Our Lady of Pompeii Roman Catholic Church | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


Our Lady of Pompeii Roman Catholic Church

Item details

Name of item: Our Lady of Pompeii Roman Catholic Church
Other name/s: Our Lady of the Holy Rosary of Pompeii, St Mary's Church
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Religion
Category: Church
Location: Lat: -34.2995261138 Long: 146.0829334500
Primary address: Edon Street, Yoogali, NSW 2680
Parish: Jondaryan
County: Cooper
Local govt. area: Griffith
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Griffith
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT2194 DP720524
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Edon StreetYoogaliGriffithJondaryanCooperPrimary Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Our Lady of the Holy Rosary of Pompeii Roman Catholic Church, YoogaliGeneral 
Wagga Wagga DioceseReligious Organisation 

Statement of significance:

Dating from 1939-1940, Our Lady of Pompei Roman Catholic Church is historically significant as possibly the oldest church constructed by, and for the sole use of an Italian community which is still in use in New South Wales. Construction of such churches by small, impoverished ethnic communities appears uncommon in Australia.

The Church is aesthetically distinctive as an example of vernacular church design of the Veneto region, transplanted in memory to the Australian setting. Both the design and construction reflect these Italian origins and are strikingly different to traditional Australian Catholic church architecture. The unusual construction techniques which reflect both Italian practices and the amateur skills of the local volunteer construction force are also of technical significance.

Orginally dedicated to and named after the chosen Patroness of Italians in foreign lands, the church continues to have a strong connection and value to the now established Italian community. The community value it not only for spiritual reasons, but as a social gathering point for a dispersed population. The church played a seminal role in the development of self-esteem by this community at a difficult period in inter-ethnic relations during the late 1930s, and represents the establishment and growing cultural expression of the Italian community in Australia during this period, which contributed to the development of a multi-cultural Australia. (Lloyd and HO)
Date significance updated: 05 Jul 05
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: Antonio Ceccato
Builder/Maker: Antonio Ceccato and members of the Italian community
Construction years: 1939-1940
Physical description: A church with a meeting room attached to the rear, a bell tower to the south-east corner of the street facade and two side chapels.

The walls are rubble-filled brick cavity construction rendered externally and internally. The bell tower is of mixed off-form concrete and brick construction. The timber-framed roof structure is clad with corrugated iron. Windows are Gothic-arched with a simple pattern of coloured and textured glass. A statue of the Madonna is set into the street facade.


Antonio Ceccato designed Our Lady of Pompei Church along lines inspired by the large Church in Cavaso del Tomba Italy.

The foundation stone was made by Antonio Ceccato out of terrazzo with lead lettering which took some intricate work. To make the lead lettering, the alphabet was carved out by hand on a block of hardwood by an expert tradesman at the Area Builders Joinery Shop. Lead was melted and poured into the carved out letters until all the letters and numbers were made which were needed for the wording and date on the foundation stone.

Antonio employed a few good tradesmen and labourers. The trenches for the footings were all dug by hand using pick and shovel. The soil was still damp from the big flood of early 1939.

The footings were filled with cement and stones to ground level, and then a damp course was put in place. It consisted of a thick layer of sand and tar which was heated and mixed on a large sheet of iron over a fire, to make the sand and tar mixture very hot and workable. This was the method used at that time.

Very deep footings were dug by hand for the bell tower and filled with stones and concrete. All of the walls of the church including the bell tower were cement blocks made on the site. Mr Ceccato's son Gino, and nephew Aldo Ziliotto made most of the cement blocks. The laying of the cement blocks on the walls was done by Mr Ceccato, Mr Francesco (Frank) Vardenega and Mr Giovanni Brighenti. They also cement rendered all the walls internally and externally. Labourers working on the site mixed the cement for the rendering.

All of the cement and concrete used on the construction of the church was mixed manually with shovels on a large wooden mixing board. All the sand and stones used to build the church were collected and generously delivered to the building site by parishioners who had motor trucks etc. The sand came from the river at Darlington Point and the stones from parts of Scenic Hill. This was the extent of the wonderful voluntary work carried out by the parishioners. All other work in constructing the church was done by proper tradesmen and labourers paid by the builder, Mr Ceccato.

The main supplier of material for the church was the Area Builders Supply Company Griffith. The construction of the roof consisted of trusses, made on site on the ground, out of Oregon beams, which were then pulled up into position using a high pole with ropes and pulleys. All the carpentry work was done by Mr Ceccato and the tradesmen he employed. All the plumbing was carried out by Trenerry Bros Plumbing Service. The wooden door frames, doors, windows and church pews were made by the Area Builders Supply Company, in their well equipped joinery shop. Some of the original pews are still used in the church to-day. The plaster ceilings and the electrical work was all done by sub-contractors employed by Mr. Ceccato.

