A bumpy start down south

From the moment they landed in Australia, the Redemptorists had been asked to open a foundation house in Victoria. However, it wasn’t until 1885 – three years after settling in Singleton, NSW – that Fathers Edmund Vaughan, Thomas O’Farrell and John Stokes made it to the southern capital.

It wasn’t that they didn’t want to travel to Victoria but rather it was a lack of money that held them back.

They initially ran a mission at St Mary’s Church in St Kilda that proved to be a great success. They said Mass and confessions, and such was the popularity of the priests’ arrival, the planned two-week mission soon extended to a month. A mission at that time was suitably described as a way of ‘ministering to the people and guiding them towards the practice of a full Christian life’. This included encouraging regular prayer, preaching the gospel, attending Mass and observing the sacraments.

Bendigo was the next city on the priests’ itinerary followed by Ballarat in 1886. Missions in both locations were as successful as the original St Kilda enterprise, with large crowds attending the various ministries.

At the end of the Ballarat mission, the Bishop of Ballarat James Moore, who was born in Ireland and reportedly was ‘quick-tempered, vigilant and ruthless’, announced that the Redemptorists could establish a foundation in the city. A property titled Ebor, around five kilometres from the city post office was suggested but the priests were soon to be disappointed by both the location and the state of the premises.

Ebor was in fact further from Ballarat than the five kilometres stated by Bishop Moore and on arrival there was no bedding or food. The priests and brothers had to survive two consecutive public holidays before they could buy food and a few necessities.

They were forced to sleep on the floor and had little to eat accept half a dozen pigs’ trotters. After the shops opened the priests and brothers managed to ‘put something’ in the larder but it was clear to all concerned that Ebor was too isolated.

After enduring a cold winter and after a few tense meetings between Bishop Moore and Fathers Vaughan and O’Farrell, a more suitable location for the foundation house was agreed to. However, the bishop only approved a new place after the Redemptorists threatened to abandon the foundation altogether.

The new location for the 11 priests and brothers would be Wendouree in Ballarat, situated around 5km from the city centre.

Work on the new monastery began in early 1891 and within a few months the community of priests moved from Ebor to Wendouree. Dedicated to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the completed monastery was blessed and officially opened in September 1893.

Ballarat was the start of a long and happy association for the Redemptorists in Victoria which was also the birthplace in 1946 of The League of St Gerard bulletin. The newsletter transitioned to a magazine in January 1949 and continues to this day.

Footnote: Information gleaned from Faith of our Fathers by S J Boland CSsR.

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