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Much has changed in Springvale since the Franciscans took over the parish of St Joseph in 1976.
From its original wave of Italian, Maltese and Irish peoples, the fall of Saigon in 1975 saw a subsequent influx of Vietnamese people settling in the parish, since augmented by a large number of Indians, Sri Lankans and Filipinos, making up what parish priest Fr Benedict La Volpe OFM Conv. describes as ‘a huge melting pot of cultures, languages and backgrounds.’
A genial Franciscan, with a ready smile and a welcoming embrace, Fr Benedict came to St Joseph’s as parish priest in 2009. The previous parish priest, apart from some temporary administrators for a few years, had been now Bishop Vincent Long, who shared the same vision for what is now the totally refurbished church.
‘Fr Long and I had slightly different ideas about what we wanted for the renovated church,’ says Fr Benedict, ‘but what we both wanted was a sacred, holy space that befitted the celebration of the Eucharist and the sacraments of the Church.
‘It’s been a long time coming,’ mused Father La Volpe. ‘This church was really built as a hall in 1962, so the original idea of it as a temporary structure persisted to this very day.’
Final preparations at St Jospeph's; Fr La Volpe with St Anthony relic; the new altar
A heritage overlay slapped on the building by Council didn’t help forward planning either, frustrating some of the plans for, perhaps, a totally new building, but Fr Benedict now swells with pride as he contemplates the new church’s splendid interior, blessed by Melbourne’s Archbishop Denis Hart on Saturday 10 June.
‘Not everyone saw the council heritage listing as a positive,’ he says, ‘but I think we’ve created a wonderful new structure - broad, capacious, light filled - with several sacred spaces for our statues, a very dramatic crucifix, our very expressive sets of stained glass windows, and, of course, our altar.’
The then Fr Vincent Long and present parish priest Fr Benedict had identical vision for the sanctuary.
Archbishop Denis Hart, 10 June 2017, at the blessing Mass for the new church and altar, St Joseph's Springvale. Photos: Mr Tran Duc Chinh
‘It is, I think,’ beamed Fr La Volpe, ‘the masterpiece I hoped it would be. I’m so grateful to Chris Young, our building advisor from the Archdiocese, to FPV our architects and to Bowden Constructions, our builders … they’ve all brought this vision into being.’
Fr Benedict is also delighted at the reaction of his parishioners. ‘After spending a long year celebrating liturgy in the parish hall, they were so excited to see the new interior. We actually celebrated our first Mass on Pentecost Sunday, since it celebrates the birth of the Church and it seemed right. Archbishop Hart was here for the solemn blessing the Saturday after. But they all love the brightness, the devotional statues, the altar, the entire sanctuary really, especially the tabernacle. I won’t say where we got that tabernacle from but it had rusted away in a back room here for 40 years before I stumbled across it. I had it totally restored, and I think it’s magnificent, a worth centrepiece for an altar that is fitting for Holy Mass.’
Sts Anthony of Padua, Clare, Francis of Assisi, Mary of the Cross MacKillop, John the Baptist and Maximilian Kolbe
The church of St Joseph, with its dominant statue of St Joseph with the Christ Child, certainly has proven a popular gathering place for the Catholic faithful of Springvale and beyond. There are six Masses every weekend, attracting not far short of 3000 Mass-goers, including some 700 who regularly attend the Sunday 3pm Mass in Vietnamese.
‘And despite the crowds you see here today,’ enthused Fr La Volpe (we were visiting on a Tuesday when the relics of St Anthony of Padua were present for veneration), ‘these are the sorts of numbers we get every day here for our weekday Masses.’
Fr Benedict La Volpe OFM Conv; Sr Maria Huyen Nguyen, pastoral associate; Bernadette Scott, parish councillor
The Catholic faith in Saint Joseph's Springvale is, like its priests and its parishioners, thriving, robust, healthy and well.