The construction of the Bell Tower was an intricate part of the building work, as high scaffolding had to be erected. As work on the tower became higher, more scaffolding was added until the top was reached. The scaffolding at that time was all made of wood, held together with bolts and ropes. To complete the Bell Tower, the steel Cross made by Griffith blacksmiths was cemented into a pear shaped ball of cement. The mould for this was a neat hole dug in the ground where the cement was poured in and then the Cross was inserted into the ball of cement. When ready, it was lifted into place on top of the spire.
The iron roof cladding of the Spire was fixed to the timber frame thus completing the bell tower (campanile) part of the church. Later the bell was placed and fixed in position in the Belfry of the tower ready for the opening day.

The official bell ringer was Mr Giacomo Schiavenin, known as Metto Ric. On the morning of VP Day (Victory In The Pacific) 15th August 1945 this bell rang out for some time when news that the War had ended was announced.

In 1945 a new and larger bell was donated by the Archbishop of Melbourne, His Grace Daniel Mannix D.D. It was delivered to Mr Tomaso Bortolazzo, Blacksmith and Engineer of Bilbul who made the mounting on which it was placed and also installed the bell in the bell tower of the church. The bell was still in his yard on the new mounting ready to be delivered and on V-D
Day Mr. Bortolazzo also rang this bell which could be heard all around and far way.

One of the last items to be built in the church was the altar, which was made and put in place by Mr Ceccato. It was made of terrazzo and cement. Father Bongiorno was very pleased with the altar, as it was a beautiful piece of work. Two big round matching columns, also made out of terrazzo, were built one each side of the altar. A lot of work was put into making the altar and the columns, as terrazzo involved many hours of manual work such as grinding, sanding and polishing with the appropriate stones of different grades until a high polish was achieved.

In 1945 Mrs Virgona of Melbourne, who was the Godmother of Father Bongiomo, gifted a new altar to the church. The Romanin Brothers of Melbourne made the new altar out of terrazzo and when it arrived the altar that Mr Ceccato had made was dismantled and the new altar put in its place. When the church was repainted the two big terrazzo columns were painted over, covering the terrazzo finish.

Inside at the rear of the church a choir gallery was built in varnished timber. The stairs to the gallery are inside the tower and the stairs also continue on up to the belfry.

The original rose window (occhio) on the building facade, now replaced by the statue of the Madonna, was painstakingly designed and made by Antonio Ceccato similar to the rose window of the church in Cavaso that had inspired the overall Church design. The rose window was entirely made out of cement and designed with a cross in the centre with cut out grooves radiating from the cross like the rays of the sun. It was backed by coloured textured glass as in the Gothic arch windows to the front and side walls. The window was built on the ground and placed in position high above the front entrance door when the wall was at the right height. As it was big and very heavy it was pulled up with ropes and pulleys on a high pole. After it was placed in position the rest of the apex shaped front was completed.

In the early fifties, a well-known parishioner, Romano Snaidero gifted the marble statue of Our Lady of The Rosary to the church, which was installed in place of the removed rose window of the building facade. The statue was sculptured by a distinguished artist of Massa Carrara in Italy, from the famous marble of that area.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Fair to good condition. The building suffers from rising damp which is causing damage to rendered walls.
Date condition updated:05 Jul 05
Modifications and dates: The two side chapels were added shortly after the main construction. A school room was added to the rear at an unknown date (c.1949). Both additions are in matching style and are not intrusive. In the 1950s the statue of the Madonna was added to the front, post the church's construction, replacing a circular rose window. Internally the choir balcony is a later addition of unknown date. The alter, Stations of the Cross and pews have all been progressively acquired. Original furnishings were primitive and have not survived.
Current use: Church
Former use: Church


Historical notes: The history of the Yoogali church has to be viewed against the background of the changing status of the Italian community. The 1930s saw increasing hostility towards Italian settlers in the M.I.A., due to their relative success in maintaining and increasing their holdings compared to Anglo-Australian farmers during the depression. At the same time, the growing Italian community was becoming increasingly self-aware and desirous of greater social and cultural expression. (G Pich 1975; oral sources).

The Church was dedicated to Our Lady of Pompei who was the chosen Patroness of Italians in foreign lands.

