St Joseph’s Northcote
It all began officially on 12 October 1893, when, according to diocesan records, ‘the District of Northcote and Preston was cut off from Clifton Hill Mission and constituted a distinct Mission under the charge of Father Brazil.’
Thomas Brazil was born February 1863 in Tipperary, ordained June 1887 and arrived in Victoria on board the “Austral’ just four months later. He was one of the many Irish priests who volunteered to serve the church ‘in the colonies.’
His first appointment was at St Mary’s, Geelong, where he was assistant for six years and then to Northcote. Our register shows that his first baptism was Kevin Lannan, residence ‘Northcote’ on 19 November 1893; his second was Hilda Louise Burke on 23 November 1893, residence ‘Whittlesea’. The parish boundaries stretched a long way!
Our mother parish was Clifton Hill. Two and a half years earlier, on Sunday 24 April 1891, Archbishop Carr had blessed and opened a new wooden church in Arthurton Street, Northcote, assisted by Fr R. Collins, pastor of the Mission. The building served as a school, ‘for in this colony, the education of Catholic children does not yield importance to the erection and increase of churches.’ (Archbishop Carr)
The Archbishop donated £50 towards the total debt of £200 (land and building). The structure measured 200 x 300 ft. ‘A collection was taken up and reached a very fair sum.’ (The Advocate 30 May 1891).
Three months later after his appointment, Fr Brazil organised a parish mission conducted by the Vincentian Fathers. However times were tough. ‘The parish is one that suffered severely from the effects of the existing depression. The principal industry is that of brick-making, and as work of this kind is entirely at a stand still, many persons have been obliged to leave the district, whilst those who remain are in many industries in straightened circumstances owing to the lack of employment.’ (The Advocate 24 Feb 1894)
The parish held a bazaar to help cancel the debt of £1700 and to meet ‘pressing parochial requirements.’ By October 1895, The Advocate reported, ‘ at present, there is neither church nor presbytery at Northcote, and the necessity of hiring substantial buildings is a severe tax on the people who are neither numerous or wealthy.’
The pattern for parish buildings in the Archdiocese was evident in Northcote: the school building served as a church on Sunday, a school Monday to Friday.
Then there was the inevitable extensions and additions to cope with the increasing numbers of children wanting a Catholic education. In March 1897, a 25ft extension was added to the building and an infant classroom (25 x 12 ft) built. ‘The erection of the infant classroom will greatly facilitate the work of the efficient staff of teachers in charge of the school which has an attendance of 132. Fr Brazil gave a financial statement and Archbishop Carr congratulated Fr Brazil on his work and expressed his admiration for the beautiful church.’ (The Advocate 13 March 1897)
The Archbishop was satisfied that St Joseph’s church was now fitted to supply the wants of the parish for some years to come. To finance the work, fr Brazil went door to door around the parish and raised £230. Fairs and bazaars were organised to make money. The Advocate 30 October 1897 gives a report of a ‘Fancy Fair at the Northcote Town Hall’. Archbishop Carr again was present and was very warmly thanked by Fr Brazil for his attendance, since the Fair was but a few days before the solemn blessing and opening of St Patrick’s Cathedral. At the Fair there were stalls ‘replete with a fineassortment of odd, elegant and costly goods including dining room suites, plates and an endless variety of fancy and useful articles.
By 1897, Fr Brazil had chosen a more suitable site for the church and presbytery – a fine block of land in Westbourne Grove, Ruckers Hill, the most commanding situation in the town. ‘It is proposed to build a commodious two-storey presbytery at a cost of £1400, sufficient land being left for the future erection of a church, in place of the one situated in the low-lying land to the north.’ (The Advocate 17 Sept 1898)
Today we might agree with Archbishop Carr: ‘In the future, the parishioners would realise and admire the sound judgement and foresight at the pastor’s action in the matter.’
At the laying of the foundation stone by the Administrator of the Cathedral, Dean McKenna Vicar General, there was the rebuke, ‘We understand that this is the only suburban parish without a presbytery for the Rector.’
At its blessing and opening on Sunday 15 January 1899, ‘the public was allowed to inspect the interior of the building and a general impression of satisfaction was heard from the parishioners. From the balcony, a very fine view of the country for miles around can be obtained. The building is of red-brick, two-storey with a wide balcony extending around both sides and contains ten large rooms which are ventilated in the latest principles and decorated in a harmonious style. The total cost exceeded £1400.’ (the Advocate 21 Jan 1899) Dean McKenna referred to Fr Brazil as a zealous pastor.
