An extensive history of the first twenty-five years of Christ the King Parish, The Phoenix Parish, was compiled by Margaret McKay in 1977. We have no written history of Our Lady’s Parish, though we have a lot of raw data and photographs for both parishes, as well as parishioners with a wonderful fund of stories from earlier days.

Is anyone interested in getting together to further compile our history or at least sort out some of the material, also incorporating condensed material from The Phoenix Parish?

The following history is thought to be from a Thesis on Western Suburban Catholic Churches by Jill Bernard in 1991.

Parish History:

Although it was proclaimed a parish in 1962, the year when its church and ancillary buildings were completed, the roots of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish extend back to the foundation of St John's West Footscray in 1922. The new church, presbytery, parish hall and parish centre, built in 1962, had been the subject of over a decade of fund-raising, planning and prayer on the part of St John's Parish Priests and parishioners.

Development of Local Area:

Residential growth at Maidstone in the 1940s and 1950s added parishioners to the northern part of St John's parish. A sample of 13 Maidstone streets, with a total of 154 occupied houses in 1947, had 379 occupied residences in 1955(1). These were years of growth for the City of Sunshine as a whole, as it grew from the Shire of Braybrook with a population of 15,066 in 1947 to 41,332 in 1954(2).ol church 1960s.jpg

Parish Beginnings:

In 1950, in addition to the Sunday masses at St John's, a regular Sunday mass was begun at the Maidstone Hall in Thompson Street, Maidstone. St John's, West Footscray, hemmed in by residential development, was physically unable to cater for the needs of a growing parish and expansion to a separate site seemed inevitable. In 1952 Father Gilhooly, Parish Priest from that year till 1968, instituted a Saturday night Novena to Our Lady to pray for assistance for the parish to achieve an end to the "utter despair" of having to hear"Mass in appalling conditions ...marriages celebrated at St Monica's [Footscray] ... children baptised in a makeshift Baptistry...and taught and huddled together in makeshift classrooms"(3) . The well-attended Novenas continued throughout the 1950s and it was to them that Father Gilhooly attributed the achievement of the new church (4). In 1962 Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, presbytery, parish hall and parish centre were opened, though the parish school, St Joseph's convent and St John's church remained at West Footscray. By 1963 there were four Sunday masses at Our Lady of Perpetual Help and four at St John's. Although many of the parishioners who had formerly given allegiance to the older church now made Our Lady's their place of worship, a loyal nucleus remained at the older church.

Parish Finances:

Parish balls, house parties, fetes and a Queen Carnival in 1948 which raised £11,000 were social activities which brought the parish of St John's together in the 1940s and 1950s to raise funds for the new church (5).

  betty linsley - queen carnival (2).jpg

Despite the sustained fund-raising campaigns of the previous decade, the introduction of a Sacrificial Giving program in 1959, and the fact that the new church was dedicated as a War Memorial, thus making donations toward it tax deductible, a £50,000 debt still existed on the new buildings in 1963 (6). By 1964, this debt had been reduced to £38,000, but plans by Father Gilhooly to build a girls' secondary school on the Our Lady of Perpetual Help site led him to urge his congregation to renew their former enthusiastic attention to the Novena to Our Lady, now held in the new church on Thursday evenings (7). It appeared that, having achieved the long-held goal of building a new and beautiful church, the impetus for faithful attendance at the Novena had been lost.  An average of 15 weddings and up to 20 baptisms per month indicates why baby shows were adopted as a method of raising parish funds in the 1960s. Although many of the older ways of making money had disappeared with the introduction of Sacrificial Giving, some parish social traditions, such as the Parish Ball and Children's Ball continued.

The parish's declining income during the 1960s led to efforts to renew the Sacrificial Giving Program in 1965 and 1971 as pledged contributions failed to keep up with inflation, some families stopped giving, and a certain proportion of the members of the parish had never adopted the program(8) . The aims of Father Carroll, who became Parish Priest in 1968, for the renewed giving program of 1971 were merely to cover the interest on parish loans and finance the renovation of several parish buildings. By this time plans for the girls' secondary college, made unnecessary by the proximity of Christ the King College, Braybrook, had been dropped.

