Villa Maria Chapel Upgrade Creates Controversy

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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.

Guest Writer

Guest Writer

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