Marking a significant milestone provides an important opportunity to step back from the distractions of our daily lives and to take a longer, perhaps more appreciative view of the gracious and life-giving action of God among us. Last Sunday, the people of St Peter Apostle Mission Parish in Hoppers Crossing had just such an opportunity as they celebrated their golden jubilee, the 50th anniversary of the dedication and blessing of their church on 6 October 1972.

From paddock to parish

Earlier that year—on a large, windswept paddock in the newly emerging suburb of Hoppers Crossing in Melbourne’s south-west, surrounded by a few houses and some cows—the foundations of St Peter Apostle Church had been laid. The nearby railway station was only two years old, and it would be another three years before the suburb had its own post office. But construction proceeded swiftly, and by October, a congregation of local Catholic families had gathered for the dedication and blessing of their new church by Archbishop James R Knox, followed by a celebratory casserole lunch.

The suburb experienced massive growth throughout the seventies, as ever more subdivisions brought a tide of young families seeking affordable homes to the area, many from migrant backgrounds. In 1977, the first parish priest, Fr Dominic DeGiorgio, was appointed, and by 1978, around 840 families had joined the parish, with 374 school enrolments—a significant increase on the 27 prep children who were first enrolled in the newly opened St Peter Apostle Primary School in 1973, and who attended class in the church as they waited for the first school wing to be opened in March that year.

By the early eighties, the parish had grown so dramatically that work began to establish a new parish and primary school—St James the Apostle in Hoppers Crossing North—and by the early nineties, there was also a new Catholic secondary school in the area, Thomas Carr College.

The church as it was being constructed in 1972. Photo supplied.

Many stories, many callings

Throughout this time of extraordinary growth and change, the community of St Peter Apostle has been sustained and guided by a strong commitment to prayer and worship, with the celebration of the Eucharist providing a strong focus and foundation for the life of the community. The parish’s Legion of Mary, Rosa Mystica and Children’s Rosary groups also helped to prayerfully uphold the community in the early years, with the parish’s charismatic prayer community Katawan Ni Kristo (‘Body of Christ’) taking up the mantle in 1995.

This deep grounding in prayer has also helped nourish countless other ministries, as a broad and diverse community has presented its members with an equally broad and diverse range of opportunities to respond to their calling as Jesus’ disciples. Parish ministries have ranged from thriving choirs, playgroups, working bee committees and fundraising initiatives to various liturgical ministries, the Communion to the sick ministry, and of course the Ladies Auxiliary—also celebrating its 50-year anniversary—to name only a very small sample. The Knights of the Southern Cross, St Vincent de Paul Society and Good Samaritan ministries have all remained faithful, fruitful presences within the parish, and in more recent years, the Alpha program, Bible study group and School of Discipleship have all helped to bring a renewed Gospel focus and vitality to the community.

The parish school and the Government Schools Apostolate have brought the Good News of Christ’s love to thousands of local children over the years, helping many to prepare for their sacraments and to deepen their understanding of the faith. Regular youth Masses, youth groups, young adults groups and programs to support World Youth Day pilgrims have also helped to ensure that new generations continue to form personal, passionate relationships with Jesus.

Integral to the life of the parish throughout this time have been the migrant groups who have made Hoppers Crossing their home, including flourishing Filipino, Polish, Samoan, Burmese, Malayalam and Spanish communities, all of whom have gathered at their own Masses over the years, supported by a host of visiting clergy. For the last 20 years, an annual multicultural Mass has been hosted by a different national group each year, and every Advent, a series of Spirit-filled Novena dawn Masses in the Filipino tradition, running from 16 to 24 December and led by the Katawan Ni Kristo (KNK) charismatic prayer community, have become a particular highlight of the community’s calendar.

An ‘extended family’ of faith

Beyond all the programs and ministries, a spirit of welcome and hospitality has been central to the parish’s growth and vibrancy. Jeffery, who has been involved in the parish for more than 25 years, says he became involved with the community because ‘it was so inviting and the people were so nice.’ He started by helping out as an altar server and in the sacristy, and now he does ‘whatever I can’, including helping with the baptism formation ministry and singing in the choir.

Sharon, who has been very active in the community for more than 20 years, says the experience of hosting more than 100 pilgrims from Chile and the Philippines—visiting the parish for a three-day retreat on their way to World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008—was instrumental in connecting her more closely to the life of the community, noting that the parish has now become ‘like an extended family to me’.

Giving thanks for a rich past and hopeful future

On Sunday 9 October 2022, the church was full as Archbishop Peter Comensoli celebrated a special jubilee Mass to mark the 50th anniversary of the dedication and blessing of the church, and especially to give thanks for all that God has done and continues to do in the life of this beautiful community.

‘Our deep gratitude goes to your early pastors and families, who nurtured those young seeds of faith with dedication and care, providing the strong and loving community that is present today,’ he wrote in a special message to the community. ‘Today as you come together to celebrate and honour this journey of faith, may that great missionary Apostle that you are named for continue to be your guide and strength in shaping the next 50 years and beyond.’

At the Mass, the Archbishop was joined by current parish priest Fr Vincent John, and by other concelebrants, including previous parish priests. The liturgy was greatly enriched by the participation of parishioners of all ages and backgrounds, and by the joyful voices of the St Peter’s Parish Combined Choir.

In his homily, Archbishop Comensoli drew on the gospel story of the healing of the Samaritan leper to point to the different ways we experience God’s presence, especially in the sacraments, but also in the communities and places that are sacred to us:

Like the Samaritan leper, who recognised in the healing presence of Jesus that God was with him, so have you known and treasured the Lord’s presence among you in this preciously held place. God has indeed been among you; here he has found you. Happy golden jubilee!

The celebratory feast that followed the jubilee Mass—like that first casserole luncheon 50 years before—was an occasion of great joy, fellowship and thanksgiving, with broad smiles everywhere you looked. The celebration was also marked by a palpable sense of excitement and hope as the people of God in Hoppers Crossing looked to the future and to all that their faithful God has in store for them in the years and decades to come.

Photos courtesy of St Peter Apostle Mission Parish.