On Sunday 13 November, at a special Mass commemorating 100 years of faithful witness at Sacred Heart Gembrook (Belgrave Parish), Archbishop Peter A Comensoli preached the following homily to a congregation that overflowed both the church and the parish hall.
The Anglicans got here first. Well, at least a combined Anglican–Presbyterian Church was built in Gembrook, back in 1878, well before our little Sacred Heart Church was built one hundred years ago. Perhaps we should not be surprised, as Gembrook was only settled in 1873, by the original farmers and timber-cutters, and those early families would likely have been free settlers, unlike the emancipated convict families, who were generally of Irish and Catholic stock. Yet I would be very confident to say that Catholic families have probably been present in and around this southern side of the Dandenongs from the beginning.
Of course, it was the Bunurong and Wurrundjeri peoples who were the first true settlers of this place—its ancient custodians. Their heritage, especially their spiritual heritage, has permeated this land for unknown generations, and brought the presence of the Creator God into it. So, this place on which we are located might rightly be honoured as sacred for possibly thousands of years. But it was from early colonial times that the proper name of this Creator God was announced for the first time, and the Christian faith became a feature of this part of the world.
Around the second or third time I celebrated Mass here, one of you—sorry, I can’t remember who—gave me a framed photo of Sacred Heart Church. It states at the bottom of the photo that it was consecrated by Archbishop Mannix on 9 July 1922. Of course, that proved to be a bit premature, as the lousy winter weather didn’t allow Mannix to make the trip through the ranges in July, nor again in October. This is captured rather well in the photo, with Sacred Heart covered in snow.
While the church was built and ready (and already in use) earlier in the year, it was not until the very last day of the year that Mannix finally made it here. Strikingly, the photo reveals that none of the trees currently surrounding the Church were there a hundred years ago, and the later additions to the back are, obviously, missing. Yet, that black and white photo is an original marker of all that has taken place here. Sacred Heart Church—but more particularly the families who built it and who have worshipped here ever since—have brought Christ into the life of Gembrook for a hundred years.
In this church, some of you have married, and many children have been baptised. From here, family and friends have been buried. This has been a house of prayer, and a temple for worship to the God who has been perpetually present in the tabernacle. The inside has changed with the times, as the people who have come here have changed. Yet, it has stood firm through snow and cold, and heat and fire—a symbol of constancy in faith, hope and love for all who have passed by, and for the many who have paused to enter.
At the end of the quite challenging words and images from Jesus in today’s gospel, there emerges his final sentence, spoken to his disciples: ‘Your endurance will win you your lives.’ In faith, and with Christ, this place dedicated to God has indeed endured, and you, Christ’s disciples today, have flourished. For most Catholics in the Archdiocese of Melbourne, Sacred Heart Church in Gembrook—humble in design and modest in presence—would not be known. Yet it has been a home for Christian life in these parts for longer than most other churches in our Archdiocese. It has the marks of enduring life. And this is worth celebrating. Happy centenary!
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli03 February 2023
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli31 January 2023