. This is how we came up with the idea for a sponsored walk or pilgrimage by our priest, accompanied by members of the Croatian community. The walk was from the Croatian Church in Summer Hill to our church in St. John’s Park. Upon arriving at our building site, we would greet the walkers with gifts for their efforts. So one day late in the afternoon, a procession of pilgrims headed by Fr. Gracijan arrived. Our spiritual shepherd was welcomed with great joy to our not yet completed church, where from that day on he would be with us permanently. A great crowd of parishioners and workers had gathered before the entrance, so that when Fr. Gracijan and those accompanying him arrived, they were greeted by a huge round of applause and the sound of singing like nothing that had ever been heard before rang out in the Church. Emotions were running high and extremely intense and if you look at the video recordings of this event you can feel this atmosphere. In front of the large congregation Fr. Gracijan was handed a huge specially made key as a symbol of his arrival to his and our home. After this event, the number of workers and volunteers for the work on the church increased once again and we continued regular advertising and promotion of all construction activities.
Towards the very end of the construction we had a completed the church exterior but we did not have the money for pews and were contemplating how to resolve this issue. We agreed that as much as it was not our preference, we would ask the community for each family to sponsor a pew, even though families had already paid for bricks, steel, roof tiles and everything else. Yet, we did not need to go down this path, as an event that will always be engrained in my memory occurred. I remember it well; one afternoon as we stood at the church entrance along came a gentleman with some other people. He told us that he had come to see how and what was being built and asked what our biggest problem was at that moment. We told him that here we were with an almost finished church but we didn’t know how we were going to pay for the pews which were quite expensive, and we were reticent to ask our community who had already donated so much. He told us to order the pews and that he would pay for them. This man was Mr. Nikola Šarić, who would once again, ten years after this event, help in the most difficult times during the expansion of the Village next to the church. The same thing happened with the church windows of which there were many and which were beautiful and big. When the time came to pay for the windows, to our pleasant surprise and joy, the brothers Marko, Ivan and Božo Franović donated all the windows for our church. It must be said that the Franović brothers also provided financial assistance for the construction of the church in Blacktown.
During the construction, some work also needed to be done on the promotion and regular dissemination of information to the community. We regularly kept the community informed through the Croatian radio program on 2SER FM which was run by Barbara Zacher at the time. Unfortunately, national ethnic broadcasters SBS Radio were not forthcoming with their assistance towards our efforts and those of the Croatian community. To be honest, we didn’t want to have anything to do with them either because of their attitude towards us and our faith. This program was for the “Yugoslavs” despite its mandate to support ethnic communities, not political systems. Personally I don’t remember ever hearing any religious material on this radio program.
It was very important to fairly and accurately account for every donation and form of assistance given. We wanted to be fair towards all our donors. We always tried to notify as many people as possible and include them in our work. Thank God this has remained the practice up to the present day, and occurred during the construction of the neighbouring Cardinal Stepinac Village.
Whist carefully watching every cent, we also ensured that we maintained good relations with our neighbours. On our left side was the Triglav Club, while on the right side was an empty plot of land which was overgrown with weeds and filled with rubbish which had been left there for years. As we had finished constructing our Church, our next project was building a new fance and landscaping the area. We asked our neighbours for help because it is the obligation of each landowner to pay for his part of the fence. In this case it was a long fence and hence quite a big commitment. Unfortunately, we didn’t receive any assistance for the new fence on the right side, as the land was owned by the NSW state government and they were not bound by the same laws and did not need to pay for their part of the fence. Not satisfied with their answer we addressed the local members of parliament with a complaint but to no avail. However we did find out that the real owner of the land was the Education Department of NSW and this was very important for the future.
We reconciled ourselves to our fate and erected the new fence ourselves at our own expense. When tiling the roof we looked down at the entire area surrounding the church which was all being developed. New houses were coming up every day. The land was completely subdivided and new roads were being built. Everything looked beautiful and new, except for that neglected Government-owned block of land next to us. However, this block of land as a whole was quite attractive. It was then that we decided that when we finish the church we would ask the State Government to help us lease the land for the needs of our community. At that time we did not have a retirement home. Where better to build a retirement home than next to a church! And so we began to work on the possibility of leasing that block of land.
First Christmas in the St. John’s Park church
This Christmas night will forever remain in my memory, the memories of my children and many others in our community. Again the work continued and so did the donations.. Standing on the large concrete slab under the huge skeleton of heavy steel, we were all surprised how big and well thought-out the structure was. Yet, we still all wondered how it would alllook when it was completed.
On this warm night, a multitude of people gathered together under the clear sky surrounded by the skeleton of a church rising from the concrete. Listening to those beautiful old Christmas songs, thinking about our families in the homeland and here in Australia, it was as if something new could be seen, something unknown and exciting under these heavenly stars. We didn’t sense but rather knew and felt God’s presence and His power among us, among that group of parishioners who would later continue, through prayer and work, achieve a real miracle.