On Sunday 14 January 1900, more extensions to the school were blessed and opened, increasing the accommodation by one half. The total parish debt was now £1500.
In February 1900, Fr Brazil was transferred to Williamstown, where he remained as parish priest for 24 years until his death in 1924, aged 61 years. At his farewell at the Northcote Town Hall, an illuminated address was presented to him full of praise for his work, and a ‘well filled purse of sovereigns.’ ‘The parish was pleased to learn of his promotion to Williamstown, but regretted the loss of one who was so well qualified to adorn the parish by his zeal and intellectual gifts of eloquence.’
In an era of religious intolerance, tribute was paid him by the then Mayor of Northcote: he felt assured ‘that the reverend gentleman did not know how to spell the word bigotry.’ Fr Brazil, in reply, could say ‘that he had spent the happiest days of his life in the district where he had always met with the greatest kindness and courtesy, not only from his own, but from members of other denominations.’ (The Advocate 28 April 1900)
St Mary’s, Thornbury
THE PARISH OF OUR LADY OF LOURDES
The church in Thornbury was originally called ‘Our Lady of Lourdes’. The earliest references, in the ‘Advocate ’or in the Australian Catholic Directory, all give it that name. On the other hand, the inscription on the church foundation stone reads ‘St. Mary’s which is the normal name of the parish today.
In 1998 the parish was seventy-five years and the parish history book was published by Joan Barclay Lloyd our parish historian.
Text written by Joan may be found in the Parish History book ‘Our story so far…….
The church was built in 1916 as a ‘chapel of ease’, and became a parish in 1923. It is good to look back and celebrate the graces of so many years.
A church can be seen in three ways: it is an entity within the wider Church, in this case within the Archdiocese of Melbourne; it is a building, set up for the worship of God; and it is the people of God. This is true of St. Mary’s Thornbury. In the first part in the history book, the changing position of St. Mary’s in the Archdiocese of Melbourne is examined. In part 2 there is a description of the church building and its decoration and both of which are intimately related to the liturgy and to its various forms of popular devotion. Part 3 outlines the contribution of the priests, sisters and lay parishioners to the parish community,
There is also a section on parishioners who have responded to the priesthood or Religious life, Parish organizations and social activities are outlined in Part 4. Part 5 traces the history of St. Mary’s School.
At the conclusion of the History book, there is a list of significant dates giving an overview of important events in the life of the Parish.
MARY’S IN THE ARCHDIOCESE OF MELBOURNE
‘A parish is a definite community of the Christian faithful established on a stable basis within a particular church; the pastoral care of the parish is entrusted to a pastor as its own shepherd under the authority of the diocesan bishop.’ (CIC, can. 515: 1) It is the place where all the faithful can be gathered together for the Sunday Eucharist. The parish initiates the Christian people into the ordinary expression of the liturgical life: it gathers them together in this celebration; it teaches Christ’s saving doctrine; it practises the charity of the Lord in good works and brotherly love.’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, St. Paul’s: Homebush, 1994, 2179)
Our Lady of Lourdes parish commonly known as St. Mary’s Thornbury was established in 1923 by the Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr. Daniel Mannix. Since then it has been a specific place within the Archdiocese where people gather for Sunday Mass; where people receive sacraments and where people live and die within a Christian Community.
Looking back it is important to consider how St. Mary’s has been linked to the overall structure and development of the Catholic Church in Melbourne.
To begin with, all of Australia (which was then called ‘New Holland’) was under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Bishop of Mauritius. Dr. John Bede Polding, an English Benedictine monk, was appointed Vicar Apostolic and Bishop of ‘New Holland’ in 1834. He was the first bishop in Australia, and he lived in Sydney. A year after his appointment John Batman came to ‘Port Phillip’, and began the settlement of Melbourne. Polding in 1836 made the whole of what became the State of Victoria into a ‘parish’, and he appointed the first priest for Melbourne, Father Patrick Bonaventure Geoghegan, OFM. When Fr. Geoghegan arrived on 15 May, 1839, he found there were already some Catholics in the colony, who were delighted to have the opportunity to hear Mass, which was celebrated for the first time on the following Sunday, 19 May, which was the Feast of Pentecost.
A wooden structure was soon built on the site of the present church of St. Francis on the corner of Elizabeth and Lonsdale Streets. This was quickly replaced by the present stone church of St. Francis, which was dedicated on 23 October, 1845, although the Lady Chapel was added only in 1858, and the porch and sanctuary were built later still.
