St Benedict’s surges

28 Feb 2008

By The Record

Fathers Rodney Williams, Peter Whitely and John O’Reilly stand before the fulfillment of their dreams, the new St Benedict’s Church on the Ardross St site. Photo: Anthony Barich

By Anthony Barich
The 11.30am Mass celebrated by Fr Ari Prawarto for the Indonesian community last Sunday truly became the Last Supper in the Upper Room at St Benedict’s Applecross parish church.
Just over three hours later, a new dawn arrived as Applecross’ new parish church was dedicated and its altar consecrated by Archbishop Barry Hickey.

It is nothing like the design Fr Lynch had in mind, but for all
involved, it was a dream come true, the fulfillment of Fr Lynch’s
original vision, to have a functioning church on Ardross Street.
Fr Albert Lynch, a talented musician who, according to current parish
priest Fr Peter Whitely, had written the Mass of the Unsung Saints and
the Mass of St Benedict, originally planned to use the old church as a
music theatre, with the stage originally meant to be where the sacristy
now sits.
Since 1954, Mass has been celebrated in the building, and with the last
parish Mass celebrated at 7.30am last Sunday, in the future it will be
used as the St Benedict’s Primary School library.
The “Upper House”, which it has been jokingly named for decades, proved
difficult for elderly parishioners, and former parish priest Fr John
O’Reilly told with sadness how he knew of many of them who simply
stopped attending Mass there as they couldn’t make it up the stairs, or
the lengthy ramp which Fr Rodney Williams had installed during
renovations in 1976.
The new ground-level church cost $4 million and was completed in a remarkably short 12 months after four years of planning.
Fr Whitely, whose grandfather was a builder, said Applecross
parishioners have always been capable of raising large amounts of cash
at short notice.
The parish was not short of people “leaping forward” to offer their
services, and he reserved special praise for Stephen Court, who was
involved in almost every level of planning.
Having also been in charge of starting Bateman parish, he said: “God
won’t ask me how many churches I’ve built; He’ll ask me how much I’ve
Since the parish was founded in 1952, Applecross parishioners have
gathered to learn how to love and share a spiritual community. “This is
the place we will come to encounter Jesus,” he said, echoing the words
of the Gospel story of the Samaritan woman at the well who encountered
Jesus, was converted and told others about Him and they were then
believed as well.
The new church includes a reception area, meeting room, toilets, tea
preparation area, school entry internal cloister, an “Our Lady” corner,
Reconciliation Room and a special music ministry area.
Much of the icons that parishioners identified with in the old church have been retained.
The impressive and massive copper-coloured Crown of Thorns, that was
donated by parishioners, and around which was marked the 14 Stations of
the Cross in roman numerals, was removed from the old church and is now
near the main entrance to the new church.
The centerpiece of the old sanctuary – the corpus of the robed Jesus
which hung on a wooden beam looking over the altar in the old church –
has been placed in a similar position, on a newly-made wooden cross.
A smaller crucifix that previously hung in the sacristy that was used
for veneration on Good Fridays now has pride of place in the Regina
Coeli Adoration Chapel in the new church building, which can be
accessed outside of Mass hours from a side door if one knows the
The chapel was named Regina Coeli (Our Lady Queen of Heaven), after the
old Brentwood Church that the Applecross parish built and which was
known for its adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
It is Fr Whitely’s dream that perpetual adoration will start at the new
Regina Coeli Adoration Chapel, which Archbishop Hickey blessed and
incensed on Sunday.
Fr Whitely encouraged parishioners to make good use of the adoration
chapel, where they can “get to know Him and be strengthened by Him”.
It was a sad moment when the last Mass was celebrated at Regina Coeli
in Brentwood at 9.30am on February 17. Fr O’Reilly had plenty of
affection for the cute old church.
“They’re an active bunch down there at Brentwood. I always thought it’d
be a nice place for a retired priest to stay and say daily Mass, but I
suppose it’d be hard with the upkeep,” he said.
At one stage, Archbishop William Foley had started making arrangements
to close it, but his death stopped that from happening, and the little
church celebrated its Golden Jubilee in mid-December last year. Now
closed, its fate is unknown.
Fr O’Reilly spent his ‘apprenticeship’ at Applecross after being
ordained in 1958. He was curate until March 1963 before being appointed
chaplain at Aquinas College.
He returned as parish priest for 25 straight years and left in 2003, retiring.
Archbishop Hickey appointed Fr Whitely with the mandate of building the
new church, which Fr O’Reilly had laid the groundwork for by acquiring
the land for the parking bay.
He would have started the project himself but for other obstacles.
The new church engulfed the old presbytery on Ardross Street, where Fr
Whitely stayed with Fr O’Reilly for over three months while waiting to
acquire a presbytery for Bateman parish, which he was due to started up
in 1986.
The new church also is fitted with an audio loop for the hearing
impaired and there is total wheelchair access into, within and out of
the building, as well as onto the sanctuary for disabled ministers,
clergy and readers.
The old presbytery was knocked down and Fr Whitely now lives where
former parish priest Fr Rodney Williams lived until very recently.
Fr Williams was a convert from the Anglican Church who was Applecross
curate in 1969 and took over as parish priest in July 1973 after Fr
Lynch retired.
Last Sunday the circle became complete, when Frs Williams, O’Reilly and
Whitely united to concelebrate Mass with Archbishop Hickey, Fr
Whitely’s best mate Bishop Gerard Holohan of Bunbury and over 40
“Applecross deserved a permanent, functioning church,” said Fr
O’Reilly, who gained approval from the Diocesan Resources Committee to
build the new church while still parish priest.
“It was great sharing memories with parishioners when I returned for the dedication Mass.
“The best thing was that there were still parishioners there who were
at the parish when I was curate, and their families are still in the
parish, too.”
In continuing to take part in the spiritual community at Applecross in
what Archbishop Hickey called “this sacred space”, parishioners will
continue to be strengthened to know the parish’s motto which comes from
the Rule of St Benedict: “The love of Christ must come before all else.”


Archbishop Barry Hickey pours blessed oil over the altar of the new St Benedict’s Church to consecrate it.
Fr Peter Whitely incenses the crowd and the new St Benedict’s Church during the dedication ceremony.