Tag Archives: Brisbane

Saving Goldicott Convent — on heritage sites

Mount St. Mary’s Convent (Goldicott House)

Last night I noticed that a Protestant friend of mine had liked a page entitled “Toowong’s Heritage — worth fighting for.” Curious, I clicked through to find that 2,500 people had petitioned to preserve a heritage-listed convent intact. It was dear to many locals as a boarding house for the local Catholic school, and included a chapel in the front room. The last remaining Sister of Mercy moved out in April 2017 before the property was sold to developers, who wish to subdivide it and turn it into a nursing home.

I was quite impressed by the fact that many non-Catholic and even irreligious people, such as the local Greens MP, had taken up this cause. What is it about beautiful sites of historical value that tug at the heartstrings of people?

Enthronement of His Eminence Metropolitan Konstantinos of Singapore and South Asia, CHIJMES, February 2012

This brought to mind a 2012 furor in Singapore over a sacrilegious party in the deconsecrated chapel of my mother’s old school, slated for Holy Saturday. A friend back home made a police report and encouraged me to do likewise. Later on, a reporter asked, “Why does it matter to you, when you are not even in Singapore?”

Aside from it being the chapel where my mother learned to pray and sing in English (since her parents spoke Teochew), to every Catholic anywhere in the world, an act of sacrilege is a wound in the Body of Christ. To us, every church where the Blessed Sacrament is found is a house of God our Father, and thus also our house. Even when the church has been deconsecrated and repurposed for some other use, its very architectural character hearkens back to its original purpose, and the sacred rites which hallowed its walls.

[Besides, that February I had attended a magnificent Orthodox ceremony in that very chapel.]

But what about non-Catholics, or lapsed Catholics who still care about our heritage sites?

Villa Maria
Villa Maria, Brisbane (photo by Liam Nally)

Last December in Brisbane we saw a considerable groundswell against plans to install a café in a heritage-listed chapel here, which still functions like a parish church besides providing for the spiritual needs of the nursing home in which it is situated. A Buddhist, lapsed Catholic neighbor walked in after Mass one Sunday morning, exclaiming what a pity it was that the developers did not respect the integrity of the chapel.

Meanwhile, a few Catholics did not see what the fuss was about.

I think some people have a real sense of the importance of preserving the history of our built environment. It is a common lament among my Singaporean expatriate friends that, with old buildings being torn down and new ones springing up seemingly every few months, each time they go home, they can’t find familiar landmarks anymore. They end up lost and bewildered.

As we are physical beings, familiar surroundings lend us a sense of comfort, identity and belonging. Furthermore, historical sites invoke curiosity and wonder in quite a different way to modern buildings. As intelligent beings with a conception of time, we are able to appreciate the value of old places, where people lived and died before us. Heritage sites give us a feeling of connection with the people who once walked the streets we do now. They help us feel part of a community that extends not only over a local area, but also through time.

This is intensified in sacred sites, where people encounter not only their earthly peers, but commune with God and the saints.

Australia is a relatively young country. It does not have the ancient buildings of Europe. As population pressure mounts, the landscape is steadily being transformed, sometimes with scant regard for the country’s heritage. Moreover, with the drive to modernize, glorious old art and architecture can sometimes be discarded over-hastily, without community consultation. When I saw old photos of Brisbane’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral, with side altars, a magnificent Epiphany altarpiece and murals depicting the history of Catholicism in Brisbane — which have all vanished — I felt robbed. It was painful.

I haven’t been to Mount St. Mary’s Convent (a.k.a. Goldicott House), but I urge you to sign the petition, so that future generations may continue to appreciate it, and not lament its demise.

“But after all, for us Catholics… a church… is more that just an ordinary spacious attractive meeting house. It is even more than just a house of prayer. It is the place for us where the living Presence of the Godhead dwells, it is the great audience chamber where the God made Flesh and Dwelt Among us is here constantly, here ready for you at all times, to listen to your prayers and your petitions. It is the one place, the one spot perhaps for each of us that is intimately connected with the most important, the greatest events of our lives.”
George Cardinal Mundelein, Archbishop of Chicago, 1939

Cathedrals are not medieval monuments but houses of life, where we feel ‘at home’: where we meet God and where we meet each other.
Pope Benedict XVI, General audience in the Paul VI Hall, Rome, Italy, Wednesday 21 May 2008

Villa Maria Chapel Upgrade Creates Controversy

By guest writer David Ryan.

A recent Saturday morning Mass at Villa Maria. Photo: Catherine Toomey

New South Wales based aged-care organization Catholic Healthcare has become embroiled in controversy over renovation plans for the Villa Maria Hostel in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, especially its chapel.

The controversy hinges on proposed modifications to the chapel within the hostel complex to turn part of it into a café and dining area.

Hundreds have protested outside the Hostel against the proposed renovations.

“Nobody in the community was properly consulted,” remarked Peter Bond, member of the community and altar server.

Anthony Vaughan, regular attendee, commented on behalf of his community:

“Villa Maria Chapel is very important to the prayer life of Brisbane — like St Patrick’s Church Hill in Sydney …

The community will not accept anything except keeping the complete chapel intact.

It is a sacred space frequented by many in the area.”

The plans replace the historic choir loft and antechamber with a gathering area separated via glass walls; this will consume a third of the current Romanesque chapel.

