People-rich but assets-poor, a Fijian church is now the beneficiary of the generosity of a Melbourne parish priest and an Australian educator which, combined with a "providential intervention", has endowed an expanding parish in Fiji with some beautiful and historic altar vessels.
The priest is Father Barry Moran of St Mary's, East St Kilda. The educator is Anthony Bailey who lives in St Kilda but is working in Fiji as director of the schools of Hospitality and Tourism, and Health and Community Services, at the Australia-Pacific Technical College. The parish that has received the gifts is Mount St Mary's at Nadi. The providential intervention was the appearance out of the blue of an unused and secularised monstrance.
Mount St Mary's is a large parish on the west coast of Fiji. It has one priest, Father Ipolito Teburea, a Marist, for more than 2,000 parishioners. And it is still growing with the parish church needing to be substantially extended to accommodate the hundreds who attend the three Masses celebrated each Sunday.
Father Ipolito realised that the cost of the extensions would strain parish funds to the limit and there would be little money for new fittings for the church. Some fittings such as pews could be reused but the parish was in any event ill-equipped with many of the sacred vessels and ornaments necessary in a Catholic church. Father Ipolito compiled a "gifts list" of objects he hoped parishioners and well-wishers might donate.
While on contract to the Australia-Pacific Technical College Anthony Bailey has been living and working in the Mount St Mary's parish and attending Mass there. He had decided that his contribution to the extended church would be a sanctuary lamp when, out of the blue, he found himself in possession of a monstrance.
The monstrance had been a collector's piece, the property of a prominent Australian public figure, not a Catholic, who had evidently decided he no longer wanted it. When a Catholic friend of Anthony's visited the house the public figure's wife had quite literally thrust the monstrance into his hands with the words, "I'm sure you'll know what to do with this!"
A monstrance was not on the Mount St Mary's gifts list but the parish priest was delighted to receive it "as a gift from Providence". Some restoration was needed as was the replacement of a missing crescent-shaped piece in the lunette to hold the Host upright. The monstrance was splendidly regilded and silvered by Duane Lucas at Melbourne's Heritage Silverware at Anthony's expense. Duane dated the monstrance as 1940s or 1950s. It bears the mark "Pellegrini & Co.", the name of a once well-known firm of ecclesiastical suppliers.
In his workshop Duane had on sale a pair of Exposition candelabra, almost black with tarnish, that he intended to restore if a buyer was found. Anthony bought them. The candelabra have been regilded and with the monstrance make a magnificent set, which is now in use at Mount St Mary's.
Anthony still went ahead with the gift of a sanctuary lamp, bought from Joseph Giansiracusa's Sacred Art Studio in Melbourne. He also asked Father Moran at St Mary's, East St Kilda, where Anthony is a parishioner when in Melbourne, if he had anything in his sacristy that he could spare for the Fiji parish.
He had indeed: two beautiful chalices and patens and a gilt plate. One chalice and paten were from the 1950s Church of the Assumption in East St Kilda, a chapel-of-ease of St Mary's, now deconsecrated. Both sets had been in the parish for a considerable time and were seldom used. After consultation with parishioners Father Moran entrusted the restored and repolished vessels to Anthony for presentation to Mount St Mary's.
The gifts were blessed by the Archbishop of Suva, the Most Rev Petero Mataca, when he dedicated the church extensions in September 2011. Father Ipolito invited Anthony to address the congregation and describe how the sacred objects had come to the parish.
The gift of the chalices and patens, from one parish to another, is commemorated by a plaque in Mount St Mary's Church with the inscription:
Two chalices and pa tens and a plate for the celebration of Mass in this church are the gift of the parish of St Mary, East St Kilda, Australia, where for many years they have been used in the service of the altar.
They are presented by the people of that church to the people of this new extended church of Mount St Mary with fraternal greetings and as a sign that wherever they are in the world all who receive the Lord's Body are one in the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:17).
Rev. Barry Moran, Parish Priest, St Mary's, East St Kilda, Australia.
Rev. Ippolito Teburea SM, Parish Priest, Mount St Mary's, Nadi, Fiji.
Christopher Akehurst: +61-3-9534-0125; coastandcountry at vtown.com.au; Anthony Bailey: +679 738 4256; a.bailey at bhtafe.edu.au