Parish Societies:

The concerns and activities of the parish in the early 1960s reflected a young community. While the Legion of Mary and Children of Mary continued to exist in the parish, the School Mothers' Auxiliary and the 36 year old Catholic Women's Social Guild, many of whose original members had died by the mid-1960s, were desperate for new members(9) . Yet a Majellan Mothers Group, formed in 1964 for the "spiritual help and advancement of mothers of young children"(10) rapidly expanded into two groups and a Christian Family Movement was begun in the parish in 1965. The YCW fielded three football teams in the early 1960s and parish Scout and Cub groups met in the Parish Hall, also used for fortnightly dances.
Changing trends in the populations and preoccupations of Our Lady's Parish were once again evidenced in the 1980s by the nature of the parish societies in existence: a Senior Parishioners Club, an English and an Italian singing club, the Catholic Women's League, Parents and Friends of the school, St Vincent de Paul, the Parish Social Group and the Italian Holy Family Group, responsible for organising a "Holy Family Feast" each year.

Parish Composition:

Gradually the number of European names rose as a proportion of those married or baptised at Our Lady's, though published lists of contributors to Christmas and Easter Appeals in the mid-1950s were overwhelmingly Anglo—Celtic and, as late as 1970, Irish families held monthly social get—togethers in Our Lady's Hall.

By 1985, the parish Silver Jubilee year, when Father Buhagiar replaced Father Mullally, there
were approximately 1,500 families in the parish, though attendance at mass was, in Father
Buhagiar's eyes, poor(11). The broad ethnic base of the parish was evidenced in the Portugese,
Croatian and Italian masses, as well as the four in English each Sunday.
In the late 1980s the parish feast day, commemorated in St John's West Footscray days with a
procession around the church, is celebrated with an International Feast after the service, and
Filipino and Vietnamese social groups have sprung up in addition to the Italian group. There
are three Sunday masses at Our Lady's. Over 25 different nationalities are represented among
the 1200 people who regularly attend mass at Our Lady's and St John's.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish is responsible for the Catholic chaplaincy of Western General Hospital, which lies within its boundaries. As well as the Parish Priest, one of the sisters of St Joseph, who still reside in the convent at West Footscray, attends to the pastoral care of Catholic patients at the hospital.

Building History:

No school exists on the site of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, making it a rarity among Catholic parish centres, for most of which the parochial school is the initial building priority. Another distinctive feature of the physical history of the parish is that all four buildings on the site — church, presbytery, parish hall and parish centre were constructed at the same time, in 1962, in the cream colored brick that was spreading its way through Melbourne's suburbs.

The simultaneous construction of these parish buildings is explained by the three—fold needs that had fueled more than a decade of fund—raising in St John's parish. Not only did the parish require a larger church, but a suitable venue for parish social activities was needed, as was adequate accommodation for the parish and assistant priests. Originally, a girls' secondary college was also planned for the site, but when Christ the King College Braybrook received secondary registration in 1963, the eastern portion of the 3 1/2 acre block was sold to G.J. Coles for development as a supermarket in 1963, the proceeds being put towards the cost of the church and presbytery(12).

Church Design:

aa_building.jpgThe Byzantine—influenced design of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, unique among Catholic western suburbs churches, is partially explained by the gift from a local family of the large semi—circular mosaic of Our Lady which dominates the northern chancel wall behind the altar. However the existence of an MMBW easement running east—west across the parishblock also helps to explain the unusual shape of the church. The architect, T.G. Payne, who, like his father before him, designed several Catholic buildings in the Melbourne Archdiocese, and was noted for the variety of his designs, veered away from a traditional cruciform design with Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Instead, the church has an unusually short but broad nave, for a pre—Vatican Two church, though the lack of pillars in the body of the church places it in the transitional phase of Catholic church architecture. Another influence on the design of the church was the availability of marble saved from the Colonial Mutual Life Association building on the comer of Collins and Elizabeth Streets, Melbourne which was demolished in 1959. (Pictured above left) Components of this building found their way to several new locations. Some of its marble was used both on the facade (right) and in the interior of Our Lady's (13).aa_facade.jpg
One year after Our Lady's Church was opened, its new bell, cast in Dublin at the Byrne foundry, was blessed by Archbishop Simonds and installed in the belfry. The bell had been donated by parishioners, Mr and Mrs Charles Sitch, proprietors of a local busline. In 1984, interior renovations were carried out on Our Lady's and, a year later, the presbytery was refurbished.