In 1841 there were 2,447 Catholics in Melbourne; by 1846 the figure had risen to 9,075; in 1851 there were 18,014. After that, as a result of the Gold Rush, the population of the colony increased rapidly, so that by 1858 there were 77,351 Catholics in Melbourne. From then on the number of Catholics rose steadily. As a result of famine and poverty in Ireland, many settlers arrived, bringing their strong Catholic with them.
In 1847 Archbishop Polding appointed Rev. Dr. James Alipius Goold as the first Bishop of Melbourne, which was made into a diocese, separate from Sydney. Goold took over on 4 October 1848. Until 1874 the Diocese of Melbourne embraced the whole of the Colony of Victoria. Subsequently Melbourne became the metropolitan Archdioces and country dioceses were established at Sandhurst (Bendigo) and Ballarat in 1874, and Sale in 1887.
Bishop Goold planned to build a cathedral. By April 1850 the foundation stone was laid for St. Patrick’s. At first this was planned by the local architect Samuel Jackson, as a church very much Francis’s in style, but the arrival in the colony of a most competent architect in the person of Wilkinson Wardell led to the building of bigger, magnificent Gothic cathedral, which solemnly consecrated in 1897. It was, and remains the most important church in Melbourne, the See of the Archbishop.
At first, Melbourne did not have the complex structure it now has. Gradually, as the population increased and the city expanded outwards from the centre, new ‘Missions’ were set up, to bring the Church to the people. The first of these was ‘St. Francis’s Mission’, based around the oldest church in Melbourne. Very soon, Catholic schools were established nearby for the education of the children of the district. In 1867 St. Augustine’s Church was built in Bourke Street, as a ‘chapel of ease’, serviced from St. Francis’s. In those days, when people walked to church, it was helpful to have a centre of worship close to where they lived. The clergy came from St. Francis’s to celebrate Mass at Augustine’s, but other important ceremonie as baptisms, marriages, confirmations and funerals took place at St. Francis’s.
Another very early Mission was centred at St. Paul’s Coburg, where a resident priest was appointed in 1851. The Mission comprised Brunswick, Essendon, Keilor, Williamstown, Bacchus Marsh, Ballarat, Castlemaine, Bendigo and the country Obviously, this vast area was later split smaller entities.
In the second half of the nineteenth century similar Missions were established. Often they began with a chapel of ease serviced from an older church. Later they obtained their own resident clergy and became a Mission in their own right. These formed the basis of the later parishes. At St. Brigid’s Fitzroy, priests from St. Patrick’s came to say Mass in the 1860s and ’70s. A stone church was begun in 1869. Shortly after, a school was established. In 18883 St. Brigid’s was joined to St. John’s, Clifton Hill, a new Mission, with its own priest, Fr. M. McKenna who resided at North Fitzroy. Till then St. John’s Clifton Hill, had been served by priests from Patrick’s Cathedral. The first Mass was celebtaed at Clifton Hill on 19 November, 1882, in a church building began in 1876. In November, 1885 St. John’s Clifton Hill was separated from St. Brigid’s North Fitzroy. Now it has its own resident priest, Fr. M. Carroll, and it became a Mission in its own right.
Initially the inhabitants of Preston were under the jurisdiction of the Mission of St. Paul’s, Coburg, but from the 1880s until 1892 they and the Catholics of Northcote were served by the Mission of St. John’s, Clifton Hill. In 1889 Fr. R. Collins of Clifton Hill built the original church of the Sacred Heart, Preston, on land previously procured by Fr. Hayes of Coburg.
(the original church was taken to Reservoir. A new ‘Sacred Heart’ was built in 1925). Fr. Collins also built a wooden church dedicated to Saint Joseph and a school in Arthurton Street, Northcote, which were blessed in 1891. The church building also served as a school hall.
In October 1893 St. Joseph’s, Northcote, was separated from the Mission of St. John’s, Clifton Hill, to become a parish in its own right. Fr. Thomas Brazil was appointed priest in charge of Preston and Northcote, where a presbytery was to be built (The Northcote Leader, 4 November, 1893).
In February, 1904 the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, an Australian Order founded by Archbishop Folding in Sydney in 1857, came to live in Northcote in a large two-storey house in Separation Street. They look over the running of St. Joseph’s parish school. ‘They also planned a ‘high-class day school for young ladies’, the future Santa Maria College (reported in the Northcote Leader, 17 September, 1904).
