Independence

In 1955, Australia became an independent province of the Blessed Sacrament Congregation – the ‘Province of the Holy Spirit’ – under the leadership of Fr Len McKenna.

Major renovations were undertaken at St Francis’ Church during 1955. After years of resisting Archbishop Mannix’s call to build a new church on the site of the old St Francis’ presbytery, McKenna finally convinced Mannix to sell the rest of the St Francis’ land (including the church) to the Blessed Sacrament Congregation.

Since 1952 the Congregation had been building a seminary on the large estate it had purchased in 1948 at Lower Plenty on the outskirts of Melbourne. The first stage of this facility (the East Wing) opened on 19 March 1955. The ‘Seminary of Christ the King’, as the complex was called, began with a small teaching staff and twenty-seven students under the supervision of Fr David Brown.

The second stage of the seminary project was completed on 16 December 1956, when Archbishop Mannix dedicated the ‘War Memorial Chapel of Christ the King’ at Lower Plenty. Of many happy days spent in over forty years in Melbourne, Mannix declared, ‘this is perhaps the happiest of them all’.

With the transfer of men to new communities at Sydney and Lower Plenty in the early 1950s, the number of religious at St Francis’ fell from forty-two in 1953 to eighteen in 1955. This number was barely enough to maintain the roster of perpetual adoration at St Francis’, which at that time was the most important work of the Congregation.

The leaders of the young province were aware of the risks of expanding too quickly, but the future looked bright. They readily accepted an invitation from Archbishop Thomas (later Cardinal) Cooray to establish a missionary foundation and eucharistic shrine at Colombo on the island of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

On 11 June 1956 the Church of St Philip Neri in Colombo was handed over to a community of three priests and two brothers from Australia, under the leadership of Fr Pat Fitzgerald. Colombo was the hundredth foundation of the Blessed Sacrament Congregation throughout the world, in the hundredth year of the Congregation’s history. It was also the Congregation’s first foundation in Asia.

The loss of Australian men to Colombo immediately increased pressure on the maintenance of ministry and perpetual adoration in Sydney, where the community had always been short of priests.

At some masses on Sundays and on Holy Days of Obligation in Sydney, the Monstrance reported, ‘there are queues of worshippers similar in length to those outside the cinemas farther up in George Street’.

By 1957, the ‘little church in the Haymarket’ was beginning to look like another St Francis’.

» continue