Expansion

An exciting new era began in October 1946 when Fr Len McKenna, one of the first Australian members of the Congregation, was named superior of the Melbourne community.

Ordained only three years earlier, McKenna had just celebrated his twenty-ninth birthday when news of his appointment arrived from the Congregation’s United States province. He was young for such a post, but the United States province was determined to encourage its Australian offshoot towards greater independence.

Over the next decade or two, Len McKenna presided over one of the most glorious periods of expansion in the long history of the Blessed Sacrament Congregation.

In 1947 the St Francis’ novitiate transferred to a new facility at Bowral, New South Wales, named ‘Mount Eymard’ in honour of the Congregation’s founder. Fr Thomas McNevin, a former lawyer and naval officer, was appointed superior and novice-master.

Between 1946 and 1951, sixty-three aspirants entered the Congregation’s novitiate. Blessed with so many possible vocations, McKenna was obliged to begin moves to establish a separate seminary for the training of priests. In 1948 the Congregation bought thirty hectares of farmland on the banks of the Yarra River at Lower Plenty, on the north-eastern outskirts of Melbourne.

Elsewhere, with a view to establishing a religious community in the centre of Sydney, an old furniture store and warehouse at 637–45 George Street, Haymarket, was purchased in late 1951. On this prime site, the Congregation built a monastery and a church, which opened as the Church of the Blessed Sacrament on 30 August 1953.

Fr Rosario Morin led the foundation Haymarket community, comprising three priests and ten brothers. Morin had previously been based in Melbourne, where he was a leading promoter of rosary crusades at St Francis’ Church.

Extraordinary levels of prayer and devotion had become characteristic of St Francis’ Church. A Melbourne woman, Dora Bartels, was believed to have been cured of an incurable heart complaint through the intercession of Peter Julian Eymard, following a novena at St Francis’ in 1949. Her cure was eventually accepted by the Vatican as an authentic miracle which led directly to Eymard’s canonisation in 1962.

Eymard had encouraged his followers to believe that miracles were all around them. When Fr Joseph Thibault gave a retreat to nine Carmelite nuns at Parkes, New South Wales in 1952, he asked the nuns to pray for nine student novices to come to Bowral in 1953 and to pray for their passage through to ordination.

The record shows that among those men who entered the novitiate in 1953, nine of the fourteen who made their first profession in 1955 were student priests. And all nine were eventually ordained.

» continue