Geoscience Australia confirmed that a 5.9 magnitude earthquake was recorded in Victoria at 9.15am on Wednesday 22 September. The earthquake’s epicentre was near Mansfield, almost 200km northeast of the City of Melbourne.

Fr George Feliciouz was getting ready to say Mass at St Francis Xavier Church in Mansfield when the ground began to shake. He and a parishioner promptly went outside to see what was happening. ‘We looked at the church and the hall and we could see the roof was rattling,’ he said. Thankfully there were no injuries but Fr Feliciouz said that ‘íf it had lasted any longer we could have had serious damage.’

Following the earthquake Fr Feliciouz called parishioners in Jamieson and Woods Point, which also form part of the parish, conscious that several parishioners have little to no access to the internet. ‘I also called the local post office and the owner of one of the local cafés just to check that they were OK.’

Mass livestream interrupted by earthquake

Over at St Mary’s Parish in Dandenong, Fr Brendan Lane had just started his daily livestream of Mass when the earthquake hit. ‘Wow, how’s that? We’ve just had an earth tremor here,’ he said to viewers.

If he was worried it didn’t show, as he promtply added: ‘In the old days God used to speak through theophany, thunder, lightning and tremors and all this. So he must be speaking with us today.’

‘I don’t think I’ve said anything wrong yet,’ he said with a chuckle.

Deacon George Piech Meat was with Fr Lane during the Mass. ‘I thought maybe a truck was passing by because our church is very close to the main road. Then I realised it was an earthquake,’ he said. ‘The cameraman was about to run out. In the end, he did well!’

Authorities say the initial earthquake, which was recorded at a depth of approximately 10 kms, was followed by six aftershocks with lower magnitudes. Minor building damage has been recorded across Victoria, including the Melbourne suburbs of Ascot Vale, Balwyn, Elsternwick, Kensington, Northcote, Parkdale, Prahran and West Melbourne.

Near miss for Parish Priest of Ascot Vale

Fr Justin Ford was in the middle of Mass at St Mary’s Ascot Vale when he felt the tremors. He had just taken Communion ‘and everything was shaking,’ he said. ‘Then I started to hear another noise. I just thought, “get out of here now”.

Fr Ford ran to the sacristy and once inside heard a loud crash from inside the church. That was the sound of two marble statues crashing to the ground from almost seven metres above.

‘In St Mary’s Church you’ve got the great baldacchino (canopy), modelled off the one in St Peter’s Basilica, and on the four corners up the top are four life-sized angels in solid marble,’ said Fr Ford.

‘One of the statues that fell knocked off the head of another angel at the back of the sanctuary,’ said Fr Ford. The other statue fell towards the side of the altar, near where he would have been standing. ‘The vessels on the credence table went in all directions, so I think the debris might have given me a serious injury if I’d still been standing there,’ he said.

‘I’ve been thanking God all day. I won’t forget that Mass in a hurry!’

The marble statues are more than 80 years old and were imported from Italy in the 1930s when the current church building was officially opened. ‘They’re a special thing to the people,’ acknowledged Fr Ford.

‘They’re not repairable but we’ll get them replaced.’

Images of St Mary’s Ascot Vale from Facebook (Fr Joseph Deveikis, Assistant Priest at St Mary’s Ascot Vale and Chapalin to the Lithuanian Community)