It all started out very small. The Port Philip settlement of 1836 had fourteen known Catholics. Well before the first priest arrived, they would gather on Sundays, often in the home of the Bodecini family, to recite the rosary and say prayers. The first Mass did not take place until Pentecost Sunday in May 1839 with the newly arrived Fr Geoghegan. Attending were members of the Coffey, Hogue and Browne families; and little Catherine Connor was there, along with her parents, the first to be baptised in the new settlement. Children, parents, families: this was the early Church, the community of the faithful, in Melbourne.

Melbourne became a diocese in its own right in 1847, some ten years after the first Catholics arrived and began to gather. By then, the population was a little over 11,000, a third of whom were Catholics, mainly working-class Irish. Faith was present and growing before any structures existed, or organisational functions. The Gospel came to Melbourne with the lay people, from every level of society (though predominantly the poor), and was lived and grew in homes, passed on by parents to children. It was only as populations and communities swelled, and children needed education, that churches, parishes and at last a diocese, came into being.

This weekend marks the establishment of the Diocese of Melbourne 175 years ago, when we were separated out from colonial Sydney, to stand as our own local, particular Church. It was when we received out first bishop, Bishop James Alipius Goold. From our beginning, however, it was in family households that the Church in Melbourne was formed, and from them that the faith in our city was sustained. It all began in family homes.

And, of course, how we started is how we have continued since. The family of our local Church had always been made up of the individual families—in all their shapes, sizes and arrangements—who have sought to live their lives with Christ, in faith, hope and love. This diocese—now, an Archdiocese—is properly a family of families, united in the one family of God. The more formal language to describe this reality is a ‘communion’; the Church is God’s faithful sharing and participating in the common life of the Trinity, as one Body in Christ. But ‘family’ is a more colloquial way of saying the same thing.

A family lives and flourishes when the relational bonds of unity are fostered in the midst of the diversity of the individuals who make up the family. Each person in a family is their own unique self, who then invests themselves in the lives of each other. A family exists to hold one another in the palm of our hands. For this reason, we can rightly understand a family as being a community of welcoming and sacrificial love—of self-giving love—that holds each together; that teaches the young; that forgives, protects and builds trust.

From the heart of his own sacrifice on the cross, Jesus established the Church as a family, giving Mary, his Mother, to John, and in turn John welcoming Mary as his mother. In familial love, Jesus established his Church. To give of oneself, to serve each other, to throw a cloak of welcome and belonging around each other—these are the signs of family life. ‘Serve one another … in works of love,’ as St Paul put it in our second reading today.

In celebrating our 175th anniversary as a diocesan family, might we especially recognise that this ecclesial faith family of Melbourne finds its proper foundations in the household families of faith who have lived out the gospel through the generations.