The migration of the Melkite Catholic Church faithful to Australia began in the middle of the 19th Century. A large number of faithful left their country following the economic hardships and the continued wars, in search of a better life, peace and security. Most people that arrived in Australia established homes in Sydney, Brisbane, or Melbourne. It was only later that Melkites settled in the other Australian States.
As the number of faithful arriving into Australia increased, they felt a pressing need to build their own church, where they might practise their faith according to their own rite, and in the language of their fathers and grandfathers. With their own church, they would find peace and security; a place to meet each other so that the burden of having migrated might be lessened - as well as the loneliness of leaving; the difficulty in securing the staples of life and speaking a foreign language, which they had not learnt at home.
In 1889, Divine Providence chose an enthusiastic and righteous priest, from the town of Ras-Baalbeck, a Basilian Chouerite monk, Archimandrite Silwanos Mansour, who came to Australia to visit his parents. He stayed in Sydney following the wishes of the Church faithful and with the approval of his Father Superior and the relevant Church authorities.
Archimandrite Mansour started visiting all the cities and towns, checking on his congregation, and he found that many of the children had begun to forget their mother language, their religious rites, and Eastern traditions. He started collecting donations to build a Melkite church named after St Michael the Archangel.
In 1891 the foundation stone was laid for the first Melkite church, with the blessing of Most Rev Bishop Higgins, assistant to Cardinal Patrick Francis Moran, Archbishop of Sydney. The Church was inaugurated in 1895, in the presence and with the blessing of Cardinal Moran. A commemorative marble plaque was engraved in English, with the names of the Most Rev Cardinal Moran, the founder of the church, and the date of the inauguration. Also, two verses of poetry were engraved in Arabic from a composition by Sheikh Ibrahim al-Yazije. These two verses are:
God is a witness by virtue of his goodness that Sylwanus Mansour sealed the deal
Mark this: we shelter under his wing in it we visit the Leader of the army of heaven
This was then the first Melkite Catholic church in Sydney at 66 Wellington Street, Redfern and the church became the meeting place for Middle Eastern faithful, of various rites and religions.
The first settlers to Australia were from the Bekaa Valley, the families were: Gazal, Scarf, Maalouf, Mansour, Abou Khalil, Bracks, Herro, Bachach, Abou Samra, David, and Chahoud. Most lived in the following areas: Redfern, Narrabri, Marrickville, Woollahra, Waterloo, Newtown, and Balmain.
From the beginning of the migration, most people worked in various trades, and in most academic fields. For example:
- The Gazal family were in the “rag trade”, and owned some of the biggest manufacturing warehouses in Australia. They are still in this trade today.
- The Maalouf family was in the sciences, especially medicine and law.
- The Chahoud family in the clothing industry as was the Scarf family.
It is worth noting, that the first Lebanese person in Australia who obtained a Degree in Law, was Mr Eugene Sayegh from Zahle and the first Lebanese who graduated from the Australian University in Medicine were George, Joseph, and Fawzi Maalouf originally from Zahle, and their cousin Mr Phillip Maalouf, who excelled in Law.
Since 1895 and up until 1990, the Chouerite fathers served in the parish of St Michael the Archangel. In 1987, the Melkite Holy Synod appointed Bishop George Riachi, as the first Eparch for the Melkite Eparchy of Australia, and this appointment was approved by His Holiness Pope John Paul II. In 1995 Bishop Riachi was relocated to the Diocese of Tripoli, following his election as its Bishop.
In 1996, Bishop Issam John Darwish was elected as the Eparch of St Michael the Archangel Eparchy, and his installation as Bishop occurred 2 June 1996 in the presence of both Bishops François Abou Mokh and John Mansour, and the father of Bishop Darwish - John Darwish who travelled especially from Syria to be present at the installation ceremony.
On 22 September 1999, the Holy Father Pope John Paul II extended the jurisdiction of the Bishop of St Michael’s of Sydney for the Greek Melkite Catholics over the Greek-Melkite Catholic faithful residing in New Zealand by decretum Prot. N. 163/97.
At the end of 1997, the offices of the Eparchy were relocated from the Cathedral’s chancery to the new complex in Greenacre, which had been bought. It now houses the parish of St John and its offices, Holy Saviour School, the Melkite Catholic Welfare Association, the Youth Centre, the residence for the Bishop and priests, as well as the Eparch’s offices.