The Birth of a Parish - Our Lady of Victories, Shortland

On Sunday 9 November the parishioners and friends of Birmingham Gardens and Shortland will celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the blessing and opening of Our Lady of Victories Church.

The Birth of a Parish - Shortland

A Mass of celebration will be offered at 11am followed by a special lunch in the school grounds. Two parishioners share reminiscences as the community of Our Lady of Victories Church, Shortland, celebrates the 50th anniversary of the church’s opening.


In June 1949 Fr Roly Smyth, who was serving as an army Chaplain, received a letter from Bishop Gleeson appointing him to form a new parish in our area. “You will be in charge of the new parish, and responsible for beginning everything there.”


Father’s reply dated two days later stated, “With a deal of apprehension I accept the appointment and thank you for your confidence in me.”


After inspection of the area, Father is reported as saying, “The army never looked so good.”


That year, 1949, Fr Smyth established Mass centres in the small chapel in Sandgate Cemetery and in the then Community Hall in Birmingham Gardens, now the Regal Theatre. We attended Mass there on Sunday mornings with Saints Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable’s pictures on the walls.


The fundraising began in earnest.


Our men on bikes collected two shillings weekly from generous families.


Horse sports-gymkhanas were held in a paddock opposite where the university now operates.


Blind doubles – horse race results – were prepared and sold by willing parishioners and friends.


Empty bottles were collected in Father’s old ute, housed in a home in Sandgate Road. This truck was serviced by one of our men, recently deceased.


The ladies were also very involved, catering for the Hamilton Eisteddfod, raising funds to support the Miss Mayfield and also the Miss Hamilton competitions. Cake stalls featured delicious cakes donated by very capable cooks. House parties – bring a plate – play housie for a small cost. One regular lady declined to go as her baby was due. “Don’t worry,” said Father, “I’ll put your suitcase in the boot ready for a hospital dash.”


Our Christmas stocking, filled with donations, was ‘manned’ by the ladies on a roster and housed at Miner’s Opticians in Hunter Street. Many hundreds of raffle tickets were sold, a great number in the pubs around Newcastle.


Our carpenters were very generous with their talents, including school desks and seats for our school church. Some were French-polished in my sunroom by a Mayfield parishioner.


All the above not only raised much-needed funds, but cemented a community working together to assist our hard-working, popular and friendly Father Smyth. He and his supporters certainly met the challenge to provide a lasting place of worship for us.


Above article by Mary Blackford.


Over the past fifty years many internal changes have taken place within our parish.

Vatican II encouraged us to look at ourselves as church and how we could reach out to others in the wider community.


Because we bordered the university, some of the parishioners were only in our midst for a short time and moved on. New families came in the early years but later, as the uni expanded, so did the need for more uni rental accommodation, hence the decline in new families in the parish.


To help us adjust to constant changes Fr Brady and Sister Tess introduced the program “Movement for a Better World” to give us the means to become a living community. A community in which we not only come together to worship but to get to know one another, to be there for each other and to reach out beyond the church doors to all in our community, to the shut-ins at home, to those who no longer attend Sunday Mass. To let all know that through baptism they still belong.


Morning tea after Mass once a month gave people the opportunity to get to know one another. Social gatherings four times a year added to the mix.


We began home Masses as did the early Christians, anointing Mass four times a year, small prayer groups, family groups to foster friendships and laughter. A Bereavement Group was formed to help those dealing with loss of a loved one.


Sacramental programs were introduced to prepare children for sacraments of initiation from all the schools in the parish, Catholic or state – all were welcomed equally as all belonged to our community.


Catechists attended the state school each week to engage with the children from all denominations.


The St Vincent de Paul society worked quietly in our midst providing a helping hand to those in need.


Lay people were challenged and invited to take up roles within the church. Although a welcome change, it was not always easy, but looking back over the years, Our Lady of Victories community embraced the challenge and continues to do so.


As I look around the church on Sundays, many of the originals who worked so hard to build the church with Fr Smyth have gone to their eternal rest. In their places now are families from other countries who have fled wars and starvation, all looking for peace and stability in a better world; all seeking a place to belong. Others who have moved outside the parish boundaries still return like homing pigeons each Sunday