A $5 million grant application is underpinning a "big vision" plan to transform Goulburn's Sts Peter and Paul's Cathedral precinct into a heritage centre and place of pilgrimage.
The development is instrinsically linked to the Canberra/Goulburn Catholic archdiocese' quest to secure minor basilica status for the grand greenstone cathedral. The papal declaration would cement the 1871 structure's architectural and religious importance and place it among just five other minor basilicas in Australia.
While work is well underway on the cathedral's restoration, attention is turning to the wider precinct, including the adjacent former Saint Brigid's School and its playground, old stables, presbytery and a toilet block with a story.
Restoration committee chair Dr Ursula Stephens hoped consultants, Project Strategies Pty Ltd, could lodge a lodge a development application by December.
"The cathedral restoration has been going on for about 40 years but all of this other area around it has been a storage and construction site," she said.
"Most people have no conception of what it could be. We're trying to project a vision in much the same way as Saint Saviour's Cathedral and its common. We want to beautify the area because it is an historic precinct."
Concept plans detail a proposal to adaptively reuse Saint Brigid's for a heritage centre of "catholic influence" in the region and a contemplative garden with memorial walkways, seating and a shrine to Australia's only saint, Mary McKillop, who had a deep connection to Goulburn.
The old toilet block, which was at the centre of the famous 1962 state aid debate, would be demolished and adaptively reused in a columbarium, storing people's ashes. Dr Stephens said although the block was historically significant, the NSW Heritage Office recognised it was not redeemable in its current state.
A rear building that had offered it some protection had been demolished to make way for the adjoining Marian villas development, hastening its deterioration.
"The Heritage Office doesn't want a pile of rubble so it is interested in how we can use its bricks in a sympathetic way that also recognises the block's role in the state aid campaign," she said.
The plans also detail a piety shop and cafe in the 1860s former stables, an etched 'story board' along the Bourke Street aspect with a timeline of catholic institutions in Goulburn, new toilets, carpark and extensive landscaping. The latter includes the Mary McKillop Bottlebrush and Goulburn rose.
The focus will be on accessibility.
The Heritage Centre will bring together a wealth of history behind Goulburn and district's catholic churches, schools, convents, novitiates, Passionist Fathers monastery, orphanages and other institutions.
But it will also tell the people stories and have a broader reach.
"History Goulburn and the Heritage Council are interested in us partnering with the University of Canberra to hold workshops on how to protect materials and help all other (related) local groups," Dr Stephens said.
The centre would employ a conservator and archivist, have rotating exhibitions and conduct tours. A Wollongong registered training organisation is interested in running workshops on tour guiding that will help the broader community.
Restoration committee member Di Green said the centre would also host the parish's very active family history group.
Restoration of the former bishop's house at the rear of the presbytery is also planned as part of the stage.
Saint Brigid's, which later became Our Lady of Mercy Primary School, closed in the early 1980s. Only a section has been restored in more recent time to host meetings and small functions.
Parishioners have had input into the proposal, which will employ 11 people and be self-sustaining.
The parish is applying for a $5m state Regional Tourism Activation Grant, designed to stimulate economies amid COVID-19. An announcement is expected in December.
Dr Stephens said timing of the DA's lodgement depended on the grant but the parish was also embarking on a $5m capital fundraising campaign, mainly through sponsorship and donations.
The committee will explore other grant opportunities if the Regional Activation bid is unsuccessful but any surplus funds raised through the campaign will go to the project.
Running in tandem is the application to Rome for basilica status. Dr Stephens said the cathedral ticked all the boxes and the Parish hoped to have an answer by November 2022. It carries strict operational guidelines.
The development is expected to draw thousands of pilgrims and other tourists annually.
"We have a big vision and we know it will make a huge contribution to this community and beyond," Dr Stephens said.
The heritage centre could be completed by November, 2023, with the grant.
The work is designed to link in with wider precinct, including the former Saint Patrick's Primary School site opposite, which has been transformed into The Abbey Motel. The developers are also restoring the former hall, which will house a Roses Cafe outlet. The Marian villas, sitting on former parish land, will employ similar design.
Meantime, restoration work is continuing on the cathedral. Sandstone re-pointing is almost finished and scaffolding will soon be removed. Repairs to the roof, replacing worn slate tiles sourced from the original Welsh quarry, will start in September. Any slate that can be restored will be set aside for use on other Goulburn restorations.
A project group is also considering internal colour schemes and lighting inside and out.
Mary Queen of Apostles parish priest Father Joshy Kurien said the restoration team had widespread support.
"They're putting a lot of time and effort into it because they're passionate about this project," he said.
"We are all very proud of this cathedral and it's an exciting time for everyone."
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