On Grattan Street in Carlton, there is an unassuming building that’s become, by the grace of God, a real ‘home away from home’ for students in Melbourne. JPII House was opened and blessed in July 2022, and since then its ministry has grown almost beyond its capacities. The foot traffic is constant, with students dropping by to study, eat, talk and pray.
Built around three pillars—communion, formation and mission—this house is a place where students can experience spiritual growth, engage in rich discussions about faith and life, and form new friendships.
A staff member of the house, Mahir Murad, says, ‘The aim of JPII House is to build a culture where students are able to be themselves, authentic in their faith, and to excel in their studies.’ Originally the house had only one study room, but due to popular demand they’ve added another.
With daily Mass offered on the premises, a lounge room, study rooms, the Caroline Chisholm library, a chapel, regular small groups and social gatherings, and a free Thursday lunch offered by the staff, JPII House is a vibrant hub of student life. Mahir says there are usually between 20 and 30 students there at any one time.
They also offer regular, well-attended courses on site, Mahir says, such as Catholicism 101, Christology, and The Human Person. The house also features free wi-fi and amenities for coffee and tea.
It’s not only Catholic students who make use of this house, however. People of wildly different faith backgrounds, or none at all, have found a place of welcome and friendship a JPII House. ‘No day is the same at JPII,’ Mahir says. ‘Many students come from different cultures and religious backgrounds.’ Everyone finds a welcome there.
In fact, according to Sr Mary Helen OP, another staff member, this spirit of welcome of one of the most distinguishing features of the house.
‘Having worked in other Australian university chaplaincies since 2013, I can say that there is something very unique about JPII House,’ Sr Mary Helen says. ‘It has to do with the fact that it is indeed a house. The welcome each person receives as they walk in the door is profound. It is one thing to know that you are welcome, but it is a powerful thing to tangibly experience the truth of that welcome from both staff and students at JPII House.’
The welcome is not a show, it is real and is born from prayer … It is clear that the leader of the house is Jesus. No one is trying to take his place. We’re all just journeying together where he leads us.
That people feel free to bring their friends is a testament to the atmosphere of the place. Sr Mary Helen recalls someone following her to the tram one day after a talk she’d given—somebody with no Christian background at all—bursting to tell her what it was like to experience a place like JPII House.
‘You care for me in a way that makes me believe it is good that I exist,’ she told Sr Mary Helen. Following this, the girl began searching the Scriptures, looking for the source of this love she had experienced.
Mahir also shares how, by simply befriending a young person who ate and walked alone on campus, he was able to invite him to JPII House. ‘He now has more friends than I do,’ Mahir says. ‘He has learned to make friends, has gained self-confidence, and often seeks the best for others. He forms friendships with those who face the same challenges on campus and who have no friends.’
This spirit of overflowing love and generosity lies at the heart of JPII House. The intention was always to establish a house—not a centre or office or bunker, but somewhere that would become a home for students. And this home truly lives up to the example of its patron, St Pope John Paul the Great, whose service as priest, bishop and pope integrated the three pillars of communion, formation and mission in a life of prayer, learning and love.
For more information on JPII House, including its Mass and opening times during O-Week, please visit the U-Disciple website.
Christian Bergmann13 February 2023