Walking in Faith: The Village over the Creek

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Walking in Faith: The Village over the Creek

Hawthorn: The Catholic Story

The Hawthorn Catholic Parish strives to be a Christian Community helping all celebrate God’s presence and expressing our faith through outreach, service and justice


For as long as there has been a church of the Immaculate Conception in Hawthorn, there have been Jesuits on Glenferrie Road. An order of priests, five hundred years old and associated traditionally with education, training of priests, publishing and working in all forms of foreign mission, have asked themselves what are they doing here, in a parish of Hawthorn. All the other ministries associated with Jesuit works are aimed at a particular group, students, priests, those in need, the poor and those treated unjustly. But the traditional parish was a geographic area, a structure which dated from the later Roman Empire and under the direct jurisdiction of the local bishop.

So in the life of the parish of Hawthorn the Jesuits found themselves bound to a geographic community amongst whom and with whom they worked over the past 140 years. The parish built churches, offered masses, organized schools and founded a host of organizations, some of which still exist and others which having done their duty have passed on. What can be used to describe this community, which moved from semi rural Irish to cosmopolitan suburbia, from solemn high Latin masses to community direct liturgies, from an isolated church to an outgoing and welcoming community, what can describe the community which is still a living community after all these and many other changes?

The parish of Hawthorn, I believe, can be best described as “walking together”. It is a community that has “walked together” over a hundred and forty years, prayed together, helped those in need-together, supported the sick and the bereaved, baptised, confirmed and supported the children, married the adults and educated their young. It has mattered little whether the liturgy was good or bad, modern of conservative, whether the parish administration was effective or not, whether the parish priest was popular or not, through all the 140 years the parishioners have been “walking together”.

The community has built churches, has opened and closed schools, has worked hard to fund and support a myriad of activities, all the while it has “walked together”. The parish of Hawthorn is still in some way, doing the same things it was doing a hundred years ago, a little differently, but also the same. This little book is not an account of change in the church, and there have been plenty of those, it is a story of what has brought us together, what has kept us together, it is the story of walking together.


Catholics in the Bush 4

The Jesuits 1866 6

The Schools 17

Walking in Faith 1904 35

Walking in Faith-Bourke’s Front Yard 1935 43

Walking in Faith- Fathers of the Fifties 53

Walking in Faith – Shadow of the Monster 1967-68 58

Walking in Faith-Building Blocks of Vatican II 1975 66

Speaking in Tongues 76

Walking in Faith-Roaring Nineties 1990 79

Walking in Faith – Century 21 87

Epilogue 92

List of Parish Priests 93

Bibliography 94

Catholics in the Bush

A time for building, a time for knocking down,

A time for tears, a time for laughter,

A time for mourning, a time for dancing

There is a season for everything, a time for every occupation under heaven.1

The more things change, the more things stay the same, and such is the story of the Hawthorn parish. The steady increase in the Catholic population east of Melbourne encouraged Bishop Goold to commission Father James Joseph Madden as priest of the Richmond Mission, towards the end of 1852. Father Madden’s parish extended from Punt Road to Lilydale but he was the man for such a challenge. His immediate concern was the provision of schools for Catholic children and the church/school building became a mark of the rapidly expanding Catholic Church throughout the diocese. He began with schools in Richmond and by 1856 his building programme had reached as far out as Nunawading. Madden remained in charge until he resigned in June 1864 when he took leave and went home to England. He never returned.2

Father Madden was replaced by Father Patrick Smyth, whose earlier precipitate removal from Ballarat had contributed to the Eureka Stockade incident, and who remained in charge until January 1865. Five other priests worked in the mission, changing in rapid succession until the Richmond area and all its attached stations were handed over to the Jesuits in 1866.

The enthusiastic approach of Fr Madden brought him into contact with some of the wealthiest and most powerful lay Catholics in the colony, who lived in the area then known as Boroondara and was to become Hawthorn. Amongst these men was the enigmatic, Michael Lynch who had made money in a number of ways, principally by running hotels and transporting supplies to the miners in Ballarat during the height of the Gold Rushes. Lynch had a large property known as Grace Park which lay north of Burwood Road and mostly east of Power Street. Here he built a small school that served the needs of Catholic children and in which he persuaded Fr Madden to occasionally say mass. Even when finished it was clearly inadequate3. The school came into existence in December 1853 and by January the following year, 33 children were in attendance and Mr William Kearney had been appointed principal.

