Thursday 3 October 2019

"Via Crucis" at Maryfields

Maryfields Franciscan Novitiate celebrated its first “Via Crucis” or “Way of the Cross” on Good Friday in 1936. The service depicts Christ’s journey to Calvary, and consists of the 14 stations of the cross, culminating in the preaching of the Passion sermon from the final station.
It was believed to be the first open air celebration of the Via Crucis in Australia, following examples from Europe and the United States.
Special railway timetables were put in place to transport pilgrims coming in from the city, as well as police to control traffic and the NRMA to supervise parking arrangements for the many vehicles expected. St Johns Ambulance were also on hand. The railway stop was at “Rudd’s Gate” on the Campbelltown Camden line, immediately opposite the entrance to Maryfields.
A special choir of 200 St Vincent de Paul brothers was formed for the singing of the “Stabat Mater” – a 13th Century Christian hymn to Mary, depicting her suffering at Christ’s suffering. The choir also accompanied the priest from station to station and modest Australian hardwood crosses marked ‘the way’
On the day itself, reportedly more than 30,000 people were in attendance, and many newspapers spoke of the “remarkable religious fervour amid unforgettable scenes that were displayed at the pilgrimage of ‘Via Crucis’ in the picturesque grounds of the Franciscan Novitiate at Maryfields, Campbelltown."

The Franciscan monks with the wooden crosses in 1936.
Photo: Franciscan Provincial Office Collection
 (Local Studies Collection. Campbelltown City Library)
In the year following, with the support of the local community and various Catholic groups, the Franciscans imported a set of 14 French statues for the 14 stations and installed them with water features and gardens. In view of the numbers from the previous year, the Railway Department constructed a new 500 foot long platform. It was estimated that the crowd was even bigger than that of 1936. In 1938, the name “Rudd’s Gate” of the railway platform was changed to “Maryfields”.
Over the years, with the closing of the Campbelltown-Camden railway in 1963, and the relocation of the Novitiate in 1983, numbers dwindled. In 1990, after two years of cancellations due to bad weather, the Stations were no longer held on Good Friday.
Since 2000, there has been a resurgence of interest, and in 2010, more than 2000 people observed Good Friday at Maryfields. The following year the Friars marked the 75th Anniversary of the first “Via Crucis” at Maryfields.

Written by Claire Lynch

Campbelltown Clippings by Jeff McGill
Macarthur Chronicle 26.4.2011

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