When it was
realised that St Mary’s could not cope with the expanding numbers
attending, a site was bought for a new Roman Catholic church in Grey
Street for £1000.
The foundation stone was laid by Archbishop Goold on 13 July 1884 and the
church was dedicated on 7 December 1884. The first priest was the Reverend
William Henry Quick, who was born in England and educated in Spain. He
arrived in Melbourne in 1872 and assisted Father Corbett at St Kilda East
before moving to Sacred Heart. Father Quick died in 1899 and was succeeded
by Father William Ganly, a brilliant scholar, who served until 1917. The
early congregation had its share of prominent men, including Francis
Quinlan (a judge), Frederick Wimpole (developer of the George Hotel and a
mayor), Edward O’Donnell (grocer and mayor six times), Dr M. U. O’Sullivan
and the parliamentarians, Nicholas Fitzgerald, James Orkney and Sir Bryan
O’Loghlen (a former premier). But as David Moloney has shown not all the
parishioners were wealthy. There were sixty-one weddings in Sacred Heart
between 1894 and 1900 and twenty-two of the brides were domestic servants.
Ten others stated they were gentlewomen and fourteen described themselves
as ‘lady’. The grooms had more varied occupations with clerks, tramway
employees and labourers outnumbering the well-to-do. In addition, the most
numerous occupations of parents of girls attending Presentation Convent,
Windsor, were publicans and shopkeepers.
is a substantial brown brick building with cement dressings and a slate
roof. Consisting of the nave, sanctuary and two sacristies, it cost £3300.
The architects were Reed, Henderson & Smart. The Italian Renaissance
church is significant because it represents the abandonment of the Gothic
Revival style favoured by Victoria’s Roman Catholics. It is only a year or
so later than similar churches built overseas. Sacred Heart set the trend
for subsequent Roman Catholic churches in Victoria, which were Renaissance
and Baroque designs with red brick and cement dressings. In 1890 the side
aisles and the belltower were added. The church was completed in 1922 by
Kempson and Conolly, architects, and Brady, the contractor. The hipped
roof campanile at the front was replaced with another at the rear,
measuring 36 metres and featuring a copper dome topped with a statue of
Christ. The chancel and three bays at the rear were also added at this
time. During this work a fire broke out, near where temporary walls and
screens had been placed around the altar. It quickly spread to the ceiling
and the local fire brigades had difficulty getting at the fire between the
wooden ceiling and the slate roof. One of the altars was damaged and all
the vestments were burnt and the furnishings damaged by water and falling
cinders. Fortunately the brick building was only slightly affected. Masses
were said at the St Kilda Theatre until the building was useable again.
Archbishop Mannix opened the renovated church in November 1922. The work
had cost £18,000.
has a barrel-vaulted ceiling and is decorated with floral stencilling
apparently carried out in the 1940s but which may have incorporated some
of the 1901 scheme by G. and W. Dean. An anonymous donor paid for the
original decoration. The high altar of Carrara marble was the gift of a
Mrs Petty in 1909 and designed by Kempson and Connolly. Judge Casey
donated a bell in 1910. Weighing 4.75 cwt (240 kg), it was made in Dublin
by the O’Bryne firm and cost £120. The stained glass is also of interest,
being the first use in a Roman Catholic church in Victoria of the
Classical style in preference to the Neo-Gothic, which was then in vogue.
Above the organ is a rose window which was covered during the blackout of
World War II and only discovered fifty years later when the church was
The result of the two years of renovations was dedicated on 21 April 1991.
two-manual organ of eleven stops was built in 1910 by George Fincham & Son
and is unaltered except for a new wind system. It is centrally placed on a
rear gallery and retains its original tonal scheme, tubular-pneumatic
action, pipework and detached console, which gives the organist a clear
view of the sanctuary. The highly polished casework is one of the most
accomplished local designs of the period.
Byrne was the parish priest from 1917 until his death in 1936. He was
fondly remembered for taking about forty altar boys on a paddle steamer
trip to Sorrento each year. An annual picnic for children at Ferntree
Gully was another fixture for many years.
Father Ernie Smith became the parish priest at St Kilda West.
By this time the congregation had declined and the suburb of St Kilda had
more than its share of disadvantaged people. Father Smith provided an open
door to all comers. The presbytery kitchen soon became a place for
informal companionship. The growing numbers calling in for a cup of coffee
or lunch highlighted the loneliness and isolation of people in the
community. Many lived in a single room with no cooking facilities. By
March 1983 an average of seventy people were having lunch each day in the
very crowded kitchen. The decision to move to the hall was not made easily
because it was feared that the special atmosphere of friendliness in the
kitchen might be lost. However, the move proved a success and about 400
people enjoy a free, three-course lunch every day, although on occasion up
to 600 have attended. Despite this ‘catering nightmare’ no-one is ever
The kitchen remains open and homeless people come for tea and toast in the
morning. Others drop in during the day, sometimes for the company,
sometimes seeking help with housing or advice on other problems.
Heart Mission was constituted as a separate legal entity in 1984. The
welfare work undertaken now includes community programs for the unemployed
and providing affordable housing; aged care, which includes home visits,
care in the home to help people remain independent and aged hostels; and a
women’s program. This assists women working as prostitutes and
heroin-addicted women, and provides safe housing and counselling for women
who have been abused. The outreach program visits people living alone in
rented rooms, some of whom are socially isolated through agoraphobia.
Another program co-ordinates visits by volunteers to the aged in nursing
homes. The Mission also has an opportunity shop which assists the needy
and raises money for the Mission lunches. The parish also provides
funerals and burials for people who die alone and efforts are made to find
lost families. Many of these initiatives are assisted by volunteers and
community donations. In the process, the parish has changed in character
and attendance at the church has increased significantly.
Hall and Presbytery
The hall was
built in 1901 of red bricks with stucco mouldings and a slate gabled roof.
The crosses at the main corners and on pediments, which are a distinctive
feature of the church, are replicated on the hall.
presbytery is a two-storey red brick building featuring a cast-iron
verandah and balcony. It was opened in 1901. The presbytery and hall are
now primarily used by the Sacred Heart Mission, which provides a range of
social services to the local community.
Australian Heritage Commission, Register of the National Estate
Database, ‘Sacred Heart Church Group, St Kilda Vic’, database
number:015379, file number: 2/11/046/0021. Class:
Historic, registered 26/10/1999.
Moloney, From Mission to Mission: The History of Sacred Heart
Parish West St Kilda, 1887-1987, n.d., p. 8.
Advocate, 23 March, 30 March and 9 November 1922, MDHC, Catholic
Archdiocese of Melbourne.
on Sacred Heart Church, MDHC Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne.
Trust of Australia (Victoria), ‘Sacred Heart Church, Manse, Hall and
Organ’, file number: B5296.
Ernie Smith, Miracles do Happen: A Priest Called Smith, Collins
Dove, North Blackburn, 1993.
Moloney, From Mission to Mission: The History of Sacred Heart
Parish West St Kilda, 1887-1987, n.d., pp. 74-5. See also: