|DEMPSEY AND JOAN MCCONVILLE's Personal Reflection|
We first arrived in 1949 and lived in Nicholas Street. The parish was very scattered in those days with lots of empty spaces. There was just a house here and there—and no roads. Mass at that time was celebrated in the original building—set up as a church and a school. We had to stack up the desks on a Saturday and put the seats out for Mass—and after Mass on Sunday morning we had to put the desks out again. It was a physical exercise as well as a religious one but there were plenty of willing hands.There were lots of willing workers. It was the immediate post war period and a lot of building was going on. This was the edge of Melbourne suburbia. Up on the Nicholas Street hill it was practically empty. On the other side of Warrigal Road they had motorbike races. We could hear them from Nicholas Street.
When Father Fitzpatrick, the curate to Father Connellan, was here we had a working bee over several weekends to dig the first drainage in the schoolyard. We were digging trenches in the schoolyard as it is now. We spent a lot of money recently getting the drainage done. This was the first go at it—with voluntary labour—at least for digging the trench. Father Fitzpatrick used to come out and have a bit of a dig too on Saturday afternoon. A redhead, he was prone to sunburn. He used to wear a great big straw hat when he was digging.
We spent a fair bit of time on voluntary work and fundraising. Father Connellan was a little bit concerned about having a bar and alcohol at the house parties. He let it be known he wasn’t too happy about this. Tommy Payne said to me: “Tell him St Pat’s Cathedral was built on whisky”. So the bar continued.
House parties were big things then—and the annual fete. St Michael’s was a big one. It was Friday evening, Saturday afternoon and Saturday night. And there were raffles and silver circles so there was a lot of door knocking to do—asking people to take tickets in this and that.
There were the fathers’ auxiliary and mothers’ auxiliary and working bees at the school, cleaning windows and doing a bit around the garden. And when the church was built we laid concrete and put down lawns and planted shrubs and trees. All of those things meant you got to know other people.
Father Smith replaced Father Connellan. They were different in some ways but the transition went fairly smoothly. Father Connellan had managed to eliminate the parish debt virtually. Not long before he left, a parish meeting decided a youth centre should be built. It did not eventuate and when Father Smith came there was further pressure for this. The other thing was that Father Smith wanted to make alterations to the sanctuary because by this time we had Mass with the priest facing the people. The beautiful marble altar that Father Ryan had purchased with his deferred pay when he was discharged from the Army was just against the back wall not being used. Father Smith wanted to do something about rearranging the sanctuary. He ran into a bit of trouble with that because a lot of people were not too happy about any changes to the church. Eventually the marble altar was used but had to be modified to the form of a table to suit the Mass facing the people. The tabernacle that had been part of Father Ryan’s altar was moved and some of the marble from the altar was used to provide a stand for it.
The other thing he took on was the building of the community hall—rather than a youth centre--as we have it now. That was done about 1977. All of this meant that we again had a parish debt. So Father Smith had a few difficulties in his early years as a result of those things. In his first year he instituted a strong sacrificial giving campaign.
Because the sacrificial campaign was introduced it was decided that we would not have a fete. This went on for a few years. I can remember Father Smith at his farewell in 1998 telling the story. There were two waiting rooms at the presbytery. He had two deputations. One in one waiting room wanting the fete to be re-introduced and one in the other waiting room saying it did not want a fete. The fete did come back—but not on the grand scale it had been in the old days.