Consecration ceremony and opening of our church on 17 November 1985
We chose the feast day of St. Nikola Tavelić for the consecration and official opening of our new church. We worked diligently on the invitation list and the programme. For the Croatian community in Sydney this was truly a great event and great joy, but also a great opportunity to promote the “Croatian community” as a people that were faithful to God and earnestly went about caring for their children and future in this new homeland. We decided to ask the then Premier of NSW to open our newly built church. Mr. Eric Bedford, our NSW member of parliament, and Mrs. Janice Crosio who was also a member of the NSW government for Fairfield at the time, helped us in this task. And so finally Croatians were able to see the day when the Premier of NSW, Mr. Neville Wran arrived for his first visit to this new Croatian community and opened our new church.
We recorded this experience on a video tape but due to the great multitude of people on our small 3.5 acres of land it was impossible to move around through such a big crowd. The weather was beautiful and the Premier gave his official speech from the loft of the church so that as many people as possible could hear and see him. The guests spoke about Croatians using phases and words such as diligence, loyalty, good deeds, great contribution, model citizens and more. Those speeches about Croatians had never to date been publicly heard before.
A large tent that could hold a few thousand people had been erected in front of the church because we feared it might rain. After the public speeches and consecration of the altar and the church, our Croatian catholic anthem echoed throughout and around the church. “Listen here nations of the world, fathers hear us now, listen all you servants of hell, listen to the young Croat sing…” For some of us, this day was the pinnacle of the many years of our work in trying to exemplify the special qualities of the Croatian nation and our virtues. Today I look back and realise that it was just the beginning of a difficult journey which we, as expatriated Croatians, had to experience and learn from in order to become a true pillar of strength for our community, support one another and to have complete pride in our efforts, knowing that what we were doing was for the greater good.
Special events in St. John’s Park church
For years we worked for the wellbeing of our community. We protected our Croatian heritage in the homeland and in the expatriated diaspora, praying and hoping that we Croatians too would one day have our own country internationally recognised and respected as an independent nation. However, I must say that even I could not have hoped that I would live to see this day, live to experience this joy and blessing. But God did not abandon or forget us. Our church in St. John’s Park became the focus and the heart of cultural and educational events of Croatians.
· The erected Cardinal Stepinac Village next to the church symbolises a real little village in which the highest point is the cross on the church tower, and which puts into practice our old adage – “God and Croatians”.
· The most important events in our church after that first Midnight Mass in 1985 were the days in which Croatia became independent, following the difficult Homeland War in Croatia and the miraculous religious and social occurrences like the defence of Vukovar. Our church and the area surrounding it became a place in which to help our homeland during its most joyous and most difficult days. We watched Vukovar, Zadar, Karlovac and other war places attacked during the war.. We watched the suffering but also the great unity and determination of our relatives in the homeland. People from all regions of Croatia came to our church seeking comfort and hope, and also finding peace and strength. We tried to do our part and support our community as conscientiously as possible.
· There was a whole series of Government and religious dignitaries present at the opening and consecration of our church on 17 November 1985. For the first time in the history of our community in Australia, any Premier of NSW personally visited the Croatian Australian community.
· During the collection of money to pay for the land on which the Cardinal Stepinac Village would be built we were visited by the then Premier Barry Unsworth. When visiting the church he commented that it was very spacious and had a very impressive design. On the same occasion, while delivering his speech on the building site of the Village, he surprised us with a donation for the construction of the retirement home for the Australian Croatian community.
· The arrival of the then NSW Premier Bob Carr to the village became a custom and a great honour for our community. The Croatian community was invited to the NSW Parliament House to a reception, and the Premier became our welcome guest.
· The first President of the Republic of Croatia, Dr. Franjo Tuđman, and the entire delegation of the new Republic visited our church and the retirement home in 1995. The then Prime Minister of Australia, Mr. Paul Keating, provided Dr. Tuđman with the use of the Commonwealth limousine (ACT 1) reserved for Australian Prime Ministers. There was no standing room in the church, and there was no standing room on the land of the nursing home, as thousands of people came to their Village, and their Church to see the first president of Croatia. There was indescribable joy among young and old.
· After the construction of the nursing home which was completed on 6 June 1999, the then Prime Minister of Australia, the Honourable John Howard, personally came to visit our church and open the nursing home. Thousands of people came to celebrate this historic day.
Neither in the 40 plus years which I have spent in Australia nor during the existence of the former Yugoslav federal state, did our Croatian Australian community experience such great things. For this we are grateful to God.
Sadly, after this indescribable joy, we prayed with tears in our eyes in our new church, singing God protect Croatia on the occasion of the Holy Mass commemorating the death of our first president Dr. Franjo Tuđman. We sensed that our history was now being handed over into the hands of other people, unknown to us and we even more unknown to them.
