At the heart of parish life is the celebration of the Eucharist which, as Sacrosanctum Concilium outlines, provides the faithful with a ‘foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims.’ (§8) Offering a sense of the sacred through the liturgy and music is something that St Philip’s Parish Blackburn North has proudly been doing for more than 50 years.

Parish priest Fr Nicholas Dillon describes the community as ‘faithful’ and shares that the parish attracts young families from a diverse range of backgrounds including Australian, Polish, Indian, Italian, Latin American and Chinese. Located in the Eastern region of the Archdiocese of Melbourne, the parish was originally part of St Thomas’, Blackburn, but was established as a parish in its own right in 1966.

‘We still have a number of original parishioners in the parish,’ says Fr Dillon, ‘many of whom came to the parish as young families themselves. We also have a lot of new families here as well, so we’re quite a diverse congregation.'

While 2020 was certainly a challenging year, Fr Dillon shares that during the pandemic the community went from strength to strength, keeping connected in faith through online Masses and adapting to be ‘creative and catering to people’s needs’. This included offering confessions in a COVID-friendly manner, keeping a kneeler behind a screen door at the back of the presbytery.

‘People would also get in touch to get things blessed,’ Fr Dillon adds.

Fr Dillon also says that interestingly, those on the sidelines began ‘coming back’ to their Catholic faith during this challenging period, as the parish sought to keep connected with locals via its online channels.

‘We discovered through our online presence that people were getting in touch out-of-the-blue and reconnecting with the faith. And people who have been away from the church for quite some time got in touch to come and make a confession and get back involved with the church.’

Sacred music is another prominent part of parish life at St Philip’s, and over the years it has proudly fostered the use of chant, traditional hymnody and organ music as part of its liturgical celebrations. ‘We are blessed to have competent and willing musicians in the parish who look after our music on Sundays,’ says Fr Dillon, himself an organist who has played at various prominent cathedrals around the world.

During the long weeks of lockdown in 2020, Fr Dillon broadcast a weekly Sunday Night Organ recital on the parish’s YouTube channel.

St Philip’s is in fact home to a pipe organ designed and built by Alfred Fuller in 1897. The organ was originally located at the Mackenzie Street Uniting Church in Bendigo and after years of disuse found life again after being installed at St Philip’s in 2012. This organ was one of the last ones to come from Fuller's Kew workshop before he changed professions. More than twenty organs designed by Fuller are located around the country, and can be found in other Catholic churches in Melbourne such as St John’s in Heidelberg, St Mark’s in Fawkner, and St Brigid’s in Fitzroy.

St Philip’s has hosted numerous concerts over the years featuring local and international musicians including baritone Sebastian Klein, oboist Stefanie Sassenrath, flutist Peter Sheridan and organists Christopher Trikilis and Joachim Neugart. Of particular note has been a performance of Handel’s Messiah by a visiting ensemble from Cologne, and a concert by choir organist of Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris, Johann Vexo.

The parish is also home to various prayer groups, including a Rosary group which has been in place since the early years of the parish. ‘We have a statue of Our Lady of Fatima that has been on pilgrimage in the parish for 50 years, hosted by a different family each week, with people gathering to pray the Rosary,’ Fr Dillon says, sharing how amazed he is that the statue is still completely intact!

People are eager to participate in the life of the parish, says Fr Dillon, especially now that the church is able to fully reopen. ‘We have a large number of weekday Mass goers of about 50 people at Mass every morning,’ he says. ‘We’re certainly bustling again.’

St Philip’s is one of the few churches in Melbourne that offers a weekly Mass is in the Extraordinary Form (in Latin). ‘Many of our parishioners seek a reverent liturgy,’ Fr Dillon says.

‘I think a lot of people are busy in a very secular world and are seeking out something different. And they find that peace here … a place to come and pray and experience the sacred.’