Origins

Following the death of St Peter Julian Eymard in 1868, the Blessed Sacrament Congregation spread from France to other parts of Europe and eventually became known throughout much of the Catholic world.

The first foundation outside Europe was established at Montreal, in the province of Quebec, Canada in 1890. From Canada, the Congregation became established in the United States, opening at St Jean Baptiste Church, New York City in 1900.

Additional communities were founded in South America during the early decades of the twentieth century.

Processes for Eymard’s canonisation had begun by that time. His cause for sainthood was approved by Pope Pius X in 1908. After two events were accepted as miraculous due to Eymard’s intercession, Pope Pius XI beatified Eymard on 12 July 1925.

In acknowledging Eymard’s holiness and heroic virtue, beatification meant that Eymard was entitled to be called ‘Blessed’ as a preliminary step to his canonisation as a saint. Two more miracles were required before canonisation was possible.

Around the time of Eymard’s beatification, the Vatican’s representative in Australia (the apostolic delegate Archbishop Bartolomeo Cattaneo) stayed with the Blessed Sacrament Congregation in New York. He became familiar with the magnificent eucharistic shrine that the Congregation had established at St Jean Baptiste Church.

Cattaneo was convinced that a similar shrine was needed in Australia. He began to lobby the Congregation’s leaders in Rome and made approaches to the archbishops in Melbourne and Sydney.

At the International Eucharistic Congress held in Sydney in 1928, Cattaneo seized the chance to promote his plan with some of the influential local and international church representatives who were in attendance. He enlisted the support of his predecessor as apostolic delegate, Cardinal Bonaventura Cerretti, who immediately contacted Sydney’s Archbishop Michael Kelly.

Kelly told Cerretti that there was not a suitable vacancy for another religious community in Sydney. Cattaneo then remembered that Archbishop Mannix had been looking for a religious community to take over St Francis’ Church in Melbourne.

After the Congress, Cerretti went to Melbourne to speak to Mannix, who had not responded to an earlier approach from Cattaneo. Mannix had been keeping his options open. Several local religious orders had been hoping to take over the old church in the centre of the city. Property developers had also been making huge offers for the land.

This time, Mannix said: ‘Yes, Yes, with all my heart I accept the Fathers of the Blessed Sacrament for Melbourne. Indeed, you are ahead of my own desires. I have St Francis’ Church for them.’

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