On Sunday 2 May, the parish of St Peter the Apostle in East Keilor marked its 50th anniversary in a celebration that brought together past and present parishioners, school staff, families and pastors.
The day began with Mass celebrated by Archbishop Peter A Comensoli and Fr Arockia Sebastian MSFS (current parish priest) and former parish priests including Fr Denis Stanley and Fr Anthony Doran. Following the Mass, the community gathered outside for a specially made anniversary cake and Harmony Day dances by the school children.
Sunday’s celebration may have marked 50 years of St Peter's Parish and Primary School, but the area of East Keilor has long been a gathering place of Catholic families.
According to the parish's history book launched on the weekend, Chronicle of St Peter the Apostle Parish, the families of George Dodd and Henry Delaney migrated to the area in 1840 from County Cork, Ireland, and purchased the farmland on which the parish of St Peter’s now sits. Melbourne’s first archbishop, James Alipius Goold, is said to have visited the Dodd family home over the years where he celebrated Mass for the Catholic families in the area. A sense of Christian charity has long been a hallmark of locals it seems, as the Dodd family built a timber schoolhouse on their land to ensure the growing number of children in the area received an education.
More than one hundred years later, post World War II, these farmlands would be developed into suburban lots for an increasingly rising migrant population including families from Malta and Italy. The parish priest of St Christopher’s Airport West at the time, Fr John Phelan, recognised the opportunity for a new parish in East Keilor, and invited locals to consider what kind of Mass centre would suit the area.
In January 1970, Archbishop James Robert Knox (later Cardinal) proclaimed the new parish of St Peter the Apostle and appointed Fr John Barker as the inaugural parish priest. Seven months later, the St Peter’s Church-Hall was officially blessed and in 1971 the parish school opened for enrolments, with Sr Conrad Hannischefegen, a Religious Sister of Charity, serving as its first principal.
Adrian Commadeur, who joined the parish in the late 1970s and helped to chronicle its history, describes parish life in the early days as being marked with a deep sense of prayer, service and perseverance. He paints a picture of young mums pushing their prams through what was then "the mud roads in East Keilor", parishioners visiting each other’s homes and constant fundraising and social activities hosted by local volunteers.
‘These are the unsung heroes of our parish,’ he says, ‘the men and women who gave their all to get St Peter’s up and running in those very early turbulent times.’
St Peter’s Primary School principal Linda Tarrarant paid tribute to these founding parishioners on Sunday afternoon, as well as former school principals including Sr Catherine Meese RSC and Margaret Duggan, the school’s longest serving and first lay principal.
Long-time parishioner Ena expressed her gratitude for being able to attend the celebration after such a difficult year.
‘I’m so proud to be here and very, very thankful.’ Ena’s daughters attended St Peter’s Primary School where her grandchildren now study. ‘They all went to school here, they’ve now got good families and have had a good education.’
While most of the founding parish families have remained in the area, recent decades have brought the involvement of Vietnamese families to the parish, contributing to its ongoing life and vitality.
‘It’s like a family gathering,’ said Joe, a parishioner of St Peter's since the late 1970s. ‘It’s wonderful. The parish has really developed over time and we’ve got a wonderful parish priest Fr Sebastian.’
In his opening words for the Chronicle of St Peter the Apostle Parish, Fr Sebastian wrote that the golden jubilee was an opportunity to 'recall the past with gratitude, to live the present with enthusiasm and to look forward with courage and hope'.
‘I wish to pay tribute to my predecessors and particularly our inaugural parish priest Fr John Barker,’ said Fr Sebastian. ‘The foresight and leadership shown paved the way for where we are today. We have grown tremendously over the past fifty years.
‘I invite you all to join me in praying for our parish and school, as we seek to renew all things in Christ. May the Lord continue to bless you and your families with his love!’
Melbourne Catholic22 September 2021
Fiona Basile21 September 2021