Fr. Joseph Murphy was appointed Parish Priest of Northcote, Preston and Fairfield in 1909, with his residence in Northcote. Under his leadership the Parish Committee passed two resolutions:
(1) ‘that an additional church is required in Northcote to meet the wants of the people of Croxton, Thornbury and Pender’s Grove’ and
(2) ‘that a central block of land be purchased in the North convenient for the people on both sides of High Street, considering the distance from the creeks, and commencement should be made in a humble way for the foundation of a new church in that locality’ (The Advocate, May 16, 1914, p. 21).
In the historic debate that accompanied these resolutions, it was noted that, ‘the people of the North had to travel long distances every Sunday. Northcote was too far, Preston had the same drawback and consequently many travelled by train to the city to hear Mass’; and, ‘Some protested that their feet had been for 25 years in mud’. For the northern church, which was to be a chapel of ease, Fr. Murphy bought land on the corner of High and Rossmoyne Streets (a site approved by Very Rev. Dean McCarthy). It cost £827 (The Northcote Leader, 30 May, 1914). By 1914 the population of Northcote Thornbury had risen to approximately 26,000, and the suburb was officially made a city.
The church of St. Mary’s was erected in 1915, and was formally opened and blessed by Archbishop Thomas Carr on 20 February, 1916. The Advocate, (February 19, 1916, p. 24) announced the opening:
On Sunday, 20th instant at 3.30 p.m. His Grace, the Archbishop of Melbourne (the Most Rev. Dr. Carr) will solemnly bless and open the new church at Thornbury… The site chosen is an ideal one on the main road and almost the highest point in the district. The building itself stands well back from the street line, and has a seating capacity of about 700, and for completeness, capacity, and economy of construction could not be surpassed.
The opening ceremony did not include Mass, but, after the ritual blessing and a welcome by Councillor T. E. Redmond, JP, from Northcote, there were speeches delivered by the Archbishop, the Parish Priest (Fr. J. Murphy), and Rev. Dean Carey. Archbishop Carr spoke with ‘feelings of great pleasure and holy pride’ about the new church, as having, a threefold significance – there was the material temple, the temple of souls, and the universal temple. For what purpose did Catholics build large, spacious, and ornate churches? For the noblest of all purposes – for the preaching of the Holy Gospel, the administration of the Sacraments, and the celebration of Holy Mass.
The Catholic community of Northcote-Thornbury had made, ‘large sacrifices… to provide a building worthy of the worship of God, and of the religious ideals of the people… ‘. Fr. Murphy explained that the church cost £2,389, of which £1,050 were already subscribed.
Dean Carey commended Fr. Murphy because, as a rule, a priest in charge of a parish builds a church, frees it from debt, and then proceeds to build a chapel-of-ease… but Fr. Murphy was content with a small wooden church at Northcote and had built this splendid church at Thornbury which he had fully furnished … In that beautiful church God’s abundant blessings and favours would be poured out on young and old… and those spiritual favours would be bestowed on generations to come… ‘ (The Advocate, February 26, 1916, pp. 13-14).
The first Mass at St. Mary’s was celebrated by Fr. Joseph Murphy on Sunday, 27 February, 1916, when approximately 300 people received Holy Communion (The Advocate, 4th March, 1916, p. 14).
Parishioners in Thornbury still had to go to St. Joseph’s, Northcote, for sacraments like baptism and confirmation. Marriages seem to have taken place at St. Mary’s: on April 22, 1916 Mr and Mrs C. H. Duncan were married at Our Lady of Lourdes, Thornbury (fig. 2).
In 1923 Archbishop Daniel Mannix separated St. Mary’s, Thornbury, from St. Joseph’s, Northcote, and made it a parish in its own right. Fr. Michael Augustine (Austin) Vaughan was appointed Parish Priest (fig. 3). Now all the spiritual needs of the people of the area could be met at St. Mary’s. The sacraments could all be administered in the church. The first child to be baptised was Mary Isabella, daughter of Michael and Jane O’Connell, at a ceremony on 28 April, 1923, as noted in the Parish Baptismal Register. In 1925 it was recorded in the Parish Confirmation Register that the Sacrament of Confirmation was administered for the first time at St. Mary’s by Bishop J. McCarthy of Sandhurst.
