In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Blackburn South was gradually developing into a suburban area, with the replacement of the fruit orchards and the surrounding paddocks by family houses. Orchard Road, so named because of the lemon orchard where the church and school are now situated, and other fruit orchards, was an unmade road with a few shops nearby along Canterbury Road. As the area grew, the parish priest at St Thomas the Apostle, Blackburn, Father Paul Ryan, decided that Blackburn South also needed a school and parish in its own right.
Land was purchased to build the church/school. On the existing site, there were three houses, one of which became the first presbytery. The new building consisted of three classrooms, separated by folding doors, an altar and sacristy. After mass each Sunday, the church seats were moved into the three separate classrooms ready for school on a Monday.
The Blackburn South parish was separated from Blackburn parish in 1962, and in early 1963, Father F. Larsen was named the first parish priest. According to the records found in the school’s archives, “the parish is (sic) situated on 4 ½ acres of land in a semi-rural picturesque residential area”.
The church, as we know it, was not constructed until Fr. Kennelly arrived. As the Parish was finding it difficult to raise a loan, he suggested to the parishioners that they lend the money, which he would guarantee to pay back within three years. The funds raised enabled the church to be built and furnished. The Stations of the Cross were a donation from an Italian couple in the parish, Mr & Mrs Perara.
In 1962, the primary school opened with two classes: Grade 2 of 41 students and Grade 3 with 33 students, although the school was not officially registered until 25th November, 1963.
Early in the life of the Parish, a group formed to introduce the Sacrificial Offerings to raise funds to purchase parish needs. The first meeting was held at Box Hall Lower Town Hall and was very well attended.
A number of groups developed from the original sportsmen’s group which held fund raising nights. These include the Maintenance Team which looks after the grounds and any repairs needed to the church; the Church cleaning teams where volunteers spend part of Saturday morning ensuring the inside of the church and the outside toilets are clean and tidy; the Flowers team where members bring flowers from their own gardens to decorate the altar for each week from Saturday morning. Participation in all of these groups is voluntary; once a year, clipboards are distributed and those who can provide some time sign up; rosters are then drawn up by a person responsible for each team. During Fr. Staunton’s time, parishioners were encouraged to volunteer as readers (Ministers of the Word) or Special Ministers of Communion (Ministers of the Eucharist) and rosters for these are drawn up by Noelle Hughes. There is also a small team of volunteers who distribute communion to those elderly parishioners who are unable to attend Mass; these may be in their own homes, or in Aged Care residences such as Inala and Goodwin Close.
In 1994, a monthly newsletter, ‘The Evangelist’, was produced. In the third issue, George O’Brien began a history of the local parishes from his family’s point of view. His reflections confirm what other early parishioners, especially John and Joan Robinson and Frank Kenealy have recounted, namely that after St Francis Xavier’s at Box Hill, St Thomas’s at Blackburn, with Fr. Paul Ryan as parish priest started. For those who built houses in Blackburn South, there was a bus along Middleborough and Canterbury Roads to take families to St Thomas’s. As George O’Brien comments, this was the social event of the week, enabling “a sense of identity as South Blackburn folk” to develop. He identified a number of families: Robinsons, Dynans, Sheehans, Byrnes, John Bourke, some of whom are no longer with us. He also notes that Fr. Ryan had started to organise the purchase of land to establish new parishes, one of which would be at Blackburn South.
During the early to mid 1990s, there was also a Children’s Liturgy group at the 10.30 mass because of the number of parents with young children. The key organisers were Andrea de Carvalho, Marianne Stevenson, Bernadine Brennan and Margaret Yore. Together with volunteers, they took a small group of young children to the room next to the sacristy to do activities associated with the gospel of the day. The children returned at the beginning of the Offertory and were part of the procession, sharing what they had been doing with Fr. Staunton and the congregation.
Music for 10.30 masses has been provided by a choir of volunteer parishioners and organists and conductors since 1966. The first organist, Mary Egan, was greatly appreciated by many people for her wonderful talent in playing the organ and preparing the choir to sing. Mary retired from her role as organist just prior to falling ill.
On Mary’s retirement, the parish was fortunate in having Terry Wells volunteer to take over the responsibility for the choir and music as he had been in the St Patrick’s Cathedral choir. Together with Bill Goodwin at the organ, they have been able to maintain the music on Sundays, and especially at Easter and Christmas. After many years of service, Terry retired from the position of choir conductor at the end of 2011, and in order for the work which he and Mary had carried out to be continued, Margaret Yore and Margaret Gearon agreed to take on joint responsibility for the hymns at the 10.30 mass. Bill Goodwin has taken responsibility for encouraging a group of young musicians who provide the music once a month at the 6.00pm mass and he rehearses with them on a Sunday after 10.30 mass. The choir is also fortunate to be able to call on the school choir, led by Margaret Yore for special occasions such as the St Luke’s day Mass and First Holy Communion.