The Salesians of Don Bosco are an order of priests and brothers dedicated to the care and education of young people. They were founded by St John Bosco in 1859 in Turin, Italy, and were named after St Francis De Sales. Many Salesians today carry out excellent work throughout the world. Cardinal Bertone, the Vatican's newly appointed Secretary of State and former right hand man to Cardinal Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI), as well as Bishop Belo of East Timor, are Salesians. Closer to home, there's our own Fr Chris Riley who works with Sydney's street kids and Br Michael Lynch who runs the Salesian Missions.
Salesian College "Rupertswood" in Sunbury, Victoria, is set in spacious grounds that include the superb Victorian mansion built in 1874 by Sir William Clarke and named in honour of his son Rupert. It boasts magnificent gardens and was an important centre of social life in Colonial Victoria.
"Rupertswood" also holds a place in the great sporting rivalry between Australia and England, as it was at "Rupertswood" that "The Ashes" were created when the English touring side were the Clarkes' guests in 1882.
Until the arrival of the Salesians in 1927, it was the home of the industrialist H.V. McKay.
It was then a boarding school for boys until the 1950s, when it first admitted day students, along with boarding, mainly to students from rural Victoria and southern NSW. Following the region's growth in the 1980s, the Salesians and the Archdiocese of Melbourne agreed that from 1992 Rupertswood would be co- educational. By 1997, Rupertswood had become fully co-educational and boarding was discontinued.
Many will vividly recall the Annual Eucharistic Festival at Rupertswood. This was a highlight for Melbourne's Catholics, including Italian families. This ceased in the years following the Second Vatican Council. In those days, many young Catholics would meet their prospective husband or wife at this magnificent event.
It was always an enjoyable day for all who attended. Many still remember the family picnics, but above all the procession with the Monstrance shining in the sunlight and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Many also remember the beautiful chapel with its life-sized statues of St John Bosco, the young St Dominic Savio and Australia's Patroness, Mary Help of Christians.
Although the property is still owned and managed by the Salesians, who continue to conduct a school there, the Mansion itself has been leased out to a private company which now runs it as a bed and breakfast and reception centre.
While the Mansion has been magnificently restored, the school's chapel (which is part of the Mansion) has been completely stripped and the Blessed Sacrament removed. Couples can now stay in the Mansion for up to $495 per night - nearly three times the price of the Windsor Hotel in Spring Street Melbourne!
While the few remaining Salesian priests and brothers still live on the property in a recently constructed house, on the same property there is evidence of other happenings.
There are continued reports of civil ceremonies and non-Catholic weddings taking place, particularly in the denuded chapel. It is reported that "commitment" ceremonies may have taken place and that many couples stay there on their way to Daylesford.
Recent Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that Catholic weddings have dropped by 60 percent since 1971, declining from 9784 in 1971 to 4075 last year. At the same time, the number of civil weddings has quintupled, growing from 2815 to 14,535. It appears that Rupertswood is helping rather then hindering this decline.
A look at the Rupertswood website tells us that their Weddings and Accommodation packages are "an experience not to be missed" ... The H.V McKay suite is ideally suited for the bridal party wishing to prepare for their wedding in-house. At the appointed time the other wedding guests arrive, greeted and shown to the ceremony location (garden, chapel or wide verandahs ... The bridal party and in-house guests have the opportunity to 'party on' after the reception proper has concluded".
One can only hope this does not cause undue disturbance to their Salesian neighbours!
Of even more concern is the fact that Wedding Packages are inclusive of "original Rupertswood candelabras" (sic). These six candelabra now used in the Reception Centre once adorned the high altar in the chapel. They were donated to the Salesians in memory of "Blessed Don Bosco" in the 1920s by the Moriarty Family for use in the Chapel. I am sure the Moriarty family would be horrified to learn that their beautiful candelabra are no longer in their rightful place in the chapel but are on the tables in a reception centre being used by a private business to make money.
Concerns about these unfortunate developments have been raised with both the few Salesians still living at Rupertswood and the Salesian Provincial House. Both have dismissed these as unimportant and irrelevant.
What is even more ironic about this situation is the two portraits in the Reception Room hanging side by side. One is of the great Archbishop Daniel Mannix and one of Queen Victoria. I'm sure Dr Mannix would have had something to say about that!
Michael Moore has had a long association with the Salesians of Don Bosco. He attended Rupertswood Eucharistic Festivals and Don Bosco Summer Camps as a boy. He has a relative a Salesian priest and been a visitor to their General House in Rome.