CENTENARY MASS OF
SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST PARISH, FERNTREE GULLY,
CELEBRATED BY ARCHBISHOP DENIS HART
ON SUNDAY, 13 NOVEMBER 2011 AT 2.30 P.M.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
With great hope and congratulations I welcome you to this Centenary Mass of Saint John the Baptist Parish.
The proud history of the last hundred years and the carrying of the Catholic faith in the Dandenongs, which has been undertaken in such a dynamic manner by the parishioners of Saint John the Baptist is recognised with esteem as we gather together all our prayers of thanksgiving with our parish priest, Father Alan Fox, and so many friends on this day of God’s grace and rejoicing.
Brothers and sisters, let us acknowledge our sins and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We are here today to thank God for the blessings of one hundred years of faith and Catholic life in Ferntree Gully Parish, which originally extended from Wantirna to Gembrook.
The work of the pioneer priests who often journeyed on horseback and the deep faith planted here is a motive for tremendous thanksgiving as we review the last one hundred years.
God’s beauty and constant giving is timeless and lasts from age to age. We thank him today for his providence of Mass, Sacraments, pastoral care, education and outreach to the aged, to the poor and to those in need throughout this parish.
I rejoiced in reading your parish history ‘Witness to the Light’ and I do commend it to you. The words of Monsignor John Hartigan (John O’Brien) typify the scene on countless Sundays: “When the holy morning strung its beads upon the grass, you would see us driving – old and young – the tall, white graceful trees among, on every road to Mass.” Many of the now well-established parts of the parish were accessible only on horseback.
From the first entry in the Baptismal Register on 30th April 1911 we move through the tenure of Father Tim O’Sullivan, Father John O’Brien, Father Tom Little (uncle of Archbishop Little), Father Tim McCarthy, who later was a military chaplain, Father Flynn and Father Harman, with many others acting as Assistant.
The stories of Wantirna, Belgrave, Emerald, Cockatoo, South Belgrave, Mount Dandenong, Olinda, Gembrook, The Patch, One Tree Hill and Ferny Creek are all joined together here at Saint John’s, where since 1890 there had been a small wooden church on the Burwood Highway, where the Repco Auto shop now stands, with later the move to the centre of Belgrave with a red brick church in 1926.
What touched me as I read the parish history was the contribution to the community made by Catholics – 15% in 1891, 13% in 1947. After the Second World War “Sunday Mass services, the focal point of Catholic worship were available at Mass Centres across the Dandenongs, an amazing feat of logistics. Similarly, the challenge of providing Catholic education was taken up. The famous artist, Sir Arthur Streeton, was converted to Catholicism shortly before his death in 1943. After the Second World War this church was one of the first in the Archdiocese to receive the International Pilgrim Statue of Our Lady of Fatima.
The legendary service of Father Timothy Flynn in the 40s and 50s and his great love of children accompanied by lemonade and ice-cream brought the Mass to practically every area of the Dandenongs. Father Flynn brought to the parish on Sunday priests from many religious orders so that the people could have Mass.
Father Frank Harman will be remembered for his constant efforts driving the school bus from all around the Dandenongs to provide a Catholic education for the children. He always described the years in Ferntree Gully as the happiest of his life. He remembered “organising cars, Mass kits, drivers, priests and Sunday notices was like General Montgomery planning a c