On the feast of St John Paul II, a group of pilgrims representing all vocations set out on a Catholic Historical Melbourne Marian Pilgrimage. Students from all of the universities across Melbourne, seminarians from Corpus Christi seminary, Dominican friars, young adults and families from as far as Ballarat joined the Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia to honour Mary in the month of the rosary. The joy of the group was contagious as it wound its way along the main streets. It was an experience of the evidential power of grace shining through the group in their smiles, prayer and holy conversation.

For those of you who could not join us in person, we offer this journey through some of the beautiful Catholic Historical Melbourne Marian destinations. To go on pilgrimage is to pray with our feet. As we follow the pathways that were first marked out by pioneers of the faith in the Archdiocese of Melbourne, may our faith be emboldened, our hearts strengthened and our love for Christ and His Blessed Mother renewed.

We begin with a brief historical sketch of the early colony and church in Melbourne.

Bishop James Alipius Goold (1812-1886)

The colony of Melbourne was only a series of tents along the Yarra River when James Alipius Goold was named the first Catholic bishop of Melbourne in 1848.

'Bishop Goold arrived in his new town to find only two Catholic church buildings, four priests in the diocese, no religious sisters or brothers, and a population around 11,000.' Walter Lee

In the decade that followed, (1850-1860), more than 500,000 people moved to Melbourne. The story of the growth of the Catholic Church in Melbourne is closely tied to the story of thousands of immigrants who came to Australia in the mid-nineteenth century. The growth of the Catholic Church parallels the exponential growth of Melbourne during the boom of the gold rush and wool industry. Both brought enormous wealth to the city, often at the expense of migrant workers who kindled their Catholic faith at the altars we visited on our pilgrimage.

Amidst sectarian persecution, an assassination attempt on his life and the burdens of supporting unprecedented growth in the diocese, Bishop Goold served the Diocese of Melbourne for nearly 40 years, travelling tirelessly to recruit priests, visit parishes, encourage immigrants and raise funds for the newly formed diocese. He was influential in the founding and completion of the churches we visited.

St Mary, Star of the Sea

The foundation stone for this magnificent church was laid in 1854 by Bishop Goold. Named in honour of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, it was completed in 1892 and was at that time the largest Catholic Church in Melbourne and perhaps in all of Australia.

An 1892 article in the Advocate attested to the many obstacles the faithful faced in bringing the building to completion, stating that, ‘the congregation has literally emerged from the worst ecclesiastical building in the colony to enter one of the finest.’ The faithful parishioners of St. Mary’s supported the ambitious project through devastating poverty and moments of crippling depression.

Home to Irish, Chinese, Italian, Maltese, Lithuanian, and Vietnamese immigrant families, St. Mary’s is a testament to the faith and perseverance of the pioneer Catholics of Melbourne. The stencils in this magnificent gothic church were inspired by the work of Eugene Viollet-de-duc, who built the recently destroyed spire that adorned the transept at Notre Dame de Paris.

In the 1850s, Viollet-de-duc restored Notre Dame, after the devastation of the French Revolution, including the casting of new bells that had been melted down for canons during the revolution.

St Patrick’s Cathedral

Five years after the completion of St. Mary, Star of the Sea Church, St. Patrick’s Cathedral was blessed and dedicated for Divine worship in 1897. With customary tenacity and vision, Bishop Goold had negotiated the land for the cathedral in 1848 and laid the cornerstone in 1858. Labour shortages due to the gold rush and financial constraints delayed the completion of the Cathedral for nearly 40 years.

Five former bishops of Melbourne, including Bishop Goold, are buried in the Cathedral. The Ladye Chapel (1879) features the titles of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, Queen of Heaven (Regina Caeli) and Mother of Our Saviour (Mater Salvatoris).

The statues of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Catherine of Siena were added in 2000

St Mary MacKillop’s Birthplace

An unassuming marker on Brunswick Street marks the birthplace of St. Mary MacKillop, born 15 January 1842, when the colony of Melbourne was less than seven years old. The Marino Cottage is no longer. St. Mary of the Cross would spend a few years here before the circumstances of her family would lead them to a life of constant itinerancy, but this marker reminds us of the difference one soul makes when their life is united to the will of God.

ACU Chapel

This Chapel, dedicated by Archbishop Dennis Hart in 2012 and named for Australia’s first saint, contains the relics of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, St. Francis Xavier and St. John Henry Newman in the altar.

St Francis Church

The oldest Catholic church in Victoria, St. Francis Church’s history is rich and glorious. A year after its founding, St. Mary MacKillop was baptised here in 1842 and received all of the sacraments in this church. St. Francis was the site of the first cathedral and the first Catholic seminary in Victoria (1850-55).

In the 1930s, St. Francis became a centre for Eucharistic devotion. Soon after, many miracles became associated with the parish, including the first documented miracle in Australia to be accepted by the Catholic Church, a miracle that led to the canonisation of St. Peter Julian Eymard (1811-1868), founder of the Blessed Sacrament Congregation.

The Ladye Chapel was blessed on 31 May 1858. The Statue of Our Lady, Help of Christians, was dedicated in 1907, a gift of John Dynon. Our Lady of Perpetual Succour was given as a gift of a Redemptorist Monastery in Limerick in 1911.

Thank you for joining us on this pilgrimage in honour of Our Lady. May the Mother of God watch over you and intercede on our behalf before God’s heavenly throne.