The Papal Altar

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The Holy Cross Papal Altar

On 25 November 1986, Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass in the Showground in Canberra. The Papal Mass altar consisted of two identical sandstone altars joined together to accommodate the number of Bishops and clergy concelebrating the Mass.

Image 1Somehow Fr. Ferdinand Fuhlendorf had purchased one half of the altar for the new church he was building in Helensburgh, and the other half was purchased by St. Mary’s in Braddon, Canberra, ACT.


Within an hour of the conclusion of Mass a crane was bought in and the altar was dismantled and the Helensburgh half was carefully loaded onto a truck supplied by the builders Co-Wyn Constructions which was driven by Patrick Braz.

The journey back to Helensburgh began with Fr. Ferdie and Fr. Eugene Weber following close behind saying a continual Rosary for the safety of the new acquisition blessed by Pope John Paul II.

On arrival at the timber yard at Helensburgh, the altar was unloaded from the construction truck onto a smaller landcruiser utility for transport to the church.

Image 4

Being so heavy and with no other way of getting the altar into the church, the side window/door timber panel had to be removed to allow the landcruiser access.


To access this side opening the landcruiser had to drive backwards up sleepers laid on the steps and then onto formply (to protect the lawn), then through the opening into the church, where it was able to back up to the altar steps to deliver the items where they were to be positioned.

Image 7

The first load was the two pillars.

Being very heavy solid sandstone, they were placed in the approximate position required.




Then the second load was the altar slab. When the utility was backed as far as possible up the steps, measurements had to be made and adjustments to the pillars to give a good looking balance to the altar.

Fr. Ferdie had to give his approval for the positioning. So then unloading of the slab began.

Because of the weight of the slab, it could not be lifted, so it was slowly moved by means of timber levers to the back of the vehicle, onto the pillars and then onto pipe rollers on top of the pillars until it was off the truck.

The truck was then driven from under the slab and it was then finally positioned with the help of about six men.

Then came the cleanup. There were “Texta” markings and adhesive to be removed as well as any other blemishes.

Image 20A triumphant Ferdie says “Alleluia” thanks be to God for our new altar. Very few altars have had the honour of serving a Pope or being blessed by a Pope.

All this was accomplished within 22 hours of the Papal Mass in Canberra.

Within 3 days the church was carpeted, the carved wooden figure of Jesus was lifted and fixed to the cross, and within the last hour before the first Mass we were still gluing carpet around the corners of the altar steps, and arranging the pews, flowers, candles, etc.

Patrick Braz mounted the figure of Jesus onto the wooden cross assisted by John McFadden and another. It was a very delicate operation as the carving was and is of great value and a masterpiece of carving.

  • Papal Mass in Canberra 25-11-86
  • Note the date on the last photo – 29-11-86.

In 3 days – “Mission Accomplished”.


A credit to the forethought, planning, design and accomplishment of Fr. Ferdinand Fuhlendorf, Parish Priest of Helensburgh 1980 – 1988.

“Tu es sacerdos in ordinem melkizedek”

Go to the Photo Gallery  to see all the photographs starting with the truck
leaving Canberra all the way through to the altar ready for the first mass.


The old original Church of Holy Cross at Helensburgh was opened on

13 April 1893. It was a timber and weatherboard building on the corner of Parkes Street and the service lane behind the current church.

It was not until 1911 that Helensburgh was established as a parish in its own right. Rev. Fr. J. Morris was appointed as its first pastor.

In 1972 Fr. Maurice Rosa was appointed Parish Priest. He worked tirelessly to renovate the old church. The church had a tree fall against the south side which caused the church to almost fall over. For many years the Church was propped to support the structure. In 1985 the decision was made to build a new church.

Before the new church was started, the old church was moved across the new site to the school grounds where it continued to be used as the church until the opening of the new one. Bishop W. Murray performed the blessing of the new site and laying of the Foundation Stone on 9 August, 1986.