· Our church has been visited many times by guests from Croatian leading clergymen. A particular honour for our church was a visit by our dear Cardinal Franjo Kuharić, whose speech and words of encouragement touched us deeply and invigorated us in our work.. I believe that the visit took place at the beginning of 1996 after the consecration of our church. During this time, the first meeting was held to form the third committee for construction of the retirement home, which is now know as the Cardinal Stepinac Village.. Unfortunately I was unable to stay at the reception in the honour of the Cardinal and other invited guests given by our nuns, who had built a house across the road from the church in 1985. I will never forget the blessing I asked of our Cardinal for our work which we were beginning that same night as well as the blessing for our encouragement and persistence. Personally, I was deeply moved by the humility and faith of our late Cardinal Kuharić. In him I felt the work of God and the power and strength of humility.
· The blessing of our newly built Nursing Home was also a great experience and on this occasion our newly appointed Croatian Cardinal Josip Bozanić blessed our Home and offered encouragement to all Croatians, both expatriated and living in the Croatian homeland.
· The Cardinal and the head of the Australian Catholic Church, His Eminence George Pell, visited our church on 18 February 2008 and our retirement home a number of times and was visibly satisfied with his people of faith from Croatian origin.
· The then Prime Minister of the Republic of Croatia, Dr. Ivo Sanader, visited our church and retirement home, as well as a series of Government delegations and representatives of the new independent Croatian state.
· The arrival of our second priest to St. John’s Park was a day of great expectation. It was the newly arrived Fr. Marijan Glamočak and according to our tradition at the time, he too walked from our parent church in Summer Hill to St. John’s Park in August 1987 and with him came a group of volunteers.. On this occasion we were again able to collect funds to update and decorate our church. Fr. Marijan stayed with us until his return to Croatia. He thenreturned back to us after three years of but this time as a permanent replacement for Fr. Gracijan. Our church and our retirement home have become the home for the exemplary life of a good man. A man of faith and a model citizen of both Australia and Croatia.
Our one time dream and hope to have our own church has become a reality but only now do I see that God was building something greater within us and that our life during this time has been especially blessed.
Thought, word, deed and omission
After 25 years from the opening itself and on the occasion of this great celebration I have to say that things have not always gone according to plan during the construction of our church but I often say: “it could have been worse”.
We must admit that we are only human and that we are often weak and sinful. That is why I would like to take this opportunity to publicly ask each person we have collectively, or who I have personally, in any way offended or neglected in our joint work on the construction of our church to please forgive us our omissions, our weaknesses, our pride and all our unworthy deeds. “He who works makes mistakes” is a wise, old saying but it must not become an excuse for our intentional mistakes. During the past 25 years we have said goodbye to many members of our Catholic community and those dearest to us. We knew each other, we didn’t always share the same opinions but we were and still are part of this God’s family. Sadly, various accidents happen throughout the lives of all of us. We often say and do things that will stay with us all our lives and beyond. This is something none of us are proud of or truly want, but in our weakness these things still happen.
On behalf of the initial church construction committee I ask you for your forgiveness and understanding. Please don’t allow hate to divide us but rather let us remember those values that unite us. Let us try to understand and learn from the deeds and words that have divided us and let us find room in our hearts for the grace of forgiveness. – Matt Smolčić
CONSTRUCTION OF CHURCH AND MATURING OF THE COMMUNITY
Birth of community from souls of Croatian congregation
Australia is the land of dreams, wonders and adventures. This is how many Croatians arriving from Croatia, Vojvodina, and Bosnia and Herzegovina dreamt it would be and how they experienced it. Some Croatians settled in parts of the Sydney metropolis, by the sea and got jobs in factories, some in the administration of various companies, some in education, actually any place it was possible to find a job quickly. Some Croatians, on the other hand, skilled in particular trades, construction work, and farming, settled in the western and south-eastern parts of Sydney.
In the area of the Municipality of Fairfield and Liverpool there are about 7,000 Croatians. They built the Croatian Club Kralj Tomislav, the Croatian Club Jadran-Hajduk and the Istra Club. In this area, one of the most well-known soccer clubs in Australia, CROATIA, was founded and developed. Croatians readily and often gathered together in these clubs and organised courses teaching Croatian songs and national dances, folkloric performances and various other celebrations.
For the most part, these were Croatian Catholics who wanted to celebrate Holy Mass in the Croatian language. These parishioners from Nova Bukvica together with the Kralj Tomislav Club organised the celebration of the Feast Day of the Assumption. The Croatian priests from the Franciscan order in Summer Hill, regularly celebrated Holy Mass in the Church of St. Theresa, Fairfield West. There were almost more people outside the church than in the church because it was so small. Increasingly the congregation began voicing the need for the construction of our own church. At this time, there were already numerous, well organised and well attended Croatian ethnic schools in Fairfield and Liverpool, where children learned to read and write Croatian and were taught Croatian history and religious studies. Particularly invaluable was the Croatian-Australian welfare centre which was for many years headed by: Sister Terezija Kuzmić, Ljubica Puljić and later, Sister Anđela Jurinić and Marija Orešković.
