Parish of Alphington and Thornbury East.
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Office Address - 45 Railway Place
Alphington, Vic, 3078
Rev. Dispin John
9486 3633
Mon, Tue, Thu – 9am to 1pm


St. Anthony’s

St. Anthony’s Parish formerly came into existence in 1915, after having spent a number of years under the Northcote Parish and operating as a “church of ease” for the  growing number of Catholic families in the Fairfield/Alphington area.  

Fr. Michael Hayes was appointed as St. Anthony’s  first Parish Priest in 1915 and a presbytery ,formerly the property “Rosebank”, was opened and blessed on St   Anthony’s feast day 13th June 1915.  Fr. Hayes was  an Irishman who by all accounts was a genial ,  jovial and hard working priest who instantly won the affection of his fledgling parish.  Always  welcoming to his parishioners, one alter boy recorded his sportsmanlike demeanour and his enthusiasm for kicking footballs with the boys sending the footy high over the pines that lined Austin Street at the time.

One of the primary objectives of the parish community was to secure a school building to provide for the educational and religious instruction of its youngest parishioners.  It was with much enthusiasm that some 1,200 people gathered on St. Patricks Day 1917 to observe the official opening of the St Anthony’s Parish School , located at No 43 Austin St. In the midst of the first world war both  materiel &  manpower had proved scarce, and the building  was purchased second hand from St  Joseph’s Parish in Malvern.  That purchase also included the acquisition of a Parish Hall which quickly became the centre of parish social life and also accommodated the overflow of school classes as numbers in the parish increased.

The school consisted of 3 rooms, and was initially to house a student population of 80 pupils.   The school’s day to day activities were under the auspices of the Sisters of St Joseph.  Its first Principal—Sister Isabelle Colvin was a novice of Mother Mary Mac Killop & close personal friend. 

The following 2 decades saw both the church and school resources struggle to meet the needs of its pupils and parishioners.  The demands of the parish, plus the workload involved in being Chaplin to both the Infectious Diseases Hospital and Yarra Bend Lunatic Asylum, took a heavy toll on Fr. Hayes health.  In 1931 the parish  reluctantly farewelled Fr. Hayes.   After a short transition period Fr. Francis Molan settled into the position and remained until his death in 1969. Although he was a taciturn character, he was driven by the needs of his Parish and saw to it that the  construction of a new school was of first  priority. By 1931 enrolments were peaking at 317 pupils ! Despite the lack of finances in the community, fundraising stepped up. Parish societies such as the Catholic Young Men's Society & the Children of Mary Solidarity organised garden parties, euchre nights, balls etc to contribute to the coffers. The men of the societies undertook “block collections” going out street by street visiting homes to seek donations.

It was a proud community that joined with Archbishop Mannix in August 1934 to attend the opening & blessing of the new school building. The church was packed & parishioners lined the street, as dignitaries proceeded up Austin St to the new building. The next day the children settled in, no doubt appreciative, whilst savouring their customary bread and dripping sandwiches and playing “cherry bobs” with the pips from their fruit.

A new decade was on the horizon as the year 1939 progressed. Two events of significance were to follow. Another World War was declared as many men of the parish left  for foreign lands. In 1939 the parish also suffered the loss of its original church which was burnt down by an arsonist.  Fr Molan received burns to his face and hands in his  endeavours to save the blessed sacrament.  The Parish had to rally again to oversee the construction of a new church.  This was achieved surprisingly quickly as it was blessed and opened in 1940.  This building remains with few structural changes to this day.  Although Fr. Molan was not always easy  to get along with as he rigorously applied the  doctrines of the church of the day; none could doubt his commitment to his faith or parish. In 1943, the parishioners observed Fr. Molan’s Silver Jubilee by collecting ladies gold rings /brooches, men’s fob chains and gold  sovereigns.  These items with the addition of the gold plating from the original church tabernacle, were in turn melted down to provide for a new  chalice.   This item remains in the parish as a cherished reminder of Fr. Molans  time at  St. Anthony’s. 

