The parish of St Mark’s, Fawkner, in Melbourne’s north is home to a thriving community of parishioners who come from many walks of life and nearby suburbs.
Initially built in 1934 and known for many years as a ‘working-class’ church that served a settlement of soldiers returning from war, St Mark’s is now home to people of Italian, Irish, Lebanese, Indian, Sri Lankan and Filipino backgrounds. And the parishioners are not just from the local area; they travel from Greenvale, Gladstone Park, Craigieburn, Wallan and Roxburgh Park.
It is this diversity and variety that brings much life to the parish community and to those whom they serve. Parish priest, Fr Colin Xavier SDB, says St Mark’s is a ‘faith-filled, thriving community where many hands make light work’.
The parish’s outreach mission, Hope Café, is testament to this. The Café had already been established when Fr Xavier arrived at the parish 10 years ago, and continues today. The café is open each Thursday and attracts parishioner volunteers who seek to serve locally disadvantaged and lonely people with food and company.
‘We’ve been absolutely blessed with volunteers,’ says Fr Colin, ‘who come from a variety of age groups and backgrounds. From retirees to those who lost work during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.’
Despite the challenges of the past 12 months, Hope Café remained open and has been able to provide its vital service throughout COVID, in a safe way.
‘People would come here with a big box or hamper with bread, veggies, eggs, fruits, and canned food,’ explains Fr Colin.
‘Up to 40 people would come pick up their hampers and go,’ he says, also mentioning that many of the donations came from a mixture of generous parishioners, and organisations such as Second Bite and Oz Harvest.’
Parish secretary Melina Odicho is often described as Fr Colin’s ‘right-hand person’ and ‘all-rounder’. She says ‘the nature of the kindness seems to make St Mark’s the community that it is’.
‘Whenever we’ve needed tea and cordial for the café, we’ve seen it at the door the next day,’ she says. 'They just see it all happening and want to get involved.’
Despite the challenges of the past year due to the impact of COVID, the parish found different ways of keeping parishioners engaged. A box for prayer petitions was set up, along with prayer cards that could be taken by parishioners, and people often came to pray at the grotto.
And despite ill health over the past year, Fr Colin offered online Mass, which attracted people from further afield again—from Canada, America, England and India.
‘People from all over the world … of course they’d watch later on, depending on their time zone,’ he says.
Fr Colin says he will continue to offer spiritual solace and community support to his parishioners, acknowledging the constant need for ‘helping hands to make light work’.
‘We’re taking baby steps,’ adds Melina, ‘but we are trying to get there slowly.’
St Mark’s Catholic Church is located at 9 Lee Street, Fawkner.