With over 80 years at Immaculate Conception Parish in Hawthorn, Margaret de Vries has celebrated many of her life’s various seasons and milestones at the parish, the most recent of which is returning to celebrate Mass after a long hiatus under lockdown.
And the church is a home she’s delighted to return to.
‘I owe my love and loyalty of the Immaculate Conception parish to my involvement with so many different things over the years,’ says Margaret.
As a parishioner, she has worn many hats including Special Minister, Reader, membership of the Altar Society and leader of the boys’ Manresa scout group.
‘These all became part of my life in our wonderful Parish of the Immaculate Conception.’
Margaret grew up in the parish and has memories of some well-known figures in Archdiocesan history. She recalls her sacramental preparation. ‘My most vivid memory was Archbishop Mannix sitting up on the high altar and talking to us for about twenty minutes. So much for the Sacramental side of things for a 10-year-old!’
From 1939 to 1948, Margaret attended St Joseph’s School in Hawthorn. ‘The Brigidine nuns there trained me and many others for our First Communion and several years later instructed us prior to our Confirmation,’ Margaret says.
‘Back then, the school existed alongside St Joseph’s Church, our other little church which is very much a part of our parish, catering for those living in the western part of Hawthorn.’
Margaret is passionate about the history of the church and notes the various changes she has seen within the church walls with fascination.
‘Our church has undergone many structural changes during my 80 plus years in the parish,’ she says.
‘The area below the organ loft was originally bricked in and was used as a Sodality Room, also called the Shrine. It was a preparation area for children prior to first Communions or Confirmation. It was also used as a meeting room for the Children of Mary, which I was involved in.’
The area was opened up to become the Lady Chapel and has been used for Daily Mass and prayer groups right up until the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It is this space, Margaret adds, that contains her favourite depiction of Our Lady – Our Lady of the Way, or Santa Maria Della Strada.
‘As little children, I remember Mother Regis telling us the story of the origin and inspiration of this picture and it has made a lasting impression on me over the many years since,’ Margaret says.
The story she refers to is of a shrine in 5th century Rome established by the Astalli Family and was originally known as the Madonna Degli Astalli, as it was located at the crossroads of a ceremonial route taken by the popes.
Margaret takes a moment to reflect on the stained-glass windows she’s seen each week for the last eighty years. ‘I love the smaller ones surrounding the nave,’ she says. ‘They depict the life of Mary from the Annunciation to the death and burial of her Son.’
The windows remind her of the churches she saw on her first visit to Europe, she notes as the windows splash pink, purple and orange light against the church wall.
Regarding the lockdown, she’s been maintaining a policy of quiet perseverance. ‘I’m trying to say the least’, Margaret says with a chuckle, adding with a joyful twinkle in her eye that she is ‘all booked in for Mass this Sunday.’
Melbourne Catholic14 September 2021
Fiona Basile14 September 2021