Caroline Chisholm Library: Melbourne's hidden gem

Caroline Chisholm Library: Melbourne's hidden gem

Angela Schumann

Some years ago, freshly arrived in Melbourne from an Irish Catholic rural community and a convent school education, Caroline Chisholm Library committee member Terri Kelleher wandered upstairs from the Catholic bookshop on Elizabeth Street and found herself in the Central Catholic Library.

From that day when she realised there was a library dedicated to our Catholic heritage she has always been a supporter. Now, as a member of the Committee of the Caroline Chisholm Library, the successor of the Central Catholic Library, she is enthusiastic about the legacy, history and contribution it has made and still makes to the Catholic community in Melbourne. The following information is derived from my discussions with her.

I asked her firstly what was unique about the Caroline Chisholm Library.

She explained that the Caroline Chisholm Library is a repository of Catholic Cultural Heritage in the heart of Melbourne. Its predecessor was established as the Central Catholic Library in 1924 by the famous Irish Jesuit, Fr William Hackett. Among its wide range of theological resources and materials is a unique and extremely valuable Irish Collection which is part of the Catholic patrimony of Melbourne.

Until 1993 it was called the Central Catholic Library, and you could find it above the Catholic Bookshop on Elizabeth Street in the city. With the redevelopment of St Francis' Church, however, and the relocation of the bookshop, the Central Catholic Library was discontinued, and would have ceased to exist except for the enthusiasm and determination of lay Catholics who saw the library's importance to Catholic identity in Melbourne. Since then, it has been run totally by volunteers, and remains a place of diverse Catholic activities including discussion groups, lunchtime lectures, an icon school, book launches and a Catholic book club.

The 350 Foundation has been a recent initiative to secure the continued operation of the library. Since it was established the library's committee and members have succeeded in running it financially and materially through entirely voluntary labour.

In recent years, however, many members have become unable to continue their financial and personal support while the library also faces other challenges such as the expansion of Melbourne, the revolution in electronic and social media and the secularisation of Australian culture.

It is these very challenges which make a reinvigorated and consolidated library more important than ever. The Caroline Chisholm Library, in continuity with its forerunner, the Central Catholic Library, can provide a centre for young people to learn about their Catholic heritage, and for those of any age to participate and be more deeply enriched by truly Catholic culture, in which faith and reason, truth and beauty, ideas and art, spirituality and social issues interplay and interact.

To do this, the library needs to be established on a sustainable material and financial basis, and it is for this that the 350 Foundation was created. If 350 friends and patrons provide a mere $100 a year (fully tax deductible), the future of the library collection and its cultural endeavours will be assured.

Funds raised ensure that rent and auxiliary expenses, such as telephones and electricity, can be met. The great generosity of the library's volunteers means that other costs are relatively low. The assistance in covering running costs will enable the committee to focus on and extend the mission of the library, which includes:

• outreach to young Catholics;

• outreach to and resources for Catholic teachers and schools;

• website and multimedia development;

• responding to and development in eBooks and iPod technology;

• development of cultural and reading guides; and

• expansion of the collection.

Terri Kelleher explains: "We believe that the $100 tax deductible donation is realistic and within the means of many people of goodwill who support the existence of the library and its community.

"Members of the 350 Foundation will join our Honour List and receive regular electronic and mailed news and briefs about the library. They are also invited to special library events and are notified of other special offers and opportunities.

"We are already on the way to the target for the current year and the 350 Foundation was officially launched at a fund-raising dinner held at the Pumphouse Hotel on 1 November. We welcome new members to join us to ensure the continuation and expansion of the apostolate of the library."

To find out more about the Caroline Chisholm Library, become a subscriber or a member of the 350 Foundation please contact: Phone: (03) 9670-1815; fax: (03) 9670-1815; email: cclibrary at; post, PO Box 13176, Law Courts, Vic 8010. The Library is open Monday to Friday, 11am-5pm and is located at Mitchell House, Level 3, 358 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne.

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.