A piece of land for St. Nikola Tavelić
Croatian bishops made many pastoral visits, they spoke with the congregation and opened their hearts to the needs of our people. On 5 October 1983, Mijo Marić and Šime Trinajstić wrote a letter to Cardinal Kuharić in Zagreb. This same letter was forwarded in the English language to Cardinal Clancy in Sydney. In the letter they mentioned that the Church of St. Theresa on The Boulevard in West Fairfield was too small for the multitude of Croatian churchgoers who regularly attended Sunday mass. A larger church in the Fairfield and Liverpool area was requested. The only time available for Holy Mass for the Croatian community was between 1pm and 5pm which did not suit the majority of people. It was therefore essential that we built a church for ourselves. At that time the congregation had already found a piece of land on the outskirts of Fairfield, which was brought to their attention by Rok Friščić and which was soon purchased by the Croatian priests from Summer Hill.. The priests paid $75,000 for the land. An initial committee of parishioners from this area had been formed for the construction of the church and a meeting was requested with Bishop Čiril Kos who was in Sydney at the time for a pastoral visit to the Croatian immigrant community. The meeting was scheduled for 2 December 1983 at 9am at the Croatian Catholic Mission in Summer Hill. Ten parishioners led by Mijo Marić and Šime Trinajstić attended that meeting. By 30 December 1983, Bishop Kos received a positive answer from the Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal Edward Clancy approving the building of a new church. At the time, Mato Smolčić was the person in charge of public relations, and also the “engine” of the initial committee for public relations with Australian pubic.
In 1984, Father Rajko Gelemanović, the provincial from Zagreb, arrived for a canon visitation to his Franciscan brothers in Sydney and he met with the initial church committee. The local chapter of the brotherhood together with the provincial, Father Rajko, agreed to assign the priest, Fr. Gracijan Biršić, to this area. On 19 July 1984, Fairfield City Council approved the plans for the construction of the church drafted by Šime Trinajstić. The construction began immediately. Mr. Bernard Rončević acted as the building contractor, with the assistance of 38 selfless committee members. The former president of the “Croatia” soccer club in Sydney, Ante Topić, with his machinery dug holesfour and a half to five metres deep, all the way to the rock solid terrain, for the construction of the church. Mijo Marić measured the depth, while the hardnessof the terrain was controlled using steel by an engineer. .All up Ante Topić drilled 28 holes, while the committee members bound steel and poured concrete. There was a lot of rain during this time and the committee members had to pump out water and mud from the foundation on three separate occasions.. The work was carried out by the brothers Ante and Ivan Orlović who also donated half of the concrete slab, while Bernard Rončević donated the other half. Consequently the congregation celebrated the Christmas Midnight Mass in 1984 under the stars on the foundation of what would be their new church, with their new pastor. Mijo Marić said “from the fresh concrete there was noticeable breath”. The Midnight Mass instilled an unusual feeling of God’s power in the souls of the congregation who had given so generously, while at the same time working so diligently and persistently on the new structure. Enthusiasm took root and parishioners joyously and reliably donated funds for the next step of construction of this grand House of the Lord.
Foundation stone of new structure
The church committee invited Bishop David Cremin to bless the foundation stone on 24 February 1985. On the feast day of the Nativity of Mary, on 8 September 1985, Bishop David Cremin permitted the celebration of Holy Mass in a church building which now had assembled the roof. Upon the completion of a number of necessary tasks, by the end of October, the interior of the church was equipped for religious services. The church has 74 three-panel windows, which were all donated by “Boka Windows” a company belonging to Božo, Ivo and Marko Franković. These brothers also arranged fort the installation of these windows later on, and even donated specially made glass for the protection of the artistic windows. Marble work was carried out expertly by Boris Laurić. Parishioners donated all the large exterior and interior church doors. The pews were made of tastefully designed solid wood and donated by Mr. Nikola Šarić. Parishioners themselves volunteered to donate the marble altar, tabernacle, pulpit, all the statues and liturgical objects. All the electrical work on the lighting in the church was skilfully carried out by Andrija Gurlica. Mato Smolčić, together with his children, planted an abundance of flowers, bushes and shrubs around the parking lot and the church.
The fact that Mr. Šime Trinajstić together with the priest drafted a plan for construction of the Croatian Catholic Centre as early as September of 1986, illustrates the fervour in which the work was carried out. Classrooms for religious education, a church and welfare office, a library and clergy rooms were planned. The terrain was marked out on 3 October 1986, the foundation was laid on the 7 October 1986, the walls were erected on 20 February 1987. The formwork for the concrete slab was donated by Slavko Franješević, while the roofing was completed on 23 May 1987. The Centre was blessed by the provincial, Fr. Rajko Gelemanović on 17 November 1987. Work was carried out by Bernard Rončević. All the marble surfaces were prepared and set by Mr. Boris Laurić. A very strong air conditioning system was donated by Mr. Nikola Terkeš. The appearance of the centre is that of a “Slavonian estate”. Let us also mention the entire church committee.
