The quiet parish community of Holy Cross is located in Caulfield South, in Melbourne’s inner-east. It is a combined parish with St Joseph’s in Elsternwick. Fr Varghese Kattikattu, parish priest of six years and Joanna Lam, parishioner of 14 years, both describe the parish as ‘prayerful’ with a particular on focus on family, and its ministry to the sick and elderly.

Joanna first began her time at the parish as a foreign student, and once she completed her studies went back to her home country of Malaysia. She then returned back to Melbourne as a wife and new mother looking for young families within the parish to interact with. At the time Joanna says this was a challenge because new families who were keen to get involved were also new migrants who were unable to settle down in the parish area due to housing affordability.

Joanna says over the years things have slowly evolved in the parish as Fr Varghese began organising lunches during school holidays. It began with three families getting to know each other and forming community and grew to 10 families in faith who Joanna says now ‘keep connected’ during the lockdown periods.

Prior to the lockdowns, Holy Cross and St Joseph’s were also quiet places for prayer for those who attended weekly Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and on the first Sunday of the month. People from surrounding parishes would also travel to St Joseph’s Church for St Joseph’s Novena followed by Mass and Benediction. There was also a night vigil held at Holy Cross every third Friday of the month.

Elsternwick Parish Centenary
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli with Fr Varghese Kattikattu and altar servers after St Joseph’s special Centenary celebration Mass. ( L-R: Joseph La Bonne, Joshua La Bonne, Enzo Ambrose)
Elsternwick Parish Ladies
Parishioners enjoying the sunshine after Sunday Mass (L-R: Jessica, Shirley & Monica)

Fr Varghese says a ‘stand-out’ ministry provided by the parish is its ministry to the sick which is carried out in five different nursing homes including Cabrini Rehab, Victoria by the Park, Graceland Manor Aged Care, all in Elsternwick, and Hammond and Hammond Care Village both in Caulfield.

Joanne Jarlett, who is senior pastoral care coordinator at Hammond Care Village, says that the inability to attend Mass during long lockdown periods ‘have hit patients hard’. ‘Before the pandemic, Fr Varghese would come in and provide two Mass services and he would visit personally if they requested a visit.’

With ongoing lockdown restrictions in place, phone calls have become a new way to reach out. ‘Fr Varghese has been so kind to call on the phone so that he can minister to them,’ Joanne says.

‘A lot of our residents have dementia and it’s very important that they feel they can connect with their faith. Fr Varghese is so loving towards our residents and has such a caring and patient attitude, which is what we need.’

Prior to the pandemic, Fr Varghese would also make regular visits to Caulfield Hospital with the help of three volunteers offering the Eucharist to the sick. ‘At the moment with restrictions. they now only call for the Last Rite.’

While the parish continues to work through the challenges of the pandemic, Fr Varghese remains ‘determined and hopeful’ for the life of the community after lockdown. He says his dream is for ‘all parishioners to be united, active witnesses to Christ,’ and he believes ‘it will happen’.

Main image: Stained glass window at St Joseph’s, Elsternwick