Villa Maria, founded in 1927, in the heart of Brisbane, was a center for the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.

Today it is an aged care facility leased by the Brisbane Archdiocese to Catholic Healthcare.

The chapel, under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese, is within the complex and is not a parish; this has caused significant confusion.

Catholic Healthcare, planning to triple the capacity of elderly residents in the future, intended for better facilities.

Catholic Healthcare could not be contacted but reported to the community that the move was a misunderstanding:

‘We thought there was a large chapel that wasn’t being used and wanted to utilize the building to its best potential.”

But the chapel, evidently, is used.

In December a vigil of over 200 gathered on the street and a petition of over 1,000 signatures is circulating for the chapel’s status quo.

Will Marcus, architect, offered floor plans to utilize alternative areas of the complex:

“There are already 27 other places for gathering-rooms in the nursing home.”

He further argues that the upgrade, canonically, is invalid:

“Canon law 1229 states: ‘oratories and private chapels must be reserved for divine worship alone and free from domestic uses.”

Catholic Healthcare informed that the intent is better facilities for the elderly:

“We have a ministry to aged care.

Our ministry is neither social welfare nor building parishes.

We see aged care as a social responsibility.”

The final decision on the matter is to be made this month. But the community says they feel ignored.

The community is supportive of better facilities for the elderly which should include the current preservation of the chapel.

Peter Bond concluded:

“We are not against Catholic Healthcare’s upgrades per se.

Their desire to look after the elderly is honourable.

But we are adamant there should be appropriate respect given to God and his holy place.

One small change and the situation would be resolved instantly.”

_____

David Ryan is a young journalist based in Sydney, Australia.

Hundreds form a Human Prayer Chain against Café Plans for Villa Maria Chapel

By guest writer Catherine Toomey.

Circa 200 people of all ages and races formed a human chain down the wall of Brisbane’s Villa Maria heritage property on Wednesday evening.

“We are here to prayerfully rally against plans to put a café in one part of our Villa Maria chapel,” said event spokesperson, Peter Bond.

In addressing the large gathering, Bond said he “felt very blessed to see so many our Lord has called to protect His holy church.”

Along with their rosary beads and lanterns, the gathering held corflutes with the hashtag the campaign has managed to have trending over the last day – #NoChurchCafe.

Bond said that this measure was being taken at the eleventh hour, although ‘Construction’ signs are already in place at the site, because the community had not yet been heard.

“We have signed petitions, written to the authorities and tonight we are here in prayer and reparation for what is going on,” he clarified.  “It is outrageous to imagine this sacred space being desecrated in such a way as is being proposed.”

A handwritten petition has already attracted almost 1000 signatures in a matter of days.

The land is owned by the Archdiocese of Brisbane but leased by Catholic Healthcare Australia (CHC.)

Both parties have experienced significant social media outcry in the last 24 hours as people across the Brisbane community have become aware of the situation.

“Although CHC are claiming to have had communication with all ‘relevant parties,’ we are frankly disappointed with the lack of dialogue and have not been listened to,” said Bond after CHC released statements to The Catholic Leader and on their Facebook and Twitter pages Wednesday.

“That changes tonight,” he added.  “For wherever two or three are gathered in my name, say the Lord, I am in the midst. May hearts be moved tonight as we pray together (Matt 18:20.)”

_____

Photos by Liam Nally.

Sign the online petition here.

Community Rallies against Café Plans for Heritage Catholic Church

By guest writer Catherine Toomey.

An organic uprising is occurring across Brisbane upon the discovery of otherwise clandestine plans to repurpose part of Brisbane’s heritage Villa Maria Chapel into a café.

Villa Maria
photo by Liam Nally

A prayer vigil has been organized for this Wednesday evening (6th December at 6:15pm) in protest and reparation outside the venue. Additionally, a handwritten petition has already attracted almost 1000 signatures in a matter of days.

Event spokesperson, Mr. Peter Bond, stipulated that the event is non-political and will be attended by not only concerned Catholics but many in the broader community who have concerns with the heritage impact of the proposal to put a café inside.

“It’s outrageous to imagine this sacred space being desecrated in such a way,” he said.

“Can you imagine one side of the chapel watching a Mass being presided over while on the other side of the glass divider, others are nonchalantly sipping on their lattes?”

photo by Catherine Toomey

The stately Spring Hill building is owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane but leased by Catholic Healthcare Australia and is attached to an aged care facility they manage. It operates alongside the original convent for the still-active Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, founded there in 1874 by Fr. Julian Tenison Woods of Mary Mackillop fame.

Bond said that the lack of dialogue with the community is highly disappointing and that he couldn’t understand why a good, alternative proposal for the site had been knocked back.

“This is one of THE most utilised heritage sites for Catholics in Brisbane,” he said. “Imagine if big business made such a decision to desecrate indigenous land or a Muslim mosque at this juncture?”

The decision to desecrate this sacred space comes after a similar scenario at St. Patrick’s Church in Fortitude Valley which has now been bravely reconsecrated by Fr. Peter Brannelly.

“We simply cannot be silent anymore and we hope our stand encourages our bishops, whom we dearly love, to gain the fortitude to stand alongside us in defense of our key sacred spaces,” said Peter. “There have been enough attacks on the Church and religious liberty of late.”

Sign the online petition here.