As early as 1918 the Northcote parishioners approved Fr. Murphy’s plans to develop the Thornbury section of the parish. Land on the corner of High and Mansfield Streets was purchased for future use as a school (the Northcote Leader, 25 May 1818; The Advocate 25 May 1918, p17) In January 1920 St. Mary’s school was opened in a small wooden claaroom building, which had been transferred from the old St. Joseph’s School in Arthurton Road, Northcote. There was only space for pupils up to third grade. As numbers grew, St. Mary’s church building was sometimes used for classes. In 1925 a new brick school was blessed and officially opened by Bishop McCarthy of Sandhurst (fig. 4); by that time 300 pupils were enrolled. By 1931 the total enrolment had risen to 548. In 1940 there were 468, from the Preparatory Grade to Grade 8, and in 1950 there were 520 pupils. The opening of Holy Spirit School in East Thornbury in 1952 relieved some of the pressure on St. Mary’s School. With the help of some lay teachers, the Sisters of the Good Samaritan staffed the school. At first they travelled from their convents in Northcote, Preston and Reservoir each morning, until they took up residence in two houses adjoining St. Mary’s school in 1953. A new convent was built for them at 8-10 Mansfield Street in 1958.
A foundation stone, dated June 1929, was laid by Archbishop Mannix for a handsome new double storeyed presbytery (see fig. 1), after the earlier weatherboard ‘cottage’ which served that function had been carted away. (The Northcote Leader, 7 June, 1929; inscription on the foundation stone) Mr. Ray Leavold recalls the old presbytery being removed by horses. The large new presbytery was built of brick. It has two low, hip-roofed towers, and an upstairs verandah, with double columns. Parish Priests of St. Mary’s have been Fr. Michael Augustine (Austin) Vaughan (1923-59) commonly known as ‘Gus’, Fr. Des Cameron (Administrator, May-September, 1959), Fr. Sean Murphy (1959-72), Fr. Kevin Ryan (1972-78), Fr. Thomas O’Keeffe (1978-84) and Fr. Gerald Medici (1984-).
By 1951 the number of parishioners had greatly increased, so Fr. Gus Vaughan procured some land in East Thornbury, where he built a ‘chapel of ease’, combined with a new school building. The parish priest of St. Mary’s celebrated Mass there on Sundays until 17th January, 1953, when Holy Spirit, East Thornbury, was made into a separate parish with its own resident priest, Father John Brace, to care for people living in that part of Thornbury.
A shop opposite St. Mary’s at 789 High Street was purchased in 1950. It was converted into meeting rooms and, as such, was used by the parish Young Christian Workers and other societies. Properties facing the presbytery on Rossmoyne Street were bought and converted into tennis courts; the St. Mary’s Tennis Club was founded.
The Parish Committee was formed and met for the first time on 24 May, 1957. The first President was Mr. John Turner, assisted by Mr. Fred Clancy, Secretary, and Mr. F. McMahon, Treasurer. Others present included Fr. Willy, Mr. L. Curry, Mr. G. Treacey, Mr. P. Mitchell,
Mr. Walsh, Miss M. Dixon, and Mr. R. Matisi. The first item discussed was the convent to be built in Mansfield Street for the Sisters of the Good Samaritan.
After World War II large numbers of Italians settled in Thornbury. Since 1958 Mass has been said regularly in their language, a custom that continues twice a week to this day. Priests who studied in Rome, or who were of Italian origin, were stationed in the parish. In 1963 the Italian Pastorelle Sisters opened a house in Thornbury. While running a Kindergarten, they also did pastoral work among the Italians in the parish. When Fr. Gerald Medici became Parish Priest in 1984, it was estimated that 60% of the parishioners were Italian (the Northcote Leader, August, 1984). The Italians still have a Senior Citizens’ Club, which meets on Wednesdays in the Club Rooms at 789 High Street.
There is also an important Lebanese community in Thornbury; hence the parish celebrates the feast of Lebanese Saint Charbel in July. In more recent times people from Vietnam, Sri Lanka and many other places have settled in the parish. Currently, approximately 27 language groups are represented at the school.
The Second Vatican Council (1962-65) brought about sweeping changes in the Catholic Church. Mass was no longer regularly said in Latin; the altar was brought forward, so that the priest faced the congregation. Lectors and Special Ministers began to assist the priest at Mass. When the priest was away, the people could have a ‘Communion Service’, in which they read the daily Readings and received pre consecrated hosts. ‘Sunday’ Mass was also celebrated on Saturday evening. The practice of having ‘home Masses’ seems to have been common in the 1980s. As Fr. O’Keeffe explained in the newsletter of 20/21 February, 1982, ‘A Home Mass provides the opportunity for Parishioners to meet one another in a small group and take part in a more personal celebration of the Eucharist than is possible in the Church on Sunday’.