The genesis for the construction of the church appears to have been a decision by the Catholic Church hierarchy to provide an Italian speaking priest - Father Sylvester Bongiorno - to the Griffith parish in the late 1930s. Apart from the occasional visits by Italian missionary priests, there had been no opportunity for the Italian community to worship in their own language and culture. The Sacred Heart Church in Griffith has been established in 1928 with minimal Italian involvement and did not offer Italian mass until 1971. (Father Beltrami)

The community instigators for building the church were Paul Zanotto and Romano Snaidero, who approached other members of the local Italian Catholic cummunity. The community enthusiastically agreed to raise the money and build the church themselves despite the impoverished times of the Depression years. This was very unique for the time and is thought to be the first church in Australia to be built by and for the Italian community. The building was designed and constructed by local builder, Anotonio Ceccato. His was the only design tendered which proposed that the church be constructed of bricks and cement blocks. The designs were drawn up to these specifications by the architect, G.W.A. Welsh, and signed by Antonio Ceccato, Father Bongiorno and Pompeo Vardanega. (Ceccato 2000)

The foundation stone of the new church was laid by Dr. Henschke, Auxillliary Bishop of Wagga Wagga in October 1939. Construction was completed in 6 months by volunteer labour with materials also donated by the Italian community. Mrs Gladys Burrell (wife of Dr A.E.W. Burrell), a devoted supporter of the church and presumably treasurer of the Committee, came out regularly to Yoogali with a bag of money from the funds raised and made progressive payments to the builder, Antonio Ceccato, who then paid his workmen. The church was opened on 28 April 1940. The Italian Consul-General, Sr. Mammalella, attended the opening celebrations which took the whole day and included mass, formal speeches, confirmation and baptism ceremonies. A crowd of many hundreds participated in the celebrations. A dinner was attended by a large number of both Italo and Anglo-Australians. (Catholic Press, 1940)

A social club - the genesis of the present day 'Catholic Club' - operated from makeshift premises beside the church to the west during the 1940s. This included a bocce court and corrugated iron clubroom. A school was established in the extension to the rear of the church c.1949, later moved to new buildings across the road. In 1953, a hall in Art Deco style was constructed adjacent to the church to the east. (oral sources)

The church continues in use by the local Italian community.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Religion-Activities associated with particular systems of faith and worship Practising Catholicism-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Dating from 1939-1940, the church is state significant as almost certainly the oldest church in New South Wales constructed by, and for the sole use of, an Italian community which is still in use.

The construction of the Church in the style of the Italian homeland for and by the Italian migrant community provides early evidence of the growing confidence and establishment of the Italian culture in Australia, as a concrete expression of the Italian community desire for greater social and cultural expression at this time.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The church is aesthetically distinctive as an example of vernacular church design of the Veneto region, transplanted in memory to the Australian setting. Both the design and construction reflect these Italian origins and are strikingly different to traditional Australian church architecture.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The church is significant through its ongoing association with the Griffith Italian community who value it not only for spiritual reasons, but as a social gathering point for a dispersed population. As such the building is representative of the typical role of churches, however this particular church played a seminal role in the development of self-esteem by this community at a difficult period in inter-ethnic relations during the late 1930s.

The special status of the church for the Italian immigrants was recognised from the time of its opening, which as well as attracting widespread interest and participation in the celebrations by the community and its wide coverage in the religious and lay press, was attended by the Italian Consul General.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The church is of technical interest due to the construction techniques which differ markedly from usual Australian church construction and reflect both Italian practices and the amateur skills of the volunteer construction force.
SHR Criteria f)
The Church is rare in New South Wales as almost certainly the oldest operating church constructed by and for the sole use of an Italian community. Construction of such churches by small impoverished ethnic communities appears uncommon in Australia.
SHR Criteria g)
The Church represents a distinctive example of the Italian vernacular church design, transplanted by memory into Australia by Italian migrants.
Integrity/Intactness: The church has a high degree of integrity.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0174615 Dec 06 18311042

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Oral HistoryFather Beltrami2000Parish Priest, Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Griffith
Oral HistoryFather McGee2000Parish Priest, St Mary's Yoogali
WrittenG Pich1975Italian Land Settlement in the MIA, 1915-72
WrittenGino Ceccato2000Our Lady of Pompei Church - Yoogali 1939
Oral HistoryMr Bert Dal Broi2000Parishioner at Yoogali
Oral HistoryMr John Piazza2000Griffith Italian Public Museum
WrittenSimon Lloyd2000State Heritage Inventory form
WrittenThe Catholic Press1940Italians Build Chuch - May 16, 1940

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5052102
File number: H00/00656

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