The core of St. Nikola Tavelić
The head of the community was Fr. Gracijan Branimir Biršić, while the president of the committee was Bernard Rončević. The honourable and above all deserving members were: Jakov Bačić, the late Franjo Bartolić, Jerko Bilić, Ratko Bilić, Branko Bošnjak, the late Silvio Čohilj, the late Ivan Čolaković, Ivan Fitz, Srećko Franković, Rok Friščić, Ivan Frketić, the late Ante Gačić, Šime Gašparović, Šime Glavan, Andrija Gurlica, Petar Hudali, the late Stjepan Jurlina, the late Jozo Kežić, Jure Komadina,Tomo Komadina, Josip Kontrec, Luka Lebić, Mijo Marić, the late Ivan Martinović, Anđelko Marunčić, the late Ante Orlović, Josip Peranović, Marko Petrić, Marinko Prendja, the late Stanko Puljić, Stjepan Repinec, Mato Smolčić, Ivan Vjeko Šimac, Vlado Šimunović, Stjepan Trinajstić, Šime Trinajstić, Ilija Vrdoljak and, Milivoj Žderić.
Mr. Ivan Polak, originally from Slovakia and very skilled in making stained glass windows, established a very successful relationship with the committee members. He created 74 beautiful stained glass panels which give the church a peaceful and harmonious atmosphere. The immeasurable love of the parishioners built this church and the Centre, and we were and have remained indebted to God only, without owing a cent to anyone for this project. The live capital of the Croatian community and the skilled and hardworking hands of excellent tradesmen and above all the Catholic heart of the congregation provided everything necessary for the construction.
Consecration of St. Nikola Tavelić Church
The official celebration of the consecration of the Church of St. Nikola Tavelić was organised as early as 17 November 1985. The church was 46 m long and 25.50 metres wide. The consecration was led by Bishops Mijo Škvorc from the homeland and David Cremin from Sydney. The Premier of New South Wales, Mr. Neville Wran, numerous local representatives and civil servants were in attendance. The celebration was honoured by the presence of the provincials, Fr. Rajko Gelemanović from Zagreb and Fr. Luka Markušić from Sarajevo, followed by Franciscan priests and local clergy, and our brother Fr. Vinko Švogor. The celebration was also attended by a crowd of about five thousand Croatian churchgoers. The celebration was indescribably beautiful and deeply experienced by the community. The pride of the Croatian Catholics increased when the Church of Our Lady of the Great Croatian Covenant, was also officially consecrated on 24 November 1985.
Without a doubt, the Croatian community in Sydney received strong impetus for the renewal of its self confidence and worth after experiencing so many difficulties with the state as well as the church representatives in the 1970’s. Fr. Gracijan wrote: “As it states on the memorial plaques set (in the Croatian and English language) on both sides of the main doors, the church was envisaged as ‘A nook of the homeland and pantheon of Croatian saints’. For it to truly be so, its exterior needed to instil a feeling of belonging and pride, while the artistic design of the interior needed to be such that in it parishioners, both as Catholics and as Croatians, felt like they were truly at home.
The ample church parking lot is accessed through two large gates that look like fortified entrances, like those that can be seen in large-scale paintings of manors and castles, and even on Šenoa’s (Branimir) and Kirin’s pictures of old Zagreb.
The front doors of the church face the street, from which they are separated by about fifty metres, an area which is the parking lot. The front façade of the church cannot be seen from the street. The view of the façade is obscured by six massive concrete pillars divided into two rows. On these pillars rests a slab which covers the entrance stairs and the path in front of them. On the front edge of this slab, instead of a bell tower, there is instead a huge letter H out of which extends a large cross. It is painted white and rises out of the Church. The Croatian coat of arms sitting at the foot of the cross is an identifier letting every Croatian traveller and passer-by know that this is their church.
Upon passing through the double entrance doors made of oak, one first enters into an adequate sized lobby which is delineated from the church by a separate massive pillar of grey-blue marble with glass doors on either side of it. In front of the pillar, in a glass covering, is a replica of Meštrović’ “History of the Croats”[iii], underneath which is a large shell from our Adriatic and an urn with soil from various regions of Croatia. On the four-panelled glass doors which separate us from the church, there are engraved silhouettes of churches representing the regions of Croatian Christianity: the Zagreb Cathedral[iv], the Franciscan church and the monastery in Fojnica[v], the Široki Brijeg Basilica[vi] and the Kotor Cathedral[vii]. These historical regions of ours are fully defined in the aforementioned marble pillar which truly represents a full collection of coats of arms of the complete Croatian ethnic region. It contains all the coat of arms of regions or capital cities of particular regions that signify our one thousand year existence in the one time White and Red Croatia.
