Historical Background


The Land


            This land is under the Tharawal Local Aboriginal Land Council.


            In Colonial times, in 1823, a grant of Crown Land, which included the present property of “Maryfields”, was made to Patrick Cullen.  He in turn sold the land to John Terry Hughes who later sold the land to John Rudd.  In 1850, John Rudd divided his property and sold the present property of “Maryfields” to James Rudd about the year 1850.  Sarah Mary Keane, a granddaughter of James Rudd inherited the land.  She was a lady well known for her support of charitable causes, and in 1930 gave the land by deed to the Franciscan Order.


            At that time, the main building on the land was the old farmhouse, which has since been demolished.


            The grounds were more or less as they are now.  There was and is a small creek flowing through the south-western part of the property that over the years has been dammed for agricultural purposes. Since 1930, an extensive tree-planting program has provided a wonderful habitat for birds around the dams.  Over a hundred different species have been sighted here at “Maryfields”.


The People


            The Rudd family were agriculturists and the Franciscan friars continued this tradition since the first community began here in 1934.  In 1935 the foundation stone for the Franciscan Novitiate was laid. Many hundreds of young men began their Franciscan life here.  The friars worked the land, planted trees, and tended gardens on the property and assisted the Catholic life of many people in nearby parishes.


            From 1936 to 1988, the friars hosted the Stations of the Cross every Good Friday.


The Stations of the Cross


            The idea of these Stations came from two groups: one a group of Catholic laymen led by Dr Harold Norrie; the other, the Franciscan friars at “Maryfields”, particularly Fr Bernard Nolan OFM.


            Dr Norrie had seen outdoor Stations of the Cross in California. On his return to Australia, he wanted to have something similar here.  He formed a group of friends who had three objectives: (a) to create a sense of religious pilgrimage outside the city area of Sydney; (b) near enough to the city to make the Stations accessible to people of limited means, and (c) to find a location which would harmonize with the solemnity of the occasion.


            At the same time, Fr Bernard Nolan OFM was seeking a way to counterbalance the tendency in Australian society, to secularize Holy Week.  “Maryfields” was discovered by one of Dr Norrie's group on a visit to a Franciscan novice at the newly opened novitiate.


The Beginnings


            The first Way of the Cross was organized for Good Friday, 1936.  Fourteen wooden crosses were placed along a path through the fields.  The first Station was located on one side of the little creek and the second Station across the creek, recalling the words from John's Gospel: "Jesus went over the brook Kedron, where there was a garden (i.e. an olive grove) which he entered" (John 18:1).  The Stations are positioned in an ever mounting path to Calvary. The thirteenth and fourteenth Stations are down a slope from Calvary.  Thus, the impression is created of climbing the hill of Calvary and going down from the hill.


The Statuary


            Artists and manufacturers of statuary were consulted about the best material to be used, and designs were chosen. A set of three-dimensional terracotta stations was ordered from France at a total cost of 3,000 pounds.  Catholic families contributed to the cost. These donors are recorded on the back of the pedestals.


            The statues where placed on brick pedestals (rendered to look like stones), high enough to be seen above a crowd.  On each alternate pedestal there is a cast cement plaque of the Paschal Lamb and another showing a chalice with grapes and wheat.  The Paschal Lamb is a symbol of Christ, the Lamb of God, slain for us. The symbols of grapes and wheat represent the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ, the fruit of his saving death on Calvary.

             In the representation of the Garden of Gethsemane, there is a statue of Christ and an angel. Jesus prayed earnestly before his Passion and was comforted by an angel of God. Thus comforted and strengthened to do his Father's will, Jesus met a crowd of soldiers led by his betrayer and so he began his Way of the Cross.

            The Twelfth Station is situated on a large man-made mound.  Beneath it lies a spacious vault, which first was mooted as the friars' burial place, but this idea was later abandoned.  There was a Franciscan friars' cemetery located on the other side of the property, near the present cemetery of the Poor Clares. The friars' remains were exhumed in 2001 and transferred to Macquarie Park Cemetery.


            Two of the stations suffered damage by vandals.  These were restored and all the stations were renovated under the direction of Jacek Luszczyk, a Secular Franciscan and a professional restorer of heritage buildings.  Jacek had attended the Stations many time in the past as a participant and  volunteered his time to restore them.


The Years of the Stations


            Good Friday, 1936, saw the beginning of the Stations at “Maryfields”.  On Good Friday 1937, His Excellency, the Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop Panico, addressed  a crowd of 20,000 and pronounced the Benediction.  Every year, except during World War II, thousands of people traveled by special trains, buses and cars from Wollongong, Port Kembla, Corrimal, Bulli and the surrounds of Sydney.


            In those days, the railway ran from Campbelltown to Camden. At “Maryfields” there was a stop called Rudds Gate which was later renamed Maryfields when it was lengthened and strengthened to accommodate the crowds. One year, the platform collapsed because of the weight of the crowd. A palm-lined path near the Eighth Station  leads up to the site of the old Maryfields station, now long gone to make room for the widened Narellan Road.


            Each Good Friday until 1988, crowds of over 10,000 came regularly to attend the Stations of the Cross.  Gradually the numbers dwindled owing to several factors:  (1) the convenient train service to Maryfields ended in 1963 with the building of the new Narellan Road; (2) finding sufficient space for the hundreds of cars proved a problem; and  (3) in 1983, the Franciscan Novitiate moved to Victoria, which meant that the burden of preparing the grounds for the Stations of the Cross and cleaning up after the event fell on the few friars who remained.  In 1990, after the Stations had been cancelled for the previous two years because of bad weather, the Stations were no longer held on Good Friday.


New Beginnings


            In 1999, the Stations of the Cross were listed as part of the Heritage of Campbelltown.


            In 2000, a year of Jubilee in the Catholic Church, the friars of “Maryfields” Friary, which, together with “Bethlehem” Monastery of the Poor Clares, is off Narellan Road, a little closer to Campbelltown, decided to make a new beginning.  They decided to hold the Stations of the Cross at 3 p.m. on the Sundays of Lent and on Palm Sunday, but not on Good Friday, to avoid conflicting with church ceremonies held in every Catholic church at 3.00 p.m. On Good Friday, The Way of the Cross at "Maryfields" is celebrated at 9 a.m..  The response has been encouraging: from 80 to 500 people make the Way of the Cross on each occasion.


            The friars hold the Stations on other occasions at "Maryfields", for instance, on the Sunday closest to 2 November, when they remember deceased friars and nuns, relatives and friends.  


            Groups are always welcome to arrange their own Way of the Cross at any time of the year. John Therry High School sends three buses on Holy Thursday morning. Hispanic people begin their Way at 10.30 a.m. on Good Friday. Other groups represent the Italians, Tongans, Croatians, Filipinos and Koreans.