Historic church restored by Notre Dame

Document Type

Media Release

Publication Date

Fall 26-3-2008

Publisher Name

The University of Notre Dame, Sydney Campus

Publication Place



The University of Notre Dame Australia’s Sydney Campus opened the doors to its new state-of-the-art facility for its medicine and nursing schools in Darlinghurst on 2nd March 2008. Located opposite St Vincent’s Hospital, the new seven storey building has been designed to join and complement the restored historic Sacred Heart complex, of church, school, and presbytery. The University has successfully undertaken the major restoration of the 1912 church, which replaced an earlier 1852 church on the site designed by architect Charles Hansom. Hansom’s work was inspired by the famous English architect, Augustus Pugin, said to be responsible for the ‘gothic revival movement’ which began in the 1840s in England.

Sacred Heart’s fascinating history began when, under instructions from the Archbishop of Sydney (1842 - 1877), John Bede Polding, Hansom designed, not only the church, but also a school located in the under storey. A later school was constructed in 1880 adjacent to the church, to house up to 500 girls on the upper level and up to 500 boys on the lower level. It was connected to the church by a timber bridge. That school now houses the University’s medical library on the upper level, and tutorial rooms on the lower level. The under storey to the church, now houses a student common room and new Parish facilities.

To cater for a rapidly growing congregation, a new and larger, church was constructed between 1910 to 1912, over the foundations of the first church, utilising some of the original stonework. It was designed by architect James Nangle who went on to become the head of Technical Education in NSW from 1913 to 1933.

In 1958, in response to a still growing congregation, architect Elsa Davey was commissioned to lengthen and modernise the Church. The new works included a new sanctuary and apse, lined with a large mosaic depiction of the Risen Christ, designed by Enrico Gaudenzi, and constructed by the famous Vatican Mozaic studio. Other works included additional confessionals, and replacing the original timber windows and leadlights, with aluminium frames and orange glass.

In 1970 a new presbytery was built on the site, replacing two earlier ones, located on the other side of Victoria Street, where St Vincent’s Hospital is now located.

By 2005 the Sacred Heart Church, the Presbytery, and the School were in poor physical condition, either under used or empty. It was suggested by Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, that it might be possible for Notre Dame to restore the church, and develop the balance of the site as a facility for its medical and nursing schools. The rest, as they say, is history.

Work commenced in 2006. The 1958, now discordant extensions and ‘modernisations’ to the Church were demolished, except for the 65 tonne mosaic and apse, which was lifted back to the reconstructed 1912 end of the nave. This was a major engineering feat given the weight of the concrete apse and the fragility of the artwork. It won engineer, Elwyn Berchowitz, the 2007 NSW Engineering Award, both for the heritage category, and for the overall winner for all categories.

The University’s architect, Marcus Collins explains, “The restoration of the Sacred Heart Church to its 1912 configuration and detailing has given back to the Church its original architectural integrity. Together with the essential and long overdue maintenance undertaken, the upgrading of the fabric, the new services, and with the additional facilities constructed, the future of Sacred Heart, as the Darlinghurst parish church, has been ensured.”

Semester One is well underway in the medical and nursing schools, and the restored church with its new facilities is promising to be in great demand. The Archbishop of Sydney was one of the first visitors to the newly restored Sacred Heart Church. He visited the first cohort of medical students on their orientation day. Cardinal Pell, congratulated the University on the new Darlinghurst site.

"Sacred Heart Parish Darlinghurst retains its historic Sydney parish church, and it is very good to see the parish site restored so beautifully with office and meeting facilities for the parish as well as the university buildings.

"The University has built a superb new facility for educating doctors and nurses and for supporting university medical research.

"It has also made ingenious use of the existing parish buildings for teaching and administrative purposes.

"The parish church, in particular, has been magnificently restored. The mosaic of the Sacred Heart has been returned to its original splendour. Once the furnishing of the sanctuary is completed satisfactorily, the parishioners of Darlinghurst and the University Community will have a beautiful church in which to pray and worship.

The partnership between the parish, the archdiocese and the University has been successful for all involved, and I look forward to welcoming the first graduates from the new university campus in a few years time, and to increasing vitality in a growing parish community."

Media contact:

Michelle Ebbs 040 895 9138