Church ready for its big day

December 06, 2017

Our Lady Help of Christians Church today.

Our Lady Help of Christians Church shortly after opening in 1917.

A LOT can change in 100 years – but Our Lady Help of Christians Church has stayed pretty much the same.

Reaching its centenary in two Sundays’ time, the Heathcote church has truly cemented itself as a beacon to its community.

And parish volunteers are hard at work preparing to celebrate this massive milestone.

“It’s a very exciting anniversary for the parish, as the church has stood for 100 years and is still in good condition. Plus it will be a spiritual celebration as well,” church member Sue Bier said.

Built in 1917, the church was consecrated and dedicated on December 13 and opened on Sunday, December 16 by Rev John McCarthy, Bishop of Sandhurst. Designed by Melbourne architects Kempson and Conolly, the church was built by J O’Donnell of Ascot Vale.

The glass and lead of the beautiful stained glass windows came from Italy and they were designed by William Weildon, an Englishman from Warwick who came to Australia before World War I.

The church’s applique wall hanging (1977) was designed by internationally acclaimed local artist Leonard French and embroidered by ladies of the parish, and depicts the Sacraments of Initiation, Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist.

The Vatican flag was first blessed and displayed in the church in 1996, with the Australian flag and Aboriginal flag also added.

Throughout the years, Heathcote has added to the church.

Many treasured items including the monstrance and sacred vessels, the processional cross and the Stations of the Cross (dating from 1917) were donated by generous benefactors.

Even the church bell has a special story: probably an old ship’s bell, it bears a coat of arms showing two lions in chains. It is thought to have been erected in the time of the original church (around 1864) and was restored in 1996.

The grotto outside the church, dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes, was designed by Dennis Carroll and built by him with the help of other parishioners. It was blessed and dedicated to all past and present parishioners in March 2004.

The church has seen its fair share of special ceremonies throughout the years, with the first marriage in January 1918 and the first baptism in February 1918.

The church’s first friar – Fr Denis O’Dee – came to Heathcote in 1897 where he was parish priest for 40 years until 1936. He is buried in the church near the altar.

Fr Frank Marriott came in 1974, with the church extensively renovated in 1977.

Fr Marriott was succeeded by many other parish priests, with Rev Peter Ferwerda currently leading the church.

Our Lady Help of Christians Church will be holding a centenary celebration on Sunday, December 17.

The celebrations will begin with mass, with Bishop Leslie Tomlinson the main celebrant and children from Holy Rosary Primary School performing in a choir.

Mass will be followed by lunch in Holy Rosary’s O’Dee Centre, where memorabilia will be on display.

All are welcome. Please RSVP for catering purposes to [email protected] or Sue Bier on 5433 2176 or Rita Traynor on 5433 2177.

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