A multi-million dollar project to restore the eastern end of High Street into the cathedral precinct of Maitland will begin next year with the resurrection of St John the Baptist Chapel.
Plans to restore the historic Catholic church will form stage one of a vision to revive the precinct for the 2016 sesquicentenary of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.
“There have been conversations with Maitland City Council about this area becoming a cathedral precinct and we’ve had meetings with the parishioners and the response has been very positive,” Chisholm Region moderator Father Paul O’Neill said.
“The parishioners have been very sad that the church has been closed for so long.”
The Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle was formed in 1866 with St John’s chapel established as a cathedral on November 1.
“The church was built in the 1840s but when the bishop (the Most Reverend James Murray) came here in the 1860s it became a cathedral,” diocesan head Bishop Bill Wright said.
“So not only is this building a fairly important part of the story of the diocese but it’s also an important part of the Maitland story as well.”
The chapel closed three years ago because of falling sandstone and has stood vacant since.
“When I first came here I knew we had to do something about this,” Bishop Wright said. “You can’t have the original cathedral of the place standing closed with cyclone wire around it.”
During the 1920s the church was used as a school building and in the 1950s part of the church was transformed into a classroom.
“The project is, as far as possible, to restore the church from the outside,” Bishop Wright said.
“Inside we can’t do a genuine restoration because that’s just too expensive to even contemplate. But hopefully, when done, it will look like it should within the Maitland landscape.”