Once upon a time in Blacktown (1973 - 2019)
In the early 1970s, there were approximately 500 Greek people living in the Blacktown area, most of whom had arrived in the outer western suburbs of Sydney during the 50s and 60s. In May 1973, at the Savoy Milk Bar in Blacktown, a handful of them - Paul Karlos, Jim Papasinos and Denis Rozos - conceived the idea of establishing a Greek Community in Blacktown, and a letter was sent to the residents inviting them to a special meeting on the 26th May 1973 at the Civic Inn, Campbell Street, Blacktown. Following this historic meeting, where 28 people attended, the difficult task began; to inform all the Greek people in the area, and to generate enthusiasm for the establishment of the Community.
A further meeting was held at the Civic Inn on the 18th June 1973, during which "Denis Rozos gave an introductory speech and a discussion regarding aims and goals took place" (minutes of meeting, 18th June 1973), and it was decided to prepare the ground for the formal establishment of the Community. A provisional administrative committee was appointed, consisting of P. Triantafillis (President), M. Demirgellis (Secretary), J. Papasinos (Treasurer), S. Adamantidis, P. Davelis, J. Karozis, B. Katharios, N. Sevopoulos and C. Zarafetas.
On the 18th August 1973, a General Meeting was called at the at the Civic Centre in Blacktown, where those present discussed and approved the "Memorandum and Rules of the Association" (Constitution) and a motion was passed to organise elections.
According to the Memorandum, the title of the organisation was “The Hellenic Orthodox Community of Blacktown and Districts” and the objects were:
a) to preserve and teach the Greek language and traditions
b) to organise schools for the teaching the Greek language
c) to render financial and other assistance to persons in necessitous circumstances
d) to organise of functions of all kinds and raise funds by all means for charitable purposes of fundraising for the Community.
On the 23rd September 1973, a meeting was held at the Civic Centre for the purpose of electing a committee; 11 nominations were submitted and the inaugural Committee was formed and consisted of S. Adamantidis, P. Davelis, M. Demirgellis, A. Doulaveras, P. Karlos, B. Katharios, D. Papasinos, P. Skountzos, N. Sevopoulos, P. Triantafillis and K. Zarafetas.
The newly-appointed Committee elected Peter Triantafillis as President, Bill Katharios as Vice-President, Michael Demirgellis as Secretary and Jim Papasinos as Treasurer.
The inaugural Committee immediately organised the Community’s first social events - a picnic at St. George Monastery in Springwood on the 9th of December 1973 and the first dance of the Community on the 23rd of February 1974, at the Masonic Hall in Blacktown - in order to bring the Greek community closer together. The members of the Committee, motivated by the great social and financial success of both events, became actively involved with the organising of other social events, but also fundraisers to aid the victims of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus (July - August 1974).
Immediately, the Committee undertook to organise Greek schools in the area. The first afternoon Greek school was located at the Civic Centre and commenced on the 11th February 1974, and another was established in Windsor.
In February 1976, Denis Rozos was appointed to the presidency, and the first formal approach to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia was made, in order to have the religious needs of the Community served. During this time, the Committee’s main priority was to acquire a suitable property in Blacktown, which would facilitate the requirements of the Community, while also providing the opportunity for establishing a church. The purchase of the property situated at 135 Kildare Road at a cost of $39,500 was approved by the members at an extraordinary General Meeting on the 2nd of May 1976, and the members of the Committee became guarantors to ensure repayment of the $25,000 loan from the Commonwealth Bank. The Ladies Auxiliary (Philoptochos) was immediately formed, and the women began their fundraising efforts with success. A new era of confidence, pride and achievement was felt by those involved.
The negotiations with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese required a review to be undertaken of the Community's Constitution, which was completed in 1979, resulting in a number of amendments. On the 11th March 1980, the "Hellenic Orthodox Parish and Community of Blacktown and Districts Limited" was registered by the Corporate Affairs Commission.
With the hard work of the Committee members and many volunteers, the property was renovated and on Christmas Day 1982, in an emotional atmosphere, the first Divine Liturgy was celebrated by Father Antonios Papadokokolakis, who had arrived from Perth only three days earlier and was appointed as the first Parish Priest of the Parish and Community.
On the 20th March 1983, His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos of Australia conducted the official opening of the Church, which was then dedicated to Saint Paraskevi.
In the 1980s, the Parish and Community achieved exceptional progress. During the Presidency of Jim Karabatsolis, the property on 49 Balmoral Street was purchased (the first church was sold to the Russian Orthodox Church), and the foundation stone for a new Church was laid on the 25th August 1985. In the year that followed, Father Antonios, the Committee and Philoptochos, members of the Community and individuals provided personal labour and substantial financial support during the building of the new Church,
On the 19th October 1986, the titles of the Church were transferred to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia Property Trust (Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia Consolidated Trust Act 1994), which is protected by a special Act of the New South Wales Parliament.
The Church was officially opened by His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos on the 27th October 1986.