The impact of the 2nd World War was manifested in the post war era of European   migration. Irish Catholics had migrated to Australia in numbers in the 1900’s, many laying the foundation of church &  religious orders. Similarly, the influx of  migrants in the early 1950’s would change & enrich our community. The vast  majority were labourers who sought out the suburb for its affordable housing & close proximity to the city and  employment. By 1951 the number of pupils in  attendance at  the school had risen to an unbelievable level of 420 pupils!. However whilst student numbers were peaking, the sixties bought forth many new challenges.  Fr . W. B. Casey was  appointed as St. Anthony’s third Parish Priest in 1969 after the death of Fr Molan.  

The shift towards a more secular society was in full swing. The church had previously been the main focus of  parishioners social as well as spiritual life. The increased choices for entertainment and transportation etc meant that the world had opened up to many. The traditional societies within the church ,such as YCW, Children of Mary etc declined, as did the numbers entering religious orders. In 1974 the first lay principal was appointed at St. Anthony’s. Thereafter followed the removal of the Sisters of St Joseph from the school in 1975.   During Fr Casey’s time the church was modernised  and in response to Vatican 2 a new altar purchased and the rails along the main altar  removed.   He endeared himself to many of the younger parishioners as he rode a motorbike and was prepared to give the occasional altar boy a spin around the block.  Known as a man of few words  who went about his duties in a quiet and effective manner, Fr. Casey was to be   replaced in 1978 by Fr. Frank O’Loughlin.

Fr. O’Loughlin was a conservative  thinker who paid little heed to any disfavour his actions may attract.  Parishioners have recalled his refusal to have girls as altar servers during Mass .   Nonetheless, he was also known to be very sociable and a great talker when away from his priestly duties.  Fr. O’Loughlin was succeeded by Fr. Neale Wilson in 1989.  Fr. Neale was quietly spoken and well read  with a gentle manner.  He had a love of Italian culture  and could speak fluent  Italian to his parishioners.   As a former Director of Catholic Missions he was passionate about overseas issues and highlighted the cause of missions abroad to his parish. His leadership  style was marked by his inclusive and democratic approach.   He included more lay people into the administration of the parish and instigated a Parish Pastoral Council.   During his time the Parish celebrated significant events including its 75th Anniversary , the Golden Jubilee of the Blessing & opening of the brick church (1990) and a major refurbishment to the school buildings in 1995 .  It was with much sadness that the Parish mourned the death of Fr. Neale from lung cancer in 2000.  Thereafter followed a period where our parish was in the hands of a parish administrator. 

Fr. Tom Doyle combined his duties as parish  administrator with his role as Head of the Catholic Education Office.  A    practical, effective and down to earth administrator with a healthy sense of humour Fr. Doyle continued in his role until the appointment of Fr. Werner Utri in  2003.  Fr. Werner ‘s time at St. Anthony’s saw the  introduction of many significant changes.  On a  practical level, Werner saw a need for  substantial renovations to both the presbytery and  church.  He   oversaw the installation of a new church organ and  the replacement of the altar with a marble one in 2009.  The school  underwent substantial alterations to its playground and buildings in 2011.  As a community we celebrated the 100 year anniversary of a Catholic presence in Alphington in 2009.

Undoubtedly the biggest event of  Werner’s time  was the parish partnership with Holy Spirit East Thornbury.  Under Fr. Werner’s leadership both parishes were lead through the  discernment process,  effecting administrative and organisational changes along the way.  As the Catholic Parish of Holy Spirit and St. Anthony’s our  communities continue on this journey of partnership.   Together we have made  some huge steps and it is the  entity of the Catholic Parish of Holy Spirit and St. Anthony that we celebrate today.  We look forward to recording our combined histories in the coming decades!