A walk through history
Stepping from the lobby into the church, more than twenty metres separate us from the altar. We stop, impressed by the large altar tapestry of “Saint Nikola Tavelić leading Croatian saints and the blessed to Christ the King”. The painting is the work of Ante Starčević[viii], academic sculptor and architect from Zagreb. It was created using tapestry techniques and Croatian wool from all sheep breeding regions. From Starčević’s painting the eye moves lower and rests upon the shrine which dominates the altar. Aside from its liturgical function, this altar is also remarkable because it symbolically connects us with Jesus’ worldly home and our Croatian Homeland. Namely, on the occasion of its consecration, a stone from the Holy Land and a few stones from various parts of Croatia were built into it. On the tabernacle and pulpit there are two sentences engraved taken literally from the first Croatian printed book. They are engraved in the Croatian Glagolithic script, which in translation reads: “In the beginning was the Word” (on the pulpit), and “And the Word was made flesh” (on the tabernacle). On the left side, behind the tabernacle, on the stained glass panels we see the image of the Abbot Martin and Prince Višeslav. The stained glass panels on the side of the pulpit represent Prince Branimir and King Zvonimir. These four pictures represent prolific Croatians from the years 641 to 1189. This was the period in time ”when we were emerging as a nation and as a Church”, but this too, is also our time.
Namely, let us remember that in 1941 when we intended to celebrate the 1300th anniversary of the mission of the Abbot Martin, Višeslav’s baptismal font was returned to the homeland through the diligence of Archbishop A. Stepinac. In more recent years we have become aware of the significance of the decision of Prince Branimir and the rule of the “good and honest King Zvonimir”.
Stained glass panels, depicting human foundations of Christianity and the Church, are distributed along the longitudinal walls that enclose this part of the church nave. These are the first apostles and four evangelists: on the side of the tabernacle the first in line is the Apostle Peter, and on the wall opposite to him is the Apostle Paul; next to Peter is his disciple Mark, and next to him is Matthew; next to Paul is his disciple Luke and next to him is John.
Beyond these windows the nave expands symmetrically on each side for almost two metres, and then opens to a different area enclosed and by two specific windows. With the change in size, also comes a new and different content: the stained glass panels depict individuals that left a definitive Croatian seal on Christianity in our regions. Looking at us from the left transversal wall are Queen Jelena the “Mother of the Kingdom” and next to her Hrvoje Vukčić Hrvatinić, while on the right side are: the caring nun Vekenega and the “teacher of Holy wisdom” Marko Marulić[ix]. After Hrvoje on the left longitudinal wall are Queen Katarina Kotromanić, King Stjepan Tomašević and political hero Mila Gojsalić. Opposite them, on the right longitudinal wall are: Krsto Frankopan Modruški, Katarina Zrinska and her husband Petar.
“Pilgrimage” through southern Croatia
Following this is a further widening of the nave. In this area on the left side is the “Corner of Our Lady of Sinj”, on the right side the baptismal font, and at each side door there is a confessional. In the “Corner of Our Lady of Sinj”, which is completely covered in marble, there is an actual replica image of Our Lady[x], framed with an exceptionally well-executed imitation of the Sinj frame. Three windows in the “Corner” depict the famous history of southern Croatia which was to a great extent built by the Franciscans of the Province of the Most Holy Redeemer: Fr. Filip Grabovac, Fr. Andrija Kačić Miošić and the servant of God Fr. Ante Antić. Three stained glass panels on the opposite side, those encircling the baptismal font, contain the memories of the closing ceremony of the official Jubilee “Thirteen Centuries of Christianity of Croats”, which took place at theEucharist congress in the Zagreb Cathedral and the Marija Bistrica Shrine. The three windows represent the Zagreb seat, the black Bistrica Our Lady[xi] and the third is the Bistrica shrine”[xii] (Fr. Gracijan Biršić, the Croatian Catholic Community of St. Nikola Tavelić in St. John’s Park, excerpt from the Collection of papers KAČIĆ, XXV, pages 684 and 686-687, Split 1993).
Grateful souls in northern Croatia
Above the confessional is a small stained glass panel depicting Our Lady of the Stone Gate, a cherished confluence of all passers-by, next to it is Totus tuus (Lat. totally yours), Pope John Paul II, recording his visit to Croatia on 11 and 12 September 1994 and the Archbishop of Zagreb, Cardinal Franjo Kuhar who brought a most dignified closure to the great jubilee of the 13 Centuries of Christianity of Croats. From the entry to the confessional rises the sign “In te Domine speravi!” (O Lord, in Thee have I trusted) which was the life motto of the Blessed Alojzije Stepinac which alludes to the “Our Lady of Remete, the heavenly Healer” shrine so dear to him. “Past that point”, so writes Fr. Gracijan, “the nave of the church narrows to the width of the previous part in which the great men of Croatian history are depicted. The windows in this part depictspatron saints of some Croatian Bishops and regions. On the left side is St. Tripun, the patron saint of the Kotor Diocese, St. Blaise, the patron saint of the Dubrovnik Diocese and St. Vincenza, the patron saint of Blato on Korčula, while on the right side is St. Anastasia, the patron saint of the Zadar Archdiocese, St. Jerome, for whom the church in Valšići on the Island of Pag was named, and St. George the patron saint of the Imotski region. Four windows on the transversal walls which close off this part of the nave depict, from left to right: Mato Miloradić, reformer of the Burgerland Croats, Ivan Antunović, reformer of the Bačka Croats, while on the right side is Fr. Didak Buntić, saviour of Herzegovina children and Bishop Jurja Dobrilo, reformer of the Istrian Croats.
