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'Australia's busiest church' rededicated

St Patrick's Church Hill, in Sydney's CBD, was rededicated on Saturday after an $8 million restoration.

The renovations, supervised by architect Mr John Graham, discovered footings of a building that went up in 1796, and other remnants revealing the struggle by Australia's first Catholics to practise their religion.

One of the early occupants, William Davis, an Irish Catholic transported for being a suspected weapons manufacturer, built on the site in 1810 and made his house available for Masses, when public celebrations of Catholicism were outlawed. Visiting priest Fr Jeremiah O'Flinn was caught celebrating Mass and was deported by Governor Macquarie to England in 1818.

This restoration has been paid for by a Jewish family, one of whose members, the late Mr Bill Ritchie, was a Catholic who worshipped at St Patrick's.

The Sydney Morning Herald described St Patrick's as "probably the busiest church in Australia", with 1200 confessions a week, eight Masses a day and 10 on Sundays, a program that required the services of 10 priests.

The president of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch, attended Mass there during last year's Olympics, and a memorial Mass was held in the Church for his wife, who died during the Games.