The new monastery at St Francis’ Church was a sign that the Blessed Sacrament Congregation had come to stay. A monastery gave the Melbourne community the potential to grow by providing adequate facilities to accept and train the Australian men who wished to join them.
Most of all, the dream of the Melbourne men was that their numbers would grow enough to establish a continuous roster of religious kneeling day and night in prayer before the exposed Blessed Sacrament. Perpetual adoration was realised in 1945.
By 1945, thirty men had entered the novitiate at St Francis’ and sixteen of these men eventually made their final profession. A scholasticate for the training of priests was established at St Francis’ under three professors in 1940. Before that time, the Congregation’s student priests attended the Melbourne diocesan seminary.
On 25 July 1943 the Congregation’s first Australian-born priests, Len McKenna and Pat Fitzgerald, were ordained by Archbishop Mannix.
Services at St Francis’ grew significantly in the 1940s. By the middle of the decade, eight masses were celebrated every day, with additional services on Holy Days. Confessions were heard with few interruptions from 7 am until after 9 pm every night.
Between 12,000 and 15,000 confessions were being heard each month. Priests were also on duty in the monastery every day to hear the private confessions of fellow priests and religious. Archbishop Mannix came to confess every Saturday afternoon.
Benediction was offered three times a day. The rosary was prayed twice a day. Divine office was sung by the priests in the sanctuary of the church four times each day.
A Eucharistic Fraternity (now Eucharistic Associates) was established in 1942, with lay members dedicating their lives to serving Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.
There were weekly prayers to Peter Julian Eymard and devotions to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. Separate monthly adoration hours were held for men and women, as well as special Sunday evening sermons, weekly convert classes, and regular missions, novenas and communion breakfasts for Catholic groups and societies.
In addition to their work as mass celebrants, confessors, chaplains and adorers, the Congregation’s priests travelled Victoria, preaching the ‘Forty Hours’ devotion and participating in parish missions, eucharistic festivals and related events.
Around the church and monastery, the Congregation’s brothers worked tirelessly in a range of roles. Twice each day, up to eighty homeless men received free meals from the monastery kitchen.
By the middle of the 1940s, St Francis’ had become the busiest church of any denomination in Australia.