St Pius X
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St Pius X-
419 Waterdale Road, Heidelberg West, Vic
Fr. Wayne Edwards, Parish Priest
(03) 9457 5794
Tue to Fri – 9.30am to 2.30pm - Regina

History

Very humble beginnings characterised what became St. Pius X Parish, with the first church and school buildings being merely quonset huts purchased from the Housing Commission. This was in 1953 when Father George Maher was appointed the foundation Parish Priest. Originally named Blessed Pius X, the Parish became Saint Pius X after Pius canonisation in May, 1954.

Those were the days of everyone pitching in to raise money to build and equip both church and school; and stories abound of housie, boxing displays, Irish dancing, raffles, novelty stalls, cabaret dances, parish festivals, best decorated bicycle etc. So by early 1955 the newly built school block of 6 classrooms was almost complete, and later that year Father Maher celebrated Mass for the first time in the new “Church/Hall”. The church was divided by folding doors to allow part of it to be used as classrooms and hall.

Father Maher approached the Provincial of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, asking if they could set up a school. And in February 1954 school began with Sisters Gangolfa and Sister Michael. Each day they  travelled to school by taxi from Balwyn. The following year there were six Sisters: Sisters Gangolfa, Gabriel, Jacinta, Michael, Martin and Brigid; and in 1956 Sister Vera replaced Sister Jacinta. Already by 1955
there were 500 children in the school, and it was in that year that the Archbishop of Melbourne, Archbishop Justin Simmonds, officially blessed and opened the school. In 1957 four new Sisters joined the staff
when the pupil numbers reached over 900: Sisters Honorata, Theresiana, Giuseppe and Luminata. They were also joined in 1958 by Sisters Francis and Patrick. With the growing influx of children a number of Lay
teachers joined the Sisters, amongst which was the legendary Mrs. Doreen Bell who continued teaching for about 25 years.

A convent was built for the Sisters on the other side of Waterdale Road, opening in 1958, fulfilling another hope of Father Maher that the Sisters would be part of the Parish. From then on many different Sisters came and went, nurturing their young charges, many of whom have remained in the area ever since. The Sisters continued teaching till 1985, and after that continued working in the Parish in Pastoral Care roles, amongst them: Sr Maureen Earls, Sr Francis Baum, Sr Carmel Slattery and Sr Theonatis Kramer. The presence of the Sisters in the parish continued till 1996, when finally the Convent was sold. Lay Principals and teachers have continued the school since then with Mr. Lou Godfrey being the first Lay Principal, followed by Mrs. Margaret O’Donnell and then Mr. Paul Sedunary.

The Olympic Games of 1956 had a big impact on the Parish. While the Games were on, the Catholic athletes and officials from the Olympic Village swelled the Mass attendances, and when the Games finished the Village dwellings were adapted for to public housing and the school population which was 700 in 1956 rose to 900 in 1957, and then, with the addition of four new classrooms in 1958, skyrocketed to 1,070! Back in those days the Parish paid the teachers’ wages and money for everything else had to be raised. Until 2015 our Parish Priests have been: Fr. George Maher, Fr. Thomas Furey, Fr. Philip Casey, Fr. Michael Mifsud, Fr. Anthony Hicks, Fr. Edward Edebohls, and at the time of writing, (2015), Fr. Wayne Edwards. Each has brought his own style and zeal to the role of pastor, and numerous parishioners have memories of their own special reasons to be grateful for their kindnesses and concern.

Over the years there have flourished, and faded, a variety of groups. A Credit Society provided financial assistance in the early years; A Silver Circle was run to raise funds; The YCW, the Young Catholic Workers group and the CYMS were very active for several years, with entry into cricket, football, basketball and netball competitions being a feature; Boxing, interestingly, was an important fund-raiser at one stage, with
Amateur Boxing of Victoria providing the matches; The Legion of Mary and the Holy Name Society, too, provided spiritual nourishment and opportunity for service for women and men’s groups for some time; the Women’s Sacred Heart Sodality and the Children of Mary, similarly, gave spiritual and social support to many parishoners at different times.

Of all the groups, only one has outlasted them all in zeal and persistence: the Heidelberg West Conference of
St. Vincent de Paul. Begun at the very start of the Parish, the Conference faithfully continues its care for the
poor in thoughtful ways through visits and practical assistance to all and sundry in need. The “Vinnies” store in the Mall is a visible sign of the Conference’s presence and ministry in the local community.

Similarly ministering to the needs of a variety of individuals and groups in the Olympic Village area is
the Exodus Community. Formed in 1998 as a Redemptorist initiative it was welcomed by the then
Parish Priest, Fr. Tony Hicks. Its purpose was to develop a community where people could learn
together, build structures of support and justice when and where a need was discerned and to be a faith
community of gospel witness, in an area of socioeconomic need. The Parish first of all rented and
subsequently purchased a house in the Olympic Village area for the Community. Later a “Shed”
(which is really a Hall with kitchen facilities) was erected at the rear of the home in Liberty Parade
where a number of the activities of the Community are conducted. More than 50 generous volunteers
regularly assist this enterprise.

The progress of time has seen many changes in Heidelberg West and in the Parish. Not only has
the demographic make-up of the area changed enormously with the passing of more than 60
years, but the physical appearance of the area is also changing – particularly in the old Olympic
Village area – with numbers of the original 1956 houses being here and there replaced by
modern style dwellings, or in some cases, multiple units.

While the church building has splendidly retained its original pristine look, the reality of the Parish composition is far different from its earlier days of large numbers and vital, bustling activities. Numbers of parishioners have shrunk enormously and the school population is now tiny compared to earlier times. The outlays of maintenance, insurance etc., however, have not altered, making the day-to-day upkeep of the church a growing concern.

The purpose of the Parish, however, remains the same, of course. The Parish is Christ’s presence in the area
through the Parish priest and Parish community and the daily celebration of the Eucharist and the
encouragement to follow Jesus’ teachings in our lives of generosity, patience, honesty, faith and prayer.

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