St. Margaret Mary’s Catholic Church on Mitchell Street, North Brunswick celebrates its centenary on Sunday 18th October 2015. Bishop Terry Curtin will celebrate mass with Fr Greg Chambers, Provincial of Salesian in Australia-Pacific Province, Fr John Murphy, Recotr of Don Bosco Youth Centre and Hostel Brunswick, Fr. Anthony Quang Parish Priest and Fr. Michael Ledda, Assistant Priest and two former Parish Preists, Fr Lawrie Moate and Fr Nick Castelyns and many other Salesian priests, brothers and religious who have associated with St Margaret Mary’s in different ways. Mass was said in English, Italian and Vietnamese to celebrate the rich multi-cultural diversity of the Parish and community.
The church was full with many visitors, friends and parishioners. There were also the fomer staff of St Margaret Mary school, the former religious who worked here for many decades. Don Bosco choir sang beautifully songs in Englsih and Vietnamese and the children from Salesian Youth Club danced and illustrated the Emmuus Song to express the continous generation to generation even with different background of cultures and nationalities but all aiming one goal which is to build up the church, the body of Christ like the last 100 years history of St Margaret Mary’s community.
In June 1914 the new presbytery for the Parish was blessed and opened by Archbishop Mannix and Rev. John P O’Connell was installed as the first parish priest. This event is the official opening of the Parish. A year earlier in 1913 the primary school was opened and run by the Sisters of Mercy. In the early days of the Parish the same building was used for educating the children during the week and Mass on Sundays.
The School and Parish were first named St. Matthews. The name of the school and parish was officially changed to St. Margaret Mary’s at the laying of the foundation stone to the new church on Sunday 14th March 1920. Archbishop Mannix also blessed the site of the altar and the foundations of the school. Sunday 29th October 1921 was the solemn blessing and opening of St. Margaret Mary’s new church by Archbishop Mannix with over 5,000 in attendance. Rev. John P O’Connell P.P welcomed the Archbishop saying “his first duty was to thank Almighty God for giving him the privilege of erecting that church to His honour and glory; his second duty was to extend a very hearty welcome to his Grace the Archbishop” [The Advocate, 3rd November 1921]. The church today stands virtually untouched from its opening day.
Rev. John P O’Connell was parish priest from 1914 to 1928. The new pastor immediately set about creating a bond between himself and the parishioners by sharing the responsibility with them of creating a Catholic community, enlisting their support. He knew well that the mobile population of the times desperately needed an anchorage: to build a community through identification with others and a place. That need was satisfied by the provision of schools, churches and places for social inter-reaction. The parish developed greatly under his able administration and the closest ties existed between the pastor and the people. At the blessing of the new school buildings on 7th March 1926 by Archbishop Mannix, Fr. O’Connell praised the generosity of the parishioners and said “today they had a well-endowed parish, and a fine church and school”. Archbishop Mannix praised that the work of Fr. O’Connell and the parish saying that “it reflected much credit on the zeal, energy and tact of the pastor, Fr. O’Connell” and he “wished to express appreciation of what Fr. O'Connell had done, and to thank the people for the splendid result” [The Advocate, 13th March 1926].
Fr O’Connell died on Thursday, 25th July 1929 and, at his expressed wish, he was buried in the church. His Grace the Archbishop Mannix in paying a tribute to Fr O’Connell, said: “Your prayers are most earnestly requested for the eternal repose of the soul of Fr J.P. O’Connell. This indeed is a sorrowful day for North Brunswick and for the parish of St Margaret Mary. It is a sad day for all of us” [The Advocate Thursday 1 August 1929].
The Parish of St. Margaret Mary’s consolidated on the early work of Fr. O’Connell. Parish Priests included Fr. Tom Power (1929 to 1936), Fr. John Donovan (1936 to 1941), Fr. Maurice Brosnan (1943 to 1959), Fr. John O’Carroll (1960 to 1972) and Fr. Sam Dimattina (1972 to 1981).
The Parish was entrusted to the Salesians in 1982. Though, the connection of the Parish and Salesians dates back to the 1940s. A Don Bosco Boys’ Club and Hostel (the first in Australia) was established in Sydney Road near the corner of Albion Street. Fr. Cianter, Superior of Rupertswood College Sunbury, said “it was only fifty-two years since St. John Bosco died and now 2000 Salesian schools and institutions were giving shelter to poor children in different parts of the world” [The Advocate 8th February 1940]. Fr. John Donovan, the then Parish Priest at St. Margaret Mary’s, has a plaque to his memory at the centre. Fr Joseph Lattuca was the first Salesian Parish Priest (1982 to 1987) and was followed by Fr. Michael Jackson (1988 to 1989), Fr. Elio Proietto (1990 to 1995, 2000), Fr. Pat Laws (1996, 2000), Fr. Nick Castelyns (1997) and Fr. Lawrie Moate (2001 to 2006).
Fr. Anthony Quang Nguyen is the current Parish Priest (2007 to present). Fr. Anthony was born in Vietnam and at 11 years of age was admitted to the Salesian College in Saigon. He suffered under the communist government of Vietnam in the mid to late 1970s before leaving as a refugee in 1981. Fr. Anthony arrived in Australia in 1982 and was ordained priest in 1986. Fr. Anthony is tireless in his efforts for the Parish, the Vietnamese community in Melbourne and in Vietnam, the Salesian brothers and today’s youth, the cornerstone of what Don Bosco and the Salesian brothers represents.
The Parish has a vibrant history and celebrates the multi-cultural diversity of the Parish and the Brunswick community. Brunswick is one of the places in Melbourne where multiculturalism was born with the working class and the Catholic communities, among the factories and the churches, in between Greek veggie patches and Italian coffee shops. Brunswick started out as a working class dominantly Irish Catholic community from where the Parish first started and then developed into a strongly Italian community post-war who have consolidated the Parish. The Parish is blessed with a strong Vietnamese community that come to St. Margaret Mary’s from all over Melbourne on a Sunday to celebrate Mass and educate their children at the Thien An Centre. The Parish vision statement states, “We will joyfully affirm and celebrate the multi-cultural reality of our community in all its aspects, and we aim to provide an educational environment which accepts and develops each person’s gifts.”
The celebration is continued by the lunch in the Hall and BBQ outside of the church. This is a great opportunity for people to meet each other and remind one another many memories of the past.