It was an era when the Government granted land to individual denominations to build Churches to assist the development of local communities but they had to build on their grant within a few years or it would be revoked. The Anglicans in Hawthorn were the first to apply for a grant and laid the foundation stone of Christ Church in 1853, but Dean Fitzpatrick, the Vicar General, ensured the Catholics were not far behind. A grant was taken up in Power Street opposite where Lynch had built his first school and on land next to the Hawthorn railway station. The train did not arrive until April 1861 but Fitzpatrick had a keen eye for land and knew the location where the Melbourne and Suburban Railway Company planned their expansion. (He was nearly too close as there was a question as to whether the church land would be taken over for a station.) On this undeveloped paddock Fr Madden built a small church/school, known as St Joseph’s that opened in 1858/594. Fr Madden could only offer irregular masses in the new church as he usually had only one assistant priest to help cover the huge area, but when he did, Michael Lynch sat in the back with his Blackwood stick, poking the young women and clouting the young men he did not think were paying suitably close attention. Some might say there could be something said for this practice.

The opening of St Joseph’s meant that Catholic Life as well as Catholic Religion penetrated into Lower Hawthorn. What did the new Catholic community want from their religion? First, the offering of mass and the range of religious services including Holy Hours and Sunday devotions, novenas and all the practices common in the Church up till the Second Vatican Council. Second in importance was education. The Catholic Children had to be protected from Protestant “error” and taught the “truth” as well as creating friendship bonds which would keep the community together. Then came an array of sodalities and confraternities most of which had some public manifestation of the practice of their Faith, but also engaged in many social activities in the parish, including a range of fund-raising events to pay for all the parish buildings and activities. These social activities gave birth to a number of social clubs, tennis clubs, music clubs, picnic associations, dramatic societies and all manner of activities to keep people together. Finally there was a system of aid to help the poor of the parish who were struggling to feed their children and find work. On top of all the religious practice, the community was largely Irish, but not completely the repressed Catholic Irish found in so many other places. Amongst the Catholic Irish were Sir John O’Shanassy, three times premier or chief secretary of the Colony, and Sir Charles Gavan-Duffy, who was once premier,5 Michael O’Grady and Patrick O’Brien, all members of the colonial parliament and resident in Hawthorn. Apart from the politically important there was a substantial group of wealthy and middle class families in the Hawthorn area including Patrick Mornane, Daniel Meaney and Michael Gibney6, even if the majority of the population were still working class.

The Jesuits 1866

The first Jesuits came to Melbourne at the invitation of Bishop Goold in 1865 but their superior, Fr Joseph Dalton, did not arrive until early 1866. Fr Dalton moved immediately to take over the promised Richmond mission and his first aim was to build a new parish church, as the first one, St James on Bridge Road, was clearly unsatisfactory. Fr Madden had known this but the rapidly changing sequence of parish priests had prevented any progress. Fr Dalton purchased land and began building what would become the great St Ignatius Church.

As Fr Dalton was supported only by Fr David McKiniry, who was really only part time in the work around Richmond,and because he was so focused on building his new church, there was little he could do for the outstation church/schools in Hawthorn, Kew and Nunawading. In Nunawading in particular, there was a sizeable and thriving school in the hands of a Mrs. and Mr. O’Keefe, at whose large prize- giving events the local MLA, Michael O’Grady, joined Fr Dalton and Fr McKiniry in presiding.7 While concentrating on Richmond, Fr Dalton worked hard to raise funds for his new church, only to find his efforts were suddenly derailed by an unexpected alliance which was taking place in the “Village over the Creek”, as the Richmond parishioners called the Hawthorn area.

Arriving with Fr Dalton in 1866 was Fr Edward Nolan, who was assigned to teach at St Patrick’s College, but on weekends Fr Dalton sent him out to minister to the people of Hawthorn. Here Fr Nolan came into contact with Michael Lynch and the “alliance” which would distort Fr Dalton’s fund-raising was born. Lynch was determined to have a proper church in Hawthorn and he had friends with wealth. In Fr Nolan he had someone who could extract it from them.

Michael Lynch immediately confronted Fr Nolan with his plans and added weight to his argument by promptly donating a large block of land on the corner of Burwood and Glenferrie Roads worth at least 700 pounds. Fr Nolan’s fund-raising skills swung into action with a success and speed which made it effectively impossible for Fr Dalton to impede its progress even though he knew it would slow up his own fund raising for Richmond.

What type of man was this Fr Edward Nolan? He was Dublin-born and aged forty when he arrived in Melbourne to begin his mission work. His kindness showed through in so many ways. While teaching at St Patrick’s, Fr Nolan caught a boy cheating from a copy of Euclid concealed in his desk. Fr Nolan, who rarely used a cane, took the boy to his office and spent a long time selecting a suitable weapon. The boy, who had been carefully watching the proceedings, suddenly dived under a sofa and refused to move. Fr Nolan did not press the pursuit too closely and left his office door open wide, allowing his victim ample room to escape. It was not recorded who was more relieved. In 1867 a young R.J. Dennehy, a boy at St Patrick’s College,was walking home along Victoria Parade in pouring rain and met Fr Nolan riding back to the college in the opposite direction. He got off his horse, wrapped a large Inverness cape around the boy’s shoulders and walked him home, with the horse coming behind.8

It is possible that Dennehy was relieved that Fr Nolan didn’t offer him a ride on the horse, as Fr Nolan’s lack of equestrian skills was notorious. In June 1873 he was involved in helping Frs. Dalton and Michael Watson climb into their buggy outside St Patrick’s College. The horse bolted, smashed the buggy, and dumped the Fathers on to the roadway, but fortunately both escaped unhurt.9 In later years he rode a famous horse called “Tobin” around the parish. This horse had a “peculiar amble” which locals recognized and allowed those who wished to avoid Father’s visit, ample time to escape.10

Fr Nolan had little taste for set sermons in big churches, but had the quiet knack of addressing small groups in any situation. He had considerable knowledge of botany and some ability at medicine but it was his zeal, gentle piety and simplicity which won over the people of Hawthorn.

It is possible that Fr Dalton had the last say anyway. In 1871-72 he used Fr Nolan’s undoubted skills and sent him on a begging mission to raise money for the new Xavier College to be built in Kew. He visited the shacks of the shepherds and the mansions of the “squatters” and though he interpreted country Victoria to include all Victoria, parts of South Australia and New South Wales, as well as New Zealand, he raised substantial funds and persuaded many families to commit their sons to the new educational project. When Fr Nolan finally died in January 1893, the bluestone pile of Immaculate Conception Church was as fitting a memorial as anyone could wish.

Building a Church

When Fr Nolan and Michael Lynch and his supporters met in 1867, the directory for the area listed a total of 313 households. With a Catholic average of about one in five in colonial Melbourne, it would indicate that about 60 households of Hawthorn might be Catholic. Fr Nolan’s subscription book seems to indicate about forty-eight known Catholics in the region, and on the basis of those figures, he planned a church to seat 1,200.

It is suggested that fourteen architects’ designs were submitted and Crouch and Wilson were selected, with the building of the nave alone costing 3000 pounds. The speed with which designs were submitted, the successful one chosen and the foundation stone laid, might suggest that Michael Lynch and his supporters had done some earlier preparation even before Fr Nolan arrived on the scene. Whatever the situation, the superior, Fr Dalton, agreed and whether he had time to obtain approval from his provincial in Dublin or not, which probably would not have worried him greatly, is unknown, but the foundation stone was laid on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8th, 1867. Fr Isaac Moore who was serving as Prefect of Studies at St Patrick’s College at the time preached the occasional sermon to a substantial crowd of “spectators”. As the fathers, wisely, did not trust the Melbourne weather, a large marquee was erected along the Lynch Street side of the property.

Considerable donations continued to pour in and progress was pushed ahead rapidly until on Sunday, October 10th, 1869, the Feast of St Francis Borgia, the church of The Immaculate Conception was consecrated and opened for worship. Bishop Goold was the principal celebrant at the high mass at 11-00 AM with a procession of thurifer, acolytes, altar boys, numerous clergy including Fr. J. Dalton, the Mission Superior, and various other functionaries.

The congregation was led by Councillor Moubray, Lord Mayor of Melbourne, and Mrs. Moubray, and the news report then goes on to list six significant lay women and thirty-four laymen in that order.11 Almost the entire Catholic lay leadership of the Jesuit Mission was present to see the opening of a most significant building for the Irish Catholic community of the city. One of the first permanent churches to be consecrated in the suburbs of Melbourne, Immaculate Conception was a symbol to all that the Irish Catholic community was there to stay and play a significant role in the colony.12

After the reading of the gospel, Fr Isaac Moore again rose to preach the sermon in the best triumphal traditions of the day, thanking the supporters for their generosity and the bishop for his presence, and he hoped that the Vatican Council the bishop was about to attend would define the doctrine of infallibility. He went on to discuss the relationship with the other Christian “sects” and compared them to the vitality and progress of the “Faith” in the colony; scarcely an ecumenical presentation. Still it must have been successful as the remaining debit of 1500 pounds on the church was reduced by 230 pounds in the collection and more due to the sale of tickets of admission. Who today can sell tickets for admission to a church service?

The church was far from complete but the nave and side aisles were and the floor area was sixty feet long and fifty feet wide. The tower was a stunted sixty-six feet high, but the roof climbed to a massive fifty-one feet at the apex and dominated the whole interior. Even today in our era of high rise buildings, the roof of the church has a certain awe about it.

Parishioners attending mass Sunday after Sunday might now be forgiven for growing used to the wonder of the massive bluestone walls, the Malmsbury stone in the pillars which is usually so difficult to carve and topped Kangaroo Point sandstone carvings, and in its day, fascinating gas light fittings. These lights apparently hissed a good deal, annoyed some members of the congregation and gave little light, but still were state of the art in 1869, the year that gas supplies first reached Hawthorn.

Against the temporary blank wall at the end of the church stood the magnificent carved oak altar created by the Belgian artist Vermaylen from Louvain. It was ordered, carved, shipped and assembled in Immaculate Conception Church in time for the consecration for a cost of 170 pounds. Again considering the speed of communication in those days, the fact that the altar was delivered in time again raises a few questions as to whether it was ordered before the design of the church was settled. Its beautiful simple lines and smooth wood finish helped the altar to survive both the temptation to build a marble high altar when the chancel was built in the 1890s, and then the clean- out which followed the post Vatican II reforms. Today it has been restored to its traditional position and remains a quiet reminder of the work of Fr Nolan, bearing the inscription “Founder of this Church”.

The distance between the Immaculate Conception church and the Richmond presbytery convinced the Jesuits to put the area under a separate team and they created a new parish in early 1882, with Fr Oliver Daly as Parish Priest and Fr Peter O’Flinn as curate.13 Unlike Fr Nolan, Fr O’Flinn was a fine horseman and has spent the previous two years as a country missioner, riding around priestless parts of Victoria. Fr Daly immediately started to build a presbytery and its foundation stone was laid on April 23rd,1882, following a successful appeal launch in February. During the launch Sir John O’Shanassy and Mr Patrick O’Brien gave one hundred pounds each and a further three hundred and seventy-five pounds was collected from others present. Then Fr Oliver Daly made a successful appeal throughout Melbourne for the new Presbytery Building Fund.14 The presbytery, a fine, gothic style building of Hawthorn bricks, designed by William Ellis and architecturally in sympathy with the bank building next door, was opened a year later for the cost of 2000 pounds.

Furnishing the new building was a different matter: a good deal of material had to be borrowed. Occasionally Fr Daly resorted to cunning. It is said he invited several prominent Catholics to dinner offering them no better seats at table than tin packing cases. The dining- room chairs arrived soon afterwards and apparently are still in use.15

In 1883 Sir John O’Shanassy died and his large estate, Tara, in the Auburn area was sold and broken up. The big iron gates of his house were donated to the parish and adorn the intersection in front of the church to this day.

The final building programme of the 19th century began in 1891 with the completion of the chancel which created a large sanctuary area that allowed for the full solemn celebration of the liturgy the Church provided in those days and the magnificent high altar was moved back to a new position. The staine- glass windows behind the high altar which are one of the glories of Immaculate Conception began arriving in 1898 and continued to be installed until 1906.16 At the same time the chancel was built, the final stage was added to the tower and bells installed so that sleepy “Protestants” could have the advantage of the early morning Angelus and on Sundays the bells could be rung for the start of mass.

The total cost of the project was 10,000 pounds and, as the depression of the 1890s just broke out, the parish was in considerable financial difficulty for several years but survived.

The bells were blessed at the end of 1891 and the chancel was consecrated on the Sunday within the octave of the feast of the Immaculate Conception, 1892. The morning sermon was preached by Prior Butler of the Carmelites and the evening sermon by Fr Hegarty, PP of St Kilda East. A witness to these solemn celebrations was the seriously ill Fr Edward Nolan who died in the presbytery a month later on 11 January 1893, but he had lived long enough to see his dream truly take shape.

An Unnecessary Squabble

When the Jesuits arrived in 1865, Bishop Goold had given them pastoral care of a vast area of eastern Melbourne as he was short of priests and in conflict with some of those he had. His successor, Archbishop Thomas Carr, was not short of priests and saw things differently. He brought extra priests from Ireland and began a prompt and systematic reorganization of the diocese. The Archbishop looked at the rapidly developing eastern regions and saw new missions for the Church; the Jesuits saw new churches run by themselves.

The Jesuits had churches in Hawthorn (2), Kew and Nunawading, and had added further church/schools in Mitcham and Camberwell17. Carr took the view that the Jesuits could not service all these areas and that he could.18

In July 1888, Carr wrote to Fr Aloysius Sturzo, the mission superior, asking about changes to the boundaries of St John’s, East Melbourne, and Oakleigh. Sturzo fought the changes and the conflict began. The conflict was exacerbated when Fr O’Flinn asked permission to build a new church in Box Hill. This cut across Carr’s plans for a new mission in Lilydale which would have needed Mitcham and Box Hill to be viable enough to support two priests. O’Flinn not only did not get his church in Box Hill but he lost Mitcham as well and even managed to alienate the usually avuncular archbishop. In 1889 Camberwell was separated from the Jesuit mission, and a show-down followed over Kew. Here the Jesuits had purchased land to replace the small church; and built a presbytery. At the height of the conflict Carr took over Kew as well and placed Fr Patrick Fallon in the position as P.P. Fallon had the reputation of being a good financial manager and he needed to be, as Carr allowed the money put into buying the property to be repaid to the Jesuits, a situation which placated some of the bitterness felt by the Jesuits in Hawthorn, but delayed the building of a new parish church in Kew for several years.

Archbishop Carr no doubt had the authority to repudiate the agreement between Fr Dalton and Bishop Goold, as indeed he did during the dispute over Mitcham and Box Hill, but he was right from another aspect. The Irish Jesuits in Australia were badly overstretched, and, even as early as 1873, Fr Dalton was begging his provincial in Ireland to send out “missionary” priests to run the distant parishes. A few like Patrick O’Flinn and James Kennedy, who was promptly appointed to North Sydney, were sent, but most of the Irish Jesuits were educationalists and even a number of them were sick men.19 Simply the Jesuits did not have the priests to provide the services in the outlying missions in a way that Carr believed was necessary.

Carr never allowed a conflict in one area or with one person to interfere with his work in another. At the height of the dispute over Mitcham and conflict with Fr O’Flinn, Archbishop Carr came to Hawthorn to open the parish fete as he considered it to be his duty as bishop. Aloysius Sturzo was replaced as mission superior by Fr Patrick Keating in April 1890 and he resided in Sydney. He left relations in Melbourne in the hands of the highly capable Fr John Ryan who not only worked well with Carr, but they became very close friends.

Another dispute arose in 1901 over the boundary between Hawthorn and Camberwell. The Jesuits had built the church/school in Burke Road but many of the locals wanted the centre of the new Camberwell parish to be in Surrey Hills. They had raised money for a presbytery there. But in the end a large presbytery was built next to the church in Burke Road. This meant that the planned parish church would be right on the boundary of the parish. In addition the local school of St John Berchmans drew large numbers of its pupils from the area on the western side of Burke Road which was part of the Hawthorn parish.

In February 1901, the PP, Fr G. A. Robinson wrote to the Jesuit superior of Hawthorn, Dr. Buckeridge, asking for the boundary to be moved from Burke Road to Auburn Road, saying that his parish already worked with the people in this area and if the income followed across to Camberwell then construction of the new church there could begin.20 The timing of the letter was excellent, as in February Fr John Ryan had taken over as superior of the mission. The problem was immediately put on his desk along with a closely argued four-page letter outlining the position from the perspective of Hawthorn.21

Fr Ryan placed the investigations in the hands of Fr Joseph Hearn, the parish priest of Richmond, a very practical, down-to-earth, parish man. Hearn realized that Camberwell would be a much more functional parish if it took up the section east of Auburn road, and that it would ultimately lose some of its own more distant eastern areas to new parishes. He also saw the more compact Hawthorn parish would have many advantages for the fathers working there and recommended the new boundaries be Auburn Road and Burwood Road.22 Obviously Carr and Fr Robinson were delighted with the outcome and wrote immediately expressing their appreciation for the work of Fr Hearn and the Hawthorn fathers during the negotiations, and so after two decades of tension, the Jesuits could finally feel secure in their position on Glenferrie Road.23

Archbishop Carr remained on good terms with the Jesuits for the rest of his episcopate. In 1907 he preached the panegyric at the funeral of Fr Peter O’Flinn recalling his spiritual virtues, good works, wise advice and kindness of heart, all for a priest who had been
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