A Brief History of Our Lady Help of Christians Church
In January 1911, the Archbishop of Melbourne, Archbishop Carr appointed Fr Joseph King as founder and first parish priest of the new parish of Our Lady Help of Christians East Brunswick.
Fr King celebrated the first Masses in the parish on 22 January 1911, on an altar made up of packing cases, in Excelsior Hall at 767 Nicholson Street.
At a parish meeting 10 days later, on 1 February, a decision was taken to build a church-school on a block of land, bounded by Barkly, Dean and Holden Streets, which Archbishop Carr had given as a gift to the new parish. The Sisters of Mercy were appointed to teach at the school and the church-school building was blessed and opened on 5 November 1911.
On 11 January 1916, Fr King announced a decision to build a permanent church on an abandoned quarry at the corner of Barkly and Nicholson Streets and the laying of the foundation stone took place on 10 December of the same year.
On 19 May 1918, Pentecost Sunday, Archbishop Mannix blessed and opened the still incomplete church. The first Mass was celebrated in the new church on 26 May 1918.
Sadly, on 21 July 1935 Fr King died aged 61 years and was buried, as he had requested, in the grounds of his beloved, but still incomplete church.
The Statue of Our Lady, on top of the church tower in East Brunswick was carved by a Sydney artist from Queensland beech wood, covered with copper and then gold leaf.
The statue was blessed and installed in October 1918 when Mr W. (Tas) Lennox and assistants hoisted it to the top of the tower with a wooden crane. It was the first statue of its kind in honour of Our Lady Help of Christians to be erected in Australia.
During renovations and restoration of the Church between 1992 and 1994 the statue was re-covered in gold leaf. The statue has been a beacon and land mark in Melbourne for nearly a centenary.
Statue of Our Lady Help of Christians inside the Church
In November 1911, the statue of Our Lady Help of Christians, which is currently in the church at East Brunswick, was given to the first parish priest, Fr Joseph King, by his past students at St Patrick’s College, East Melbourne.
Name of the Church
In 1852 Mary Help of Christians was officially approved by Rome as the patron of Australia. However, as early as 1844 devotion to Our Lady under that title was popular and the feast day of 24 May was widely celebrated.
When the new parish at East Brunswick was dedicated to Our Lady Help of Christians in 1911, Fr King encouraged parishioners to continue this devotion. Monthly prayers were held in the early years and newborn babies were given medals of Our Lady. Up until recent times a novena was held each year in the nine days prior to 24 May.
The Painting in the Sanctuary
In October 1921, the painting of Our Lady Help of Christians was presented as a gift to the parish by Mrs Maria Ryan in memory of her son, James Patrick, who died in 1919.
The painting is the work of Melbourne artist, Mr John Hennessy of Carlton. It is a copy of the original painted by Tommaso Lorrenzone in the Cathedral in Turin. For some years, local folklore had it that John Hennessy made a trip to Turin to view the original painting, but in fact this is not true and he worked in Melbourne from reproductions of the famous work.
John Hennessy added some Australian ‘colour’ to his painting by including the Southern Cross and a representation of the church at East Brunswick. The painting was unveiled and blessed during High Mass on 13 November 1921. As part of the church renovation and restoration in 1993, the painting was temporarily removed and restored by Robyn Slogget of the Ian Potter Art Conservation Centre at Melbourne University.
The Angelus Bell at Our Lady Help of Christians was made in Dublin and installed in the church tower in March 1923. The bell was named ‘Mary’ and an inscription on it in Latin translates as –
My voice is sweet sounding for I am named Mary. My voice is the voice of life, I call you to worship. Come!
Money to purchase the bell was raised by parishioners, and Mr Joseph O’Brien who installed it was named as its sponsor.
The Stained Glass Windows
A stained glass window of St Joseph, the first of nineteen stained glass windows made for the parish in the famous Zettler Studios in Munich, was blessed and unveiled by Fr King on 18 March 1923. The remaining windows were installed between 1923 and 1953. Work at Zettlers was halted during World War II and the tragic bombing of Munich. Photos of details of the Nativity and Coronation of Our Lady windows, taken by Pat Scanlon, were used by Australia Post for Christmas stamps in 1995.
During a renovation and restoration program from 1992 to 1994, green leadlight windows in the front façade of the church were replaced with stained glass windows of the Crucifixion which had formerly been in O’Neill College.
The dedication of the completed church took place at a Mass celebrated by Bishop O’Connell on the Feast Day of Our Lady Help of Christians on 24 May 1994.