Architectural Description:

Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church is broadly rectangular in shape, with a narrow corridor containing the sacristy projecting from the eastern side of the church at the northern, sanctuary end. It has a pitched roof with a skillion roofed eastern section and an 18 metre high detached belfry, with oval bell—turret, on the western side of the facade. Relieved only by the entry doors and one window, the facade is flat, rising as one surface to the highest point of the gable on which a small cross is placed. Constructed of cream brick, with a terracotta—tiled roof, the building has a red and white marble facade, edged by brick pilasters. Four Belgian rouge Ionic columns flank the glass entry doors.Above these a circular stained glass window, lit at night, depicts Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Side windows are arched and of colored glass.Extemally, the church suggests elements of neo—Romanesque, Byzantine and Spanish architecture.
aa_wedding.jpgInternally, the church reflects Byzantine design in the arched walls and ceiling of the sanctuary, southern wall and shallow east and west transepts. A Venetian mosaic, flanked by two smaller mosaics, decorates the northern wall, behind the altar. Unusual in its dimensions, the church has a greater width than length, suggesting the layout of a cross within a circle.

Social and Physical Setting:

The physical context of Our Lady of Perpetual Help provides a strong contrast with the church of an earlier era — St John's — which spawned it. Unlike the latter, which is tucked away in the midst of an essentially residential pocket of West Footscray, Our Lady's dominates an open site amidst the car yards, supermarkets and strip shops of a major arterial road. Fortuitously located on the approximate boundary (Ballarat Road) of the older and newer sections of (formerly) St John's parish, it is symbolic of the growth and transition of the parish as it spread beyond the local community with which it was established, to service a much wider area. The capacious car park at the rear of the church is evidence of this changing relationship. between church and community in the era of the motor car, as is the use of the parish hall for Bingo nights, signifying new methods of fund raising to replace the Queen Carnivals and house parties of previous times.

The fruit of over a decade of fund—raising and prayer on the part of St John's parishioners and Parish Priests, Fathers Morrison and Gilhooly, Our Lady of Perpetual Help is a striking church not only in comparison to St John's but with other western suburban churches. Its marble facade makes it a landmark amidst the dusty grime of Ballarat Road and contrasts with the red—brick functionalism of St John's church—school and the trend toward simplicity in contemporary church design. Such lavishness symbolises a fitting reward for the members of the parish who had made do with a simple church for four decades and worked hard to build a new place of worship. Though the Byzantine style of the church would seem to suggest a strong European contribution to its design, there is no evidence to suggest that migrant parishioners played any part in its conception.bell.jpg

Statement of Significance:

Aesthetically, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church is a unique use of the Byzantine style of
church architecture among Catholic Churches in Melbourne's western suburbs and a striking
landmark in contrast to its physical context on a busy arterial road.
It is the last Catholic Church designed by T.G. Payne in the western suburbs, providing a contrast with the architect's earlier work (St Theresa's, Essendon and ~St Monica's, Moonee Ponds, 1930s). Other notable designs for the Catholic church by Payne include Newman College Chapel, St Dominic's East Camberwell tower and work in conjunction on the completion of St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church is representative of the movement, common to almost all western suburban Catholic parishes, to work toward building a church worthy of God after initial parish concerns, such as education and a modest place of worship, have been dealt with. However, its position away from the original parish site and parochial- school, coupled with the fact that the presbytery, parish hall and parish centre were constructed along with it, make it a remarkable example of this movement.

1 Sands and McDougall, Directories of Victoria, 1947, 1955.
2 ABS, Commonwealth Censuses, 1947, 1954.
3 Father Gilhooly, Our Lady's Gazette. April 1964.
4 ibid
5 Len and Marie Cooke, in discussion with the author, 21/10/89
6 Our Lady's Gazette. August 1963
7 ibid. April, 1964
8 "Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Sacrificial Giving Booklet", 1971
9 Our Lady's Gazette. April 1965
10Jhid May, 1964
11 Father Buhagiar, Parish Profile, 1985, located in Our Lady's archives
12 Our Lady's Gazette, August,1963
13 A handwritten note by Father Gilhooley on a pictorial history of the CML building located in Our Lady's archives says that all of the marble used inside and outside our Our Lady's came from this building.