The long-awaited opening of Mary Immaculate Catholic Parish in Ivanhoe took place on Sunday 1 October, with Archbishop Peter A Comensoli blessing the new church, offices, chapel and presbytery. The event was attended by parishioners past and present and brought to fruition a project almost 20 years in the making.

The journey to the opening and blessing of the new parish centre—‘our common home’, as parish priest Fr Bill Edebohls called it—is a worthwhile lesson in a how a parish might adapt to continue to meet the needs of its local community, and creatively grapple with all the joys and challenges that the process brings with it.

‘The parish at Ivanhoe was built and expanded through the labour and vision of the early priests and parishioners of this area,’ reflected Sue Moorhen, Chair of the Parish Pastoral Council (PPC), who offered a brief history of the parish. ‘The Ivanhoe Parish first became independent as the Parish of the Immaculate Conception under Fr Bernard Geoghegan in 1940,’ Sue explained.

The parish then expanded to the east and west, buying land and building a school and church infrastructure, before establishing two other parishes, Mother of God Church in 1958 and St Bernadette’s Church in 1961. The parish worked hard to meet the needs of the postwar population of the time, ‘with strong Catholicism, a desire for local community and a need for schooling’.

Sue also acknowledged the contributions of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Apparition, ‘who served in the parish schools for 26 years, as part of the rich life of the three parishes’.

By 1997, the maturing demographics of the area and a decline in Mass attendance led the parish to begin discussions about how the three churches might come together while remaining sensitive to the needs of each community.

Established under Fr John Rogan in 1999, the Ivanhoe cluster (as it came to be known) was one of the first to be formed in the Archdiocese. Sadly, Fr Rogan died 17 months later, and the work was then taken up by Ivanhoe’s longest serving parish priest, Fr John Cunningham. A review of the needs of the parish was implemented and the group embarked on a period of feedback and consultation with the community, which Sue described as ‘exemplary of the strong role of the leadership teams throughout the cluster and the parish’s history’.

Now, almost two decades later, the new parish centre stands as a tribute to all those ‘who contributed to it from the three former parishes—St Bernadette’s, Mother of God, Mary Immaculate—and of course the many parishioners who are no longer with us,’ said Pat Kelly, PPC member and manager of the redevelopment project.

The driving force was always a desire to keep the parish viable and vibrant, Sue reflected, ‘and with enough resources to be able to meet our [parish] vision of inclusiveness, mission, service and hospitality’.

In thanking the community and the project’s various stakeholders, Fr Edebohls said the parish now had ‘a parish centre that is something to be proud of’ but said it was just the beginning of a new future for the parish.

‘In the end, it is but bricks and mortar,’ he reflected.

Now the real work must begin and we, as a parish community, must take responsibility for how we use this place as a resource for the building up of the kingdom of God within this community of Ivanhoe.

Archbishop Comensoli described the new parish centre as ‘seriously impressive’.

‘And not just ... what’s been achieved by the architects and others, but the sense in which all facets of the life of the parish have been integrated in different ways,’ he said, referring to how the refurbished church lay at the heart of the new parish centre, which leads naturally into the new office space, gathering space, the presbytery and the Mother of God chapel, which is accessible off the main street.

‘Architects can do fancy things—and well done to them—but more importantly it’s a sign of the life of the parish, such that the various dimensions have been taken into consideration,’ the Archbishop reflected.

‘You are something of a model and a witness to what is possible and for that I say thank you.’