The Shehadie Family and the Antiochian Orthodox Church

Georgina Whitehouse

In 1913 Exarch Father Nicholas Shehadie was sent to Australia, arriving in Sydney in to Sydney to investigate the state of the Antiochian community in Australia. It was at this time that World War broke out and he could not return to Lebanon to his wife Alexandra and seven children. His visit became a permanent stay and hence the beginning of the Antioch Orthodox Faith in Australia.

It took 7 years before the first church was built, during this time The Divine Liturgy was being held in numerous parishioners’ homes. The Government leased a block of land to the Church which was on the corner of Walker and Redfern Streets. The first Antiochian Orthodox Church was built in 1920 – St George Antiochian Orthodox Church.

The Exarch Father Nicholas sent for his family over a period of years. Sons George and Albert and daughter Mary arrived first, followed by the twins John and Pauline in 1922, who were only 16 years old at the time, and in 1925 the family was fully reunited with the arrival of his wife Alexandra, son Elias, son Michael and his wife Hannah and their two baby girls Alexandra and Paulette.

In 1934, less than ten years after the Shehadie family was reunited and 14 years after the first church was built Exarch Father Nicholas Shehadie passed away, he was in his early 70’s. His second eldest son, Michael, followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a Priest. He had studied at the Bulamund University in Lebanon and in Russia before coming to Australia, however Hannah his wife didn’t want to be married to a Priest at the time so he studied and became a Chemist/Herbalist. He served the parishioners of St George with his wife Hannah and children Alexandra, Paulette, Nicholas, George by his side. Later came their baby girl Margaret, the only one born after Michael became a Priest.

They lived in the presbytery in the church grounds, the church became their life, as too their home became the home of many parishioners, it was known that their home was full for Sunday lunch after Church every week and many families sought refuge there when coming into Australia.

Whilst the Very Reverend Father Michael Shehadie served the parishioners of St George, the Government lease expired and their land was reclaimed. He worked with the Government to find a new site for their Church and in 1950 they were given the land that the Church still resides on to this day, the comer of Walker and Cooper Streets in Redfern. Today the Church has become our Cathedral. The Very Reverend Father Michael Shehadie worked on and had the plans approved for their new Church but never saw it built. In 1951 at the age of 56 he passed away suddenly. He dedicated his life to God, his family and his parishioners.

A few years later his younger brother John, (born 1908) who had also studied at the Bulamund University in Lebanon before arriving in Australia, became a priest. Father John Shehadie, together with his wife Olga, and children Anthony, Michael and Louise served at St George Church for a short while, then founded St Nicholas Church in Punchbowl where he served until he retired in October 1987. He was the last of a Shehadie generation that entered the Holy Order.

Today the Antiochian Orthodox faith is Nation-wide with 12 churches scattered all over Australia.

Exarch Nicholas Shehadie
Exarch Nicholas Shehadie

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