St Martin de Porres Parish Avondale Heights was filled with joyful and proud parishioners on Sunday 5 November as the parish marked its 60th anniversary. Archbishop Peter A Comensoli joined parish priest Fr Nhan Le and other local clergy to mark the occasion, with Fr Nhan saying he felt ‘humbled but extremely grateful’ to be part of a parish community built by generations of faith-filled men and women, many of whom had been in the parish since its inception in the early 1960s.
Prior to the establishment of St Martin’s, locals of Avondale Heights (affectionately known as ‘Avondaly’ by the local Italian community) would travel by foot and later by bus to St Mary’s in Ascot Vale or St Margaret’s in Maribyrnong via a one-lane bridge for Sunday Mass. One parishioner recalled how in the wet months, locals would hang up their boots outside during Mass so that they would be dry enough for the walk back. The area remained largely farmland until the development of housing estates in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
In 1961, five acres of land were purchased in Avondale Heights for the building of a church and a small hall. Fr Joseph O’Keefe was appointed the first parish priest, and St Martin de Porres Catholic Parish was officially established in January 1963. Fr O’Keefe later approached the Sisters of the Resurrection in Essendon, who had been known for their faith formation of young people, to assist in opening a parish school. In 1965, the school opened, consisting of a single class taught by Sister Anastasia. What started as one small classroom, a storeroom and a small canteen, though, steadily grew to house hundreds of students from the increasing number of families who later moved into the area.
The parish has never really ceased its program of building and development over the last 60 years, with each of its six parish priests undertaking significant additions or refurbishments to suit the needs of the local community. In the 1970s, more land was purchased to enable the parish school to add more classrooms, and Fr Ronald Merrick oversaw the extension of the church building to accommodate the growing community. By the early 1980s, a new church building was required, and it was Fr William McCarthy, the third parish priest of St Martin’s, who, with the assistance of pioneering parish families, commenced the construction of the current church building. As one parishioner put it, his vision for the building was to ‘build a church in a classic design that would last forever’, as evidenced by the church’s cathedral-like ceiling, stained glass windows and clear glass windows that would ‘bring in the beauty of the world’.
Subsequent parish priests, including Fr Brendan Hayes and Fr Tony Kerin, continued to work with the community to improve the church and school facilities, including the creation of a parish pastoral centre for use by the various parish groups.
St Martin’s started as, and remains, a culturally diverse parish, reflective of the many ethnicities that continue to call Melbourne home. This was a point of celebration on the weekend, as parishioners were invited to bring up the flags of their home countries, including Argentina, Canada, Chile, Thailand, El Salvador, Croatia, Germany, India, Italy, Malta, Vietnam, the Philippines and Ukraine, to name just a few.
St Martin’s started as, and remains, a culturally diverse parish, reflective of the many ethnicities that continue to call Melbourne home.
In fact, it is this rich cultural diversity that led former parish priest Fr Tony Kerin to coin the phrase ‘the world’s most liveable parish’ to describe the St Martin’s community.
Archbishop Comensoli congratulated the parish community on their anniversary and for being a place where ‘God’s family’ has firmly been established. ‘Know and treasure that life in God has indeed been preached and practised over these many years,’ he said. Following the Mass the Archbishop blessed a newly built Marian garden and grotto, after which parishioners embarked on a procession around the parish grounds in thanksgiving for the life of their community and its many ministries.
This rich cultural diversity led former parish priest Fr Tony Kerin to coin the phrase ‘the world’s most liveable parish’ to describe the St Martin’s community.
Fr Nhan thanked not only his predecessors but also the lay and religious men and women who contributed to the vibrant life of the parish, including the Sisters of the Resurrection, who spent almost 30 years in the parish school. Later, the Augustinian Sisters joined the St Martin’s community, and they continue to assist the parish and school today.
This generosity of spirit is what continues to make St Martin’s ‘the world’s most liveable parish’, said Fr Nhan. It may be aspirational, he said, ‘but we continue to make it a reality.’
‘And we look forward to the future with enthusiasm!’
Proclaim: Office for Mission Renewal29 November 2023
Melbourne Catholic28 November 2023