Sydney priest seeks to honour Aust-US friendship

Sydney priest Fr Paul Hilder is looking for the crest of a World War II US naval destroyer that saved the lives of 627 Australian sailors for display in a church honouring friendship between the US and Australia.

Catholic News Service reports that Fr Hilder of Regina Coeli Memorial Church in the Sydney suburb of Beverly Hills wants to add the crest of the USS Patterson to the church's memorabilia commemorating the ship, which saved 627 Australians of the HMAS Canberra during a World War II battle.

The church's founder and first pastor, Fr William Evans, was one of those saved during the Battle of Savo Island off the Solomon Islands in August 1942.

However, Fr Hilder said he has been unable to make contact with any crew members of the ship, which was decommissioned in 1945 and later was sold for scrap.

"I think it would be fitting to honour the ship and its crew by having its crest on the wall of the chapel," Fr Hilder said. "I'm sure Fr Evans would like to have seen it displayed in his beautiful church."

Fr Evans had a deep affection for the US and Americans after the Battle of Savo Island, when a large Japanese naval force destroyed the HMAS Canberra. The USS Patterson, with help from the USS Blue, rescued the Canberra's survivors.

More than 1,000 Allied personnel died in the battle, and 700 were wounded. The Japanese sank two American cruisers, and the cruisers HMAS Canberra and the USS Astoria were so badly damaged that they eventually sank.

The experience had a great effect on Fr Evans, then 36, and it instilled in him a desire to commemorate permanently the friendship between Australia and the United States. The Regina Coeli Memorial Church was the realisation of his dream.

The foundation stone was blessed by Cardinal Norman Gilroy of Sydney on Coral Sea on Sunday 6 May 1962, which commemorates the battle of the Coral Sea, one of the war's turning points in the Pacific. For many years the church sponsored an annual Coral Sea Mass.

The next year, again on Coral Sea Sunday, the church was opened officially. Three years later Fr Evans died of a heart attack at age 59.

The church has a side altar called the American chapel, where an American flag and a glass wall bearing an engraved US coat of arms is displayed with a sign: "To the people of the United States of America. In honour of Australian-American Friendship in War and Peace."

Regina Coeli is Australia's only Catholic war memorial church.

Australian priest seeks American ship's crest to honor WWII battle (Catholic News Service, 8/2/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Regina Coeli Parish Beverly Hills
Beverly Hills, New South Wales (Wikipedia)
HMAS Canberra
The loss of HMAS Canberra, 9 August 1942 (Australian War Memorial)

Caritas condolences for Defence personnel lost on Nias (CathNews, 5/4/05)

12 Feb 2007