Period of additional building
There is still the narrow part of the nave of the church left to be seen, with dimensions similar to the part which depicts the first Apostles and four evangelists. In this area, to the right, holds the room for mothers with small children. Above this is a large area which was originally intended for the choir, yet it is not used in this capacity. All in all there are ten windows: three on each of the (left and right) longitudinal walls and two on each of the transversal walls which enclose this part of the nave. The two front windows on the longitudinal walls stand at their full height, (the left one depicts St. John the Baptist, and the right one depicts Bishop St. Nicholas), while the other windows are divided into two unequal parts by either the other concrete ceiling panels or the choir area.: One third of these windows are on the ground floor of the church, while the other two thirds are at the level of the choir area. These eight smaller stained glass panels depict some motifs from the Canticle of the Creatures, that is, from the life of St. Francis of Assisi. In the aforementioned room for mothers and children: there are depictions of the Sun, the Moon and Stars, Wind, Air and Clouds, and sermon to the birds and, on the other side: Earth, Water, Fire, Francis and the Wolf (forgiveness).”
The content surrounding the choir area is particularly dear to the hearts of the congregation: the Guardian Angel, Our Lady of the Rosary, Mother Theresa of Calcutta, Maria de Mattias, Lucy – virgin and martyr; Clara of Assisi, Father Pio, Jakov of Zadar, Elijah the Prophet, Catherine of Alexandria, Alozije Stepinac – the martyr, the Blessed Mary of Jesus Crucified Petković, Vendelin Vošnjak, Aleksa Benigar, Ivan Merz, St. Roch from Montpelier, Daniel the Prophet, Pope Benedict XVI., Bishop Martin, Monica and Augustine, Gaspar del Bufalo, Our Lady of Fatima, the Archangel Michael, Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus.
Particularly well done are the four windows which can only be seen well from the outside of the due to the choir pews located at the back of the windows: Epiphany – “come, let us bow!; Miracle in Cana – “Whatever He tells you, do it!”; Come Holy Spirit, renew your Church and begin with us!”; Francis, renew my Church – OFM 800. Under the choir area there is a small church “store” with religious items. Here there are two simple and impressive art works visible: the Resurrected Christ appears to Mary Magdalene; and next to this is Thomas the Apostle touching the wound on Christ’s chest.
“Two windows cannot be seen from the church”
They are facing each other in the space between the altar painting and the altar. The one on the left side, which looks onto the ambon, depicts Bartol Kašić, the writer of the first Croatian grammar, while the one of the right depicts Fr. Anđeo Zvidzdović, the predecessor and originator of the ecumenical spirit in our region.” (Fr. Gracijan).
This is actually where the church area used to end and the area of the vestry and presbytery began, before the Centre was built. Eight three-panel windows frame the final part of the church building. Motifs very dear to the hearts of the congregation are depicted in the stained glass: the Annunciation, the birth of Jesus, Our Lady of Kandalora; then the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary; Mary the Mother of Jesus, Our Lady of Sorrows; Mary help of Christians – patron saint of Australia, Mary MacKillop, Fausting Kowalska; the Archangel Gabriele, St. Cecilia, Baptism of the Lord; Jesus the Good Shepherd, Jesus breaking bread in Emmaus; Transfiguration of Jesus; Jesus death on the Cross, the Resurrection and the Ascension of Jesus. All these motifs are simple and through their content directly convey a message.
There is another embellishment of the Church of St. Nikola Tavelić that should be mentioned. They are the statues of saints which have not really been placed in the most appropriate places because such places were not envisaged by the building plans. Upon the request of the parishioners, who wanted to donate the statues to the church “ex voto” (as votive gifts), places were subsequently “created” for them. As the nave of the church expands and narrows symmetrically a number of times, the church has six corners which proved to be suitable for positioning of statues: the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Mary Immaculate, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Anne and St. Joseph.
The Church of St. Nikola Tavelić was built before the democratic changes in the homeland. This meant that if our parishioners decided to return to Croatia, they would be exposed to vicious campaigns against Croatians, possibly placed in imminent danger, or at a minimum expects a series of unexpected inconveniences. Although we were seen as faultless in the eyes of the new, that is the second homeland, many Croatians simply did not count on ever returning to their old homeland. That is why, along with numerous social halls and clubs, they also wanted their own church, the warmest nook of the homeland. They invested a lot of money, volunteered hours of work and an abundance of their inexhaustible love for God, Christ’s Church and our historical roots in it. One should believe and ardently hope that this new era, following the international recognition of Croatian sovereignty, after the restoration of peace, would be a time of the return of many Croatians to the homeland! However it must also be believed that there will certainly be those who, due to one reason or another, will not be able to return. For them and their children, and the homeland, this church will be an enduring proof of the greatness of a generation, and of “little” people who, at a time which was not predisposed to them and filled with opposition, stood up for their Church and their homeland.