On Sunday, 15th February 1987, the relic of Saint Paraskevi, which had been sent from the Monastery of St. George of Choziba (Wadi Qelt) to Saint Nicholas Church in Marrickville, was gifted by Father Nektarios Zorbalas and installed by His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos in the Church, where it is since kept in the reliquary for public veneration.
Further progress was achieved, during the Presidency of Con Constantine, with the construction of the Community Centre (1989-1991). Since 1991 and up until 2018, the Community Centre facilitated the Greek School, the Sunday School, the Greek Dancing School, the Seniors Group, the Youth Group, the Playgroup and the many events and activities of our Parish and Community. Since 2019, the Community Centre has been leased, following the tender process, to "Pelopidas Catering" for use as a Function Centre.
On the 5th November 2000, His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos conducted the Consecration of the Church, during which the relics of Saints Onouphrios of Egypt, Petros of Athos and Phocas were installed in the Altar, in the presence of prominent political and community leaders and thousands of faithful.
In February 2005, upon the request of Father Antonios, Father Stavros Karvelas was appointed as Parish Priest by Archbishop Stylianos, and Father Antonios returned to Greece after 22 years of service to the Parish and Community. Father Stavros conducted his first service at Saint Paraskevi on Sunday, 5th February 2005, and remained as Parish Priest until August 2006, when he was transferred to the newly established Parish of Saint Therapon in Thornleigh, following the return of Father Antonios in June 2006.
In April 2007, following the departure of Father Antonios from Australia, Father Sotirios Papafilopoulos was appointed as Parish Priest by Archbishop Stylianos, and was officially introduced to the congregation by Bishop Seraphim of Apollonia on Sunday of Thomas, 15th April 2007. Father Sotirios undertook to work closely with the Administrative Committee and the Philoptochos in order to continue the work of Father Antonios, and the Parish and Community commenced a new period of progress and expansion.
Following the appointment of Father Sotirios, the Parish and Community purchased two neighbouring properties in 2008 and 2010. The properties were repaired by voluntary labour and subsequently rented. With the acquisition of these two properties, the Parish and Community was well placed to cater for its future needs.
In 2009, the interior of the Church was rendered, and the façade of the Church was partly rendered to give the building more ‘character’. Once all this work was completed the interior of the church was painted by voluntary labour. The carpet was replaced , funded by donations. The Church was then rewired, improvements were made to the sound system and new lighting was installed. Between 2010 and 2015, substantial iconography, to the value of $32,000, was undertaken in the Holy Altar and funded by donations.
In 2013, the Parish and Community celebrated the 40th anniversary since its establishment in 1973, and the 30th anniversary since the first Divine Liturgy conducted in 1982. To celebrate the milestone, a range of celebratory activities were organised, beginning with the Divine Liturgy presided by His Grace, Bishop Seraphim of Apollonia, on Sunday, 17th February 2013. With deep gratitude not only to the founders and benefactors but to every member of the faithful who, in whatever capacity, contributed towards the work of the Parish and Community, a Commemorative Book was produced, containing the verbal and pictorial history of the Parish and Community, with testimonials from prominent political and community leaders. and was widely distributed. At the book launch event held in the Community Centre on 5th June 2014, where the Commemorative Book was presented, the founders and pioneers of the Parish and Community were officially acknowledged.
In 2018, the Parish and Community was blessed by God with a timely opportunity to purchase the neighbouring property, on 51 Balmoral Street, that would enable it to establish a Community Centre and to better serve the needs of the rapidly growing Parish. It was a historical challenge which required financial prudence, vision for the future and, most importantly, the united support of the individuals and families that comprise the Parish and Community. On the 23rd September, an Extraordinary General Meeting was held in order to discuss how to most effectively purchase this property and to raise a deposit. The response and positivity was overwhelming, and subsequently many individuals did not hesitate to encourage the Parish and Community to move forward with confidence by making donations in accordance with their capacity. By God’s grace, the property to the right of the Church now belongs to the Parish and Community and represents a further opportunity for the Church to minister even more ably to the children, the youth and the elderly.
In summary, it can be said that during the last 45 years there has been considerable development in the range of services provided by the Parish and Community for the benefit of its parishioners and the wider community.
This is attributed to all those who over the last 45 years encouraged, nourished and contributed morally and financially to the work of the Parish and Community. Spiritual leadership, guidance and support was provided by His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos. Management of the activities was steered by successive Committees, the Ladies Auxiliary and Youth Committees.
The success of the Parish and Community is also attributed to the vision, zeal and leadership of our Parish Priests who worked tirelessly during the last thirty five years.
Today, with the conclusion of 45 years, the “Hellenic Orthodox Parish and Community of Blacktown and Districts” is strong and dynamic, with plans for expansion in the range of activities and services it can provide to its parishioners and the Greek community in the outer western suburbs of Sydney as well as the wider Australian community.
We offer our humble gratitude to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who, through the intercessions of our Patron Saint Paraskevi the Great Martyr, is the Head of our Church and the centre of our focus.
GLORY TO GOD IN EVERYTHING