In the Year of Grace, on the Feast of the Holy Rosary, 7 October 2012, three Capuchin Friars were introduced to the congregation at St Mary's parish, South Brisbane, by Fr Ken Howell, Administrator of the Cathedral of St Stephen and St Mary's parish. The Capuchins were due to take over the parish in January 2013.
In the months preceding Fr Howell's administration at St Mary's in April 2009, negotiations had taken place between Fr Howell representing the Catholic Archdiocese and Fr Peter Kennedy and his congregation representing a "new church" comprised of Catholics and religious, non-Catholics, believers, non-believers, artists, musicians, singers, writers, social workers and teachers.
For some years Fr Kennedy and his assistant Fr Terry Fitzpatrick had been running the parish according to their own version of Catholic doctrine and liturgy [see previous editions of AD2000 on its website], so much so that the Vatican was forced to intervene in 2009 and Archbishop John Bathersby obliged to strip Fr Kennedy of his priestly faculties.
Fr Kennedy and his loyal band of followers then relocated to the Trades and Labour Council building a short distance down the road where they remain in dwindling numbers to this day under the name, St Mary's In Exile or SMX.
Fr Kennedy, at the time of departure, referred to the "enormous freedom" he felt: "I'm no longer a part of the Church. I can see how ruthless, one-eyed and elitist it is." He referred to its "medieval doctrines and dogmas" such as the "Virgin birth, the Resurrection and Ascension."
However, Archbishop Bathersby's successor, Archbishop Mark Coleridge, continues to leave the door open to Frs Kennedy and Fitzpatrick should they wish to be reconciled with the Church.
In light of the passage of time and the publication of a book in 2010 titled Peter Kennedy: The Man Who Threatened Rome, the time is opportune to give an update on progress made since Fr Kennedy's departure.
In 2009 Fr Ken Howell had been given the unenviable commission by Archbishop Bathersby of bringing St Mary's back into line with Catholic teaching, unenviable, in that some Brisbane priests were openly supporting Fr Kennedy's rebellion from their pulpits.
Fr Howell was under a lot of pressure leading up to the first day in his role as Administrator of St Mary's. However, his fears were allayed when an organ was donated and the church filled with supporters and friends from various parishes. And he was overwhelmed when a mystery lady, obviously pleased with the changing of the guard, pressed $5,000 into his hand and disappeared. Her generous donation went towards the purchase of much needed Mass vestments while others donated sacred vessels.
A further challenge was that St Mary's, built in the Italian Renaissance style and heritage listed, had suffered from neglect during Fr Kennedy's 28-year tenure. To restore the church to its former glory would be a major undertaking.
Blocked drains alone were a plumbing nightmare causing movement in the Church's foundations and a substantial section of the glorious mosaic sanctuary floor tiles to pop out of place. A leaking roof resulted in the beautiful tongue-and-groove ceiling rotting in places and much plaster damage to the walls.
At first the congregation at St Mary's was very small but under Fr Howell's administration and with much needed restoration work being carried out there was steady growth with parishioners prepared to give without counting the cost in the fight for the Faith. Since 2009 some SMX members have trickled back while others have returned to their own parishes.
During Fr Howell's tenure as administrator, St Mary's underwent a transformation. The badly leaking roof became number one priority and, thanks be to God, a benefactor kick-started the new roof project with a substantial donation and various parishes have covered the remaining costs. Blocked drains, termite damage and foundation movement were quickly addressed while due to increased traffic from the construction of the "Go Between" Bridge across the Brisbane River, the Brisbane City Council stepped up to the plate with a generous offer to double glaze the stained glass windows and soundproof the church in order to block out traffic noise. That then required air conditioning. The church has also been painted inside and out.
The St. Mary's church bell was cast in England, however the bell tower was never built in the 1890s due to a depressed economy in Queensland following a flood of gigantic proportions and bank collapses. The bell still sits all forlorn on the grass beside the church waiting for a generous benefactor to complete the building.
St Mary's has a high profile, not only because of its heritage listing or its historical links to St Mary MacKillop, but high rise units are filling the surrounding skyline bringing with it Catholic students from overseas and young Catholic families.
The harvest is indeed rich and, until the advent of the Capuchins, the labourers were few and far between; but a new springtime for St Mary's is beckoning.
Fr Fernanto from India is to be the parish priest from January 2013 and he will be ably supported by Fr Nestor, chaplain to the Indonesian community, and Deacon James who is to be ordained in St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne, in February.
Since the Capuchins said their first Mass at the church on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary there has been a spike in Mass attendance. And when the residents of South Brisbane and West End see three Capuchins walking the streets in their Franciscan habits while giving witness to the Faith in imitation of their spiritual father, St Francis, many more who are over-burdened will find rest at St Mary's.