Making the Cathedral run – Fr Don Richardson, Dean of St Mary’s Cathedral

The Archbishop of Sydney Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP delivers leadership to the Sydney diocese on many levels but it is the Dean, Fr Don Richardson with the responsibility for making things run.

The role of the Dean of St Mary’s Cathedral is a combination of two parts. He is the priest in charge of the Parish Church for the inner city of Sydney, and also the priest in charge of the Cathedral Church of the Bishop.

Fr Don was ordained in 1992 and served in a range of pastoral roles in Sydney parishes before being appointed as an Assistant Priest to St Mary’s Cathedral, and functioning also as the Archbishop’s Master of Ceremonies. He later returned to Sydney parish pastoral roles before Archbishop Anthony asked him to take the position of Dean in January 2016.

According to Fr Don, his over-reaching role as Dean and Administrator of the Sydney Parish and Cathedral is pastoral care of the people who live in the parish and visitors who come to the Cathedral.

“In addition I manage the care, maintenance and arrangements of making sure that all needs of the Cathedral both practical and spiritual are met. Of course, I don’t have to do either of those things on my own; I have others helping to do all that. But it is a balancing act between the Cathedral and Parish roles.”

Fr Don says a key aspect of the role is the interaction with people and that takes place at many levels both in the sacrament and in casual conversations and all manner of official and unofficial occasions.

“The Cathedral being the place it is; there are often unusual, special and different things happening. There are many VIPs and visitors; we have to be hospitable and aware of our role in society. There is a statehood aspect to cathedrals. Whether it is funerals of important figures or commemorative services for some national or civic event or prayer services, the Cathedral has a role to play but it doesn’t exist just for state funerals or civic prayer services. Those things are important but not the primary role – this Cathedral is above all where Catholics can come to and celebrate the sacraments together.

“While the formal aspects of the Cathedral are rewarding, what really gives my position energy and satisfaction is meeting people. Because the Cathedral is a prominent place and has such a position in the life of the city, there are many opportunities to share the good news with lots of people. For instance, we get big crowds here on Sunday and that is very much a broader audience than in normal parishes. But even though it is a busy place, we still meet with the same regular parishioners every week.”

According to Fr Don, Australians generally are not used to thinking of places as really old, particularly compared with Europe; however St Mary’s Cathedral by Australian standards, post 1788, is very old and very beautiful.

“This current building is on the site of the first Catholic Church in Australia and we are part of that continuity so it is a place Sydney-siders and people from overseas are interested in. Catholics from all around Australia have some understanding of this location. It’s where it all began, so there is a sense of being a custodian of the church and we all have a sense of responsibility.”