Chapel of Our Lady of Trsat
The construction of the chapel was planned for completely practical reasons. The first reason was the customs of the people born out of piety. Our parishioners brought with them from the homeland, the tradition of lighting votive candles before icons or statues of saints, especially to Our Lady. To accommodate this need, we set up the “Corner of Our Lady of Sinj” in the church, However, this very soon proved to be impractical because the surrounding walls and the church ceiling, which is nearly ten metres high, were blackened with smoke.
The second reason was related to liturgy. When liturgical rules determine or envisage the possibility of a procession, then one speaks of “an appropriate locality”, even a “smaller church” where rituals begin and from where the procession commences
At the time when the construction of the sacral area of our Centre was drawing to a close with the completion of the chapel, in our homeland, preparations were being made for the celebration of the 700th jubilee of the shire of Our Lady of Trsat (1291 – 1991) so it was somehow natural for the chapel to be consecrated to Our Lady of Trsat. The chapel was built in 1991, as stated on the inscription at the front which reads “HOME OF THE QUEEN OF PEACE 1291 – 1991”. All our parishioners participated in the building of the chapel with their generous donations. The main picture was donated by devotees of Our Lady of Trsat from the Island of Krk, while the stained glass panels of Our lady of Olovo and Our Lady of the Rocks are the votive gifts of the family Nedjeljko and Anica Dedović from the Pelješac peninsula.
Opposite to the entrance is a large painting, actually a triptych, in whose centre is Our Lady of Trsat; its left side depicts the “Mother of the Kingdom”, Queen Jelena, with the shrine of Our Lady of the Island in her hands, while on the right is King Zvonimir who is holding in his hands an image of the Mother of God, known as the Iconic image of Our Lady of the Great Croatian Covenant. The triptych was made also using the stained glass technique however it does not serve as a window but rather it is constantly illuminated by an electric light.
The walls of the chapel are covered in grey marble, while the ceiling in cedar. The front part of the chapel – the one with the triptych – is textually and artistically enriched. Engraved in the marble on the left side and painted in brown are the well known verses of the grand poem of Vladimir Nazor “The Messenger” (“Hail, you full of joy…). Engraved on the right is a picture depicting sailboats in the port of Rijeka and Trsat, as the “town on the hill”, dominated by the Marian Shrine. Above these sailboats and the town on the hill, above the triptych and the Nazor’s verses, along the width of the entire front wall there is an engraving of a gold painted starry sky. Stars shine before us separate from each other accompanied by huge fireworks. We see falling stars, Haley’s comet and a multitude of small stars in the night sky. Two stained glass panels of the chapel on the two side windows depict two especially dear Croatian Marian shrines: the one on the left is of Our Lady of Olovo and her shrine, while on the right is Our Lady of the Rocks with a church in the Bay of Kotor.
In the middle of the chapel is a white marble altar. The mensa rests in the middle on a hexagonal pillar. The three front surfaces of the pillar have been engraved with three motifs from Međugorje. On the back wall of the chapel, directly above the entrance door, engraved in the marble memorial plaque there is a text expressing the current (time of the Homeland War) turning point in our history: the angst of the homeland exposed to the barbaric war and the unwavering confidence in Our Lady, “the victor in all battles of the Lord”.
The text on the memorial plaque in the Chapel of Our Lady of Trsat reads:
In the name of the Lord. Amen.
At the time of celebration of the 700th jubilee of the transfer of the Nazarethan house to Frankopanski Trsat, in the 1991st year after the birth of Jesus Christ the King of Peace – when the last remaining barbarians, led by Satan, the father of lies and killer of men from the beginning of time, intended to destroy the land and nation of the Croats, which by the grace of God has remained loyal to the peaceful alliance concluded in times long past with Pope Agatho – the religious community St. Nikola Tavelić in Sydney, a living branch of the war endangered Croatia, faced with the neglect of politicians and helplessness of diplomacy, united more than ever in testifying of its faith in God the Saviour and the intercession of his and our Mother, raises in honour of the Queen of Peace and the brave defenders of Croatia this structure, a votive memorial of our angst, a pledge of certain hope and enduring gratitude that She, the most faithful defender of Croatia, worshipped in Trsat’s spirituality as the Holy Mother of the Homeland, Holy Mother of Freedom and Fortress of peace, will quash the head of the infernal serpent and grant our homeland, eternally loyal to the Lord, freedom and peace in truth, justice and love.
On both sides of the entrance to the chapel there is an area with candles and candleholders, where votive candles are lit and placed. To the left and right of the chapel there is a lantern on each side. These lanterns are lit at sunset and glow like guardians merging their light with the “eternal light” which constantly illuminates Our Lady’s image inside. Throughout the entire year the lanterns are surrounded by select flowers which are devoutly tended by the “guardian of the chapel”, the parishioner Ana Repinec.
Cardinal Stepinac Village.