This year is a big year for the partnership parishes of Northcote and Thornbury, in Melbourne’s inner north, as they mark 100 years since the foundation of St Mary’s Parish Thornbury. The partner parishes of St Mary’s Thornbury, Holy Spirit Thornbury East (which will also celebrate its 70th anniversary this month), St Joseph’s Northcote and St Anthony’s Alphington are marking the year with a range of events and celebrations that aim to bring everyone together in a spirit of joy and thanksgiving.

To help coordinate the activities throughout 2023, a centenary committee was established, and the themes for the anniversary were chosen: prayer, worship, education and service. Parish priest Fr Shabin Kaniampuram IV Dei says that in deciding what to do for the year, the committee considered the impact of COVID-19 and the subsequent restrictions, and their flow-on effect on Mass attendance and the morale of parishioners.

‘We thought, why don’t we take this opportunity of the centenary as a coming together of people from all walks of life—children, young families, the elderly and especially those senior parishioners who have been very much part of our journey over 100 years, and who have supported the parish in many ways with their time and talents.’ So the committee decided to host a series of ‘joyful celebrations of coming together, throughout the year, involving as many parishioners as possible’.

‘We are using the 100-year anniversary as an opportunity to bring people together, and to reach out and engage with the broader community,’ says Fr Shabin.

We are a celebrating parish, so whenever the opportunity arises, we like to celebrate our faith, and we like to come together—coming together is very, very important.

Of course, ‘coming together’ has been an important focus for these partnership parishes not just in this anniversary year but over the past five years. In 2018, Fr Shabin started as parish priest at St Mary’s Thornbury, which partnered with St Joseph’s Northcote the following year. Then, in January last year, the partnership parishes of Northcote and Thornbury also welcomed Holy Spirit Thornbury East and St Anthony’s Alphington.

So far, there have been a range of activities held to mark St Mary’s centenary year, with a number already having taken place in February. Historian Dr Joan Barclay Lloyd, who is a parishioner (living locally for six months of the year and in Rome for the other six months), presented on the history of Lourdes in France, where Our Lady appeared before a young girl, Bernadette Soubirous, in the mid 1800s. Dr Barclay Lloyd delved into Marian theology and how the parishioners could ‘connect that to their present life, leading to the future’.

‘Mary is very much part of our Catholic journey, so that occasion was about coming together as a parish to reflect on the past, present and future in light of Mary as the patron and centre of our parish life,’ explains Fr Shabin.

‘We came together to celebrate our history, to celebrate our present moment, and to look forward to the future, a future filled with hope. It was key to help make the parishioners feel proud of their history and make people aware of the importance of Marian theology, the importance of praying to Our Lady, and of making a pilgrimage to Lourdes, all for spiritual upliftment.’

As part of the celebrations, the parish has hosted a praise and worship music night led by Jesus Youth Melbourne musical band. Over an hour and a half, a large number of children and families from the local school communities were engaged and uplifted as they focussed on the evening’s theme, ‘Magnificat’, inspired by Mary’s ‘yes’ to God. ‘As a parish, we are giving praise and thanks to God for everything we have received over the 100 years,’ says Fr Shabin.

Popular Catholic musician Genevieve Bryant also led a whole-of-school assembly at St Mary’s Primary School, teaching the children some songs, and sharing her love and enthusiasm for the faith through her music.

The Partnership Catholic Parishes of Northcote and Thornbury are very multicultural, consisting of many parishioners who’ve come from overseas, including Italy, Lebanon, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and India, as well as those born in Australia. Acknowledging the very large Italian Catholic community, one of the weekday Italian Masses was used as an opportunity to celebrate and thank long-time Italian parishioners. Former parish priest Fr Gerry Medici celebrated the Mass and (as the parish’s longest-serving priest) was also honoured for his many years of service. This was followed by a special morning tea and lunch for 70 parishioners at the local Italian club in Thornbury.

One of the highlights of the anniversary year so far was undoubtedly the Centenary Mass held at St Mary’s in Thornbury in February and led by Auxiliary Bishop Terry Curtin. The Mass was attended by families and children from local school communities, parishioners of all ages, the leadership team, volunteers, visitors and friends from different parishes throughout Melbourne, with 12 priests concelebrating alongside the Bishop.

‘In planning the Centenary Mass, we thought, let’s take this opportunity to celebrate and bring as many volunteers together as possible, to help organise, and be part of the Mass—in a small or large way,’ says Fr Shabin.

‘A number of committees were set up, including a fundraising committee, a hospitality committee, a liturgy group, and for the first time, the parish partnership youth group was involved by way of ushering and welcoming people to the Mass. A number of students from St Mary’s Primary School were altar servers.’

The Mass commenced as Bishop Curtain raised the centenary flags, which had been brought to the flagpole by the St Mary’s school captains. As a local Maltese band played, the Bishop, concelebrating priests, school captains and partnership leadership team processed into the church.

‘It was a beautiful Mass,’ says Fr Shabin, and it was followed by food and fellowship in St Mary’s school hall. Two long-serving members of the parish team—Mirella Pace (Pastoral Associate) and Maria Zaccardi (Italian Coordinator)—were also honoured, with Fr Shabin bestowing on them shawls made in his home country of India.

During the Centenary Mass, St Mary’s oldest parishioner, Giuditta Marson, 102, carried up the gifts of the offertory procession. She was accompanied by local federal member of parliament and Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care Ms Ged Kearney. ‘Giuditta has so much energy and enthusiasm,’ says Fr Shabin. ‘She comes across more like a 70- or 80-year-old than 102!’

The centenary celebrations will officially end next year with a Mass at St Mary’s Thornbury, celebrated by Archbishop Peter A Comensoli on the Feast Day of Our Lady of Lourdes, 11 February 2024.

‘It’s really been a joyful time, a coming together of people of all walks of life,’ says Fr Shabin as he looks back at the anniversary celebrations so far and looks forward to those that are still to come.

Our philosophy here is to celebrate every single opportunity and to make that celebration more visible, so that people can see and experience, and be touched by the Gospel and our patron, Mary.

As part of the partnership parishes’ ongoing festivities, Holy Spirit Parish Thornbury East will celebrate its 70th Anniversary Mass on Sunday 28 May 2023, at 10am. Bishop Terry Curtin will again be the celebrant, and the celebrations will continue with a memorabilia display and lunch in the parish hall afterwards. All are welcome.

All photos courtesy of the Partnership Catholic Parishes of Northcote and Thornbury.