Lay people began to play a more important role in parish affairs. The Parish Council was established in October 1970, ‘For the purpose of increasing the involvement of the laity in the parish of St. Mary’s in the activities of the parish as directed by the Second Vatican Council…’. (Although its name was changed at various times, this council has contributed greatly to the vibrant life of the parish.) The school has been staffed by growing numbers of lay teachers, with no Sisters left on the staff. Since the 1980s parents have played a greater part in their children’s preparation for the sacraments of Reconciliation, First Holy Communion and Confirmation.
In 1973 the parish celebrated its Golden Jubilee. Archbishop Knox came to concelebrate the Jubilee Mass. Fr. Aldo Rebeschini, Dr. Knox’s private secretary and formerly an Assistant Priest at St. Mary’s, was the master of ceremonies. Fr. Sean Murphy, the previous Parish Priest of
St. Mary’s, but then at St. Joan of Arc’s, Brighton, preached the sermon: he said the history of a church was like the biography of a great man, and he drew a comparison between the life of St. Mary’s Parish and that of Fr. M. A. Vaughan, its first Parish Priest. There was such a great crowd, that another Mass was celebrated simultaneously in the Parish Hall by priests ordained from families in the parish (Fr. P. Reynolds, Fr. Sean O’Connell, Fr. Gerald O’Connor, Fr. Dominic Meese, Fr. Frank Steele, Fr. E. Fitzpatrick and Fr. Michael Glennon). Readers at the two Masses were John Dickson, Bill Rule, Bill Clementson, Jim Howard, Kevin Griffin and Jack O’Connor. After the Masses there was a reunion of about 560 former parishioners. (Northcote Leader, 6 February, 1973, and Northcote Leader, April, 1973.)
Fr. Joseph O’Connell, who was born in Thornbury grew up in the parish, was consecrated bishop in 1976 and then appointed Auxiliary Bishop of the Northern Region of Melbourne. St. Mary’s comes happily under his episcopal jurisdiction. Over the years he has administered the sacrament of confirmation in the parish and he has been Principal Celebrant at many celebratory Masses.
The solemn Religious Profession of Sr. Estelita Manabo, of the Pastorelle Sisters, took place in St.Mary’s in 1982. The sixtieth anniversary of the parish was celebrated in 1983 with a special Mass. A wooden cross of Christ the High Priest and a new Gospel Book were purchased.
A new porch opened in 1985 to commemorate Fr. Tom O’Keeffe, who had died suddenly in the parish the previous year.
1980’s St. Mary’s participated in the Renew progamme, promoted by the Archdiocese; Clare Santinon was the Parish Coordinator. The RCIA progamme was introduced in 1989 amd continues to this day in 2021
In May, 1987 Rosa Wilkinson became Pastoral Associate in the Parish for one day a week. For the rest of the week she taught English as a Second Language in the School. Subsequently, she was also Religious Education Coordinator and Home-School Liaison Officer.
From 1989 onwards a number of Small Christian Community groups have been formed. Recently, some of these groups have joined up with parishioners from Holy Spirit, East Thornbury and St. James Anglican Church, Thornbury.
In 1997 Archbishop George Pell made a Pastoral Visit to the parish, when he celebrated Mass and met some of the parishioners at an informal gathering afterwards. Emeritus Archbishop Sir Frank Little solemnly dedicated the church on 15 February, 1998. Many former parishioners came to the ceremony.
The two Thornbury parishes of St. Mary’s and Holy Spirit were incorporated in the same Deanery in 1989, along with St. Joseph’s, Northcote, Our Lady Help of Christians, East Brunswick, St. John’s, Clifton Hill, and St. Anthony’s, Alphington. As the Church in Melbourne looks towards a future with fewer priests, it is likely that the two Thornbury parishes will form a partnership. Already they share the same lay pastoral associate, Mrs Mirella Pace, showing how the importance of lay women in the Church has increased. Just as the church in Melbourne in its early days had flexible ‘Missions’ to cater for the spiritual needs of the inhabitants, now in the late twentieth century new forms of parish association are coming into being to suit the needs of a highly mobile society in an era of vastly reduced numbers of priests.
In February 2018 Fr. Gerald Medici retired as Parish priest of St. Mary’s after giving 36 years of dedicated service as pastor of the people of St. Mary’s.
A wonderful farewell was celebrated in his honor on the Feast of Our day of Lourdes 2018.
In the same year Fr. Shabin Kaniampuram IVDei was appointed Parish Priest of St. Mary’s and on the 14 April 2018 Fr. Shabin was installed as Parish Priest by Archbishop Denis Hart.