Media and Communications Office
Situated just off the busy Nepean Highway on Centre Dandenong Road sits Our Lady of the Assumption church—inside on the day of our arrival it is quiet and calm, birds singing happily in the carpark. Cheltenham parish is a vibrant community, deeply connected with its parishioners.
One such parishioner has just made a remarkable and enduring contribution, both to the church and to the parish. She is Suzie Byrne, a talented artist and designer, who has been commissioned by parish priest Fr Peter Matheson to create a set of new Stations of the Cross for the church. Her striking and dramatic artwork has just been installed in the Church, on a side wall overlooking the altar and the assembled congregation.
Cheltenham parish was formally established in 1958. Prior to that Mass was said in surrounding halls in the area. The Brigidine Sisters founded Our Lady of the Assumption School as far back as 1952.
The present church building was opened in 1990, the first two parish churches having been part of the parish primary school. It had an open and contemporary design, but at the time was part sacred space and part hall. In 2010 the school received government funding which enabled them to build a large hall separate from the church, converting Our Lady of the Assumption church into a totally sacred space.
The natural light and space of the church is now the perfect setting for the new Stations of the Cross. Prior to the renovation, there had been space only for an illuminated window panel featuring fifteen crosses—this panel still remains.
Fr Peter Matheson, the parish priest, already knew parishioner/artist Suzie Byrne, as she designed the parish logo of Our Lady of the Assumption, which is set in forged glass in the entry foyer of the renovated church. He approached Suzie after Easter Sunday Mass in 2011, to see if she would be interested in creating a completely new Stations of the Cross for the church—on the condition that they fitted across the two wall panels. Suzie responded with an immediate 'yes'. She had virtually a free rein in design, materials and colours, Fr Peter having given her creative control of the project.
Suzie chose the medium of oil on canvas, and, one by one, delivered her fifteen panels to Fr Peter, beginning with the last (and by far biggest) one, the 15th Station, depicting the triumphant resurrected Christ. The images are certainly compelling, a highly stylised depiction of the central events of Our Lord’s Good Friday passion.
The project was generously funded by the parish community, as well as the late Anna Caligior, Mick Flanagan and Chris Augustine, along with Chris's surviving wife Nell, Majorie Vine-Upcraft and the RCIA candidates of 2012.
The parish has published a beautiful book about the new Stations of the Cross, which can be purchased through the parish office.
There is also an excellently produced DVD, telling the story of the project in words, music and images, and featuring interviews with both Fr Peter and Suzie Byrne.