Holy Spirit

The beginning of Holy Spirit Parish dates back to the early 1950’s when this part of the northern suburbs of Melbourne began to be developed. The Parish Priest of St. Mary’s, Fr. Gus Vaughan, anticipated a growth in population and the need for a Mass centre. Having bought some land at ‘Dingo Flats’, East Thornbury, he oversaw the construction of a church / school which was completed in 1950.

The next step was the establishment of a separate parish and, on January 17th 1953, the parish was raised and Fr. John Brace was appointed Parish Priest. From February 1953, the existing school building would double as school and church. At this stage, the building  accommodated three classrooms and 80 children, up to Grade 3. The inconvenience of shifting furniture every week made it important to build a separate church and construction began in 1954. 

The building was finished the following year and on May 22nd, 1955 it was officially opened and blessed by the Co-adjutor Archbishop of Melbourne, J.D. Simonds. The dedication of the church building was made in November 2003, a special event in the life of the parish.  The existing presbytery was built in 1956 and the hall in 1960; the School was extended in 1962, 1973, 1998 and again in 2008.

Beyond this brief listing of dates lies a tremendous amount of dedicated activity by the foundation parishioners, who worked tirelessly to create the parish and to raise funds for the necessary developments, by direct donations, bingo, buy-a- brick campaigns, dances etc. With post-war migration promoted by the government, the original Anglo-Irish population was supplemented by large groups from Italy, who brought their strong faith with them. From the late 1950s, the Italian presence in the running of the parish became more prominent. In 1968, an Italian Committee was formed and a weekly Italian mass was celebrated from the end of 1968.  

Fr. Brace remained as Parish Priest until 1976, he was followed by   Fr. Vitor Rubeo (1976–78), Fr. Joseph Petrauskas (1978-1988),        Fr Vincent Corbett (1988-1994), Fr. Mark Reynolds (1994-1996), Fr., now Bishop, Christopher Prowse (1996-2001), in partnership with St. Mary’s Thornbury, Fr. Gerry Medici (2001-2007), Fr. Anthony  Denton (2007-2009), and since 2009 in partnership with St. Anthony’s Alphington Fr. Werner Utri (2009-2012) and Fr. Dispin John is the current Parish Priest.

The formation of the Parish Pastoral Planning Team in 1990 introduced the idea of lay leadership in the parish. The group was chosen to be representative of the various demographics in the parish. The role of coordinator was held by a succession of lay people.  It looked at the issues, concerns and needs of the parish community,reviewed the way the various groups and people in the parish were working together and made suggestions for future structures and approaches.The formation of a Partnership Parish Council was a necessary result of parish partnership and brought further challenges to pastoral care and leadership.

Parish groups have continued to flourish at Holy Spirit Parish. Many people, both past and present have made positive and valuable contributions to the life of the community. The groups include the liturgy group, parish choirs, children’s liturgy, altar servers, readers and ministers of communion, Friends and Neighbours, Italian Group, groundsmen, altar society, sacristans, baptism team, RCIA team and the Finance Committee.  At the funeral masses, held recently, of long-time parishioners, Giovanna Zaia and Onelia De Marchi, their commitment to parish life in all its forms was noted and as well as their contribution to shaping the parish and assisting in creating a legacy to be passed on to future generations.  Mention also needs to be made of the various banners, cloths and decorations designed by Rita Alessio and created by her in collaboration with other parishioners. Special parish functions were always decorated with Rita’s beautiful work.

Holy Spirit Parish has always celebrated special events with great prayerfulness and vitality. Celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the parish in 2003 were extensive and inclusive. This year (2013) we celebrate our 60thanniversary. 

Our parish has been confronted with considerable change over recent decades. We have been in partnership and out of partnership. We have welcomed a number of priests as our pastor. What have these experiences taught us? If nothing else, we have learnt that the essence of our community is that we are a small and local parish who looks outwardly and cares for its’ members. We are not perfect, but together we strive to bring the face of God to our world. This is our legacy and so now it is our turn to accept the challenges of community life.

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