Melbourne News

Writing a church history

Kairos: Volume 21, Issue 0121-1-writing-pg15

In 1958 the small congregation of Catholics of Torquay decided to build a church. Till that time priests from St Mary’s in Geelong and later from St Bernard’s in Belmont had celebrated Mass irregularly in the Torquay Improvement Association Hall.

One factor in the need for a church was the annual influx of summer visitors. When the decision to build was taken there were only 28 permanent Catholic families living in the township and on rural properties in the district. This small group decided to buy the land on Geelong Road, believing it would be sufficient for the new church and eventually a school. The subsequent growth of Torquay meant an additional five acres of land was bought in the 1980s for St Therese School.

A member of the congregation drew up the plans for the church and oversaw the construction. The building committee provided much of the labour. The whole town took an interest in the new building and even those of other faiths contributed labour and special skills. At the time of the opening in 1960 Bishop Fox congratulated them on their achievements. St Therese Church in Torquay will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a revitalisation of the original church to increase its seating capacity and enhance its facilities.

In line with these celebrations, Reflections: A History of St Therese Church Torquay 1960-2010 was launched by Fr Michael Fitzpatrick, former parish priest of St Bernard’s Belmont on 20 December 2009 at St Therese Primary School.

The editors of the book, Carmel Dunstone and Catharina Koopman, worked for 12 months on it. Carmel came to Torquay in 1985 but Catharina spent her childhood in Torquay, her parents arriving from Holland in the 1950s. They made use of archival material from St Bernard’s Parish and Nazareth Grovedale, Geelong Heritage Centre and The Advocate Index. There was some previously documented information, which had been collected over the years for special events and anniversaries.

They interviewed members of the congregation who were involved in the original building. These included Patricia Briody, Sheila Nairn, Anne Koopman, Jacqueline Baker and the late Dick Baker. Many holidaymakers who remembered the days of ‘Mass in the Hall’ shared their memories of helping prepare for Mass; sweeping up the lolly papers left from the movie show the night before and arranging the heavy seats.

The editors planned the book by identifying themes and putting them into an appropriate timeline. They enlisted the help of members of the church community who had been involved in liturgy, music, ministry of the sick, the Fiji partnership, the Passionist Family group and Catholic education. The students of St Therese Primary School in Torquay interviewed the seniors of our community on their lives, especially their school days, and wrote up the results. This was a great basis for the students to provide the chapter on the school.

The difficulties encountered were mainly associated with raising finance for the printing, the major expense, and the marketing of the book. However sales are going well and they hope to cover their expenses in the near future.

This type of project not only records the current mores of a community, but it can actually bring the community together. Many of the original or early parishioners met up with people they had not seen for years, and a real bond was felt. The project also highlighted to the editors the urgent need for archival storage and maintenance for future historians.

Copies of Reflections are available from Torquay Books in Torquay, and Wing and a Prayer Bookshop in Geelong.

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