JOURNEY OF A FAITH COMMUNITY, compiled by Tom Johnstone

JOURNEY OF A FAITH COMMUNITY, compiled by Tom Johnstone

James E. Scarlett

Compiled by Tom Johnstone

(Community Books, 2006, xi + 196pp, $25,00 plus postage. Available through Central Catholic Bookshop, Melbourne, (03) 9638-0844)

Twenty-five years of parish life is perhaps a brief span to cover in a full-blown history rather than a commemorative booklet, but careful preservation of documents and memories have enabled Tom Johnstone to detail at close quarters the 'journey' of Catholics in Mount Eliza, Victoria, during that time.

Founded in the wake of Vatican II under the wise administration of Father (now Melbourne auxiliary Bishop) Hilton Deakin, the parish had the advantage of drawing upon the insights of the Council rather than reconciling people to them, as happened in many older communities. Even the selection of St Thomas More as patron - Fr Deakin's choice - signalled a new approach for which an introductory chapter on the great opponent of the Henrician reform in England sets the stage.

On an area of the Mornington Peninsula where new housing and young families created the need for a new parish, it was not hard to gain support for active lay participation in church life and before long more than thirty committees of enthusiasts were operating.

While the vision was secure and adherence to Vatican II principles intended, the story reveals that apart from suitably guarded post-Vatican II language ('Faith Community', for instance), the approach was selective, particularly in matters of liturgical music where good intentions were often uninformed professionally. The inevitable expenses of a new parish - in this case a debt of $600,000 - and the solution to the problem were handled wisely through engagement of a professional accountant and financial adviser.

Ecumenical relations too were fostered in the creation of bonds with an adjoining Uniting Church and two Anglican parishes. Whatever the reader's preconceptions about the true nature of a parish - whether a social unit glorying in vigorous hand shaking followed by coffee and biscuits, or a community of believers placing Divine Worship above all else - there is evidence aplenty here to feed conviction.

A high point in the admission of failure is established in the story of a dedicated priest whose sin committed and atoned for in a distant past created a serious division and led some to take up the challenge of throwing the first stone. While the author treats them and their priestly victim with becoming charity the incident reveals starkly that those of supposedly deep faith can prove wanting when tested by the New Commandment.

Lavish illustrations and lists of those contributing in the least way to parish enterprises will ensure a ready reception in St Thomas More's parish but it is not an easy read for anyone unacquainted with the parish and much that impedes the flow of the text would have been better relegated to separate documentation.

The wealth of local records also has effectively narrowed research to Mount Eliza, while external sources have been neglected when they might have provided useful commentary. The index is, perhaps, unnecessarily comprehensive, including references to names on lists included in the text. The brief bibliography reveals minor errors in citation of works by Cardinal Moran and Patrick O'Farrell.

These reservations aside, Journey of a Faith Community is written with a sure and experienced hand and provides a significant addition to the ever-growing corpus of parish histories, not all of them as well constructed; it is a rich source book for all who entertain a generic interest in parish histories. Above all, it is a refreshingly frank and detailed portrait of a parish in which the blemishes of youth have not yet become warts. Its size is impressive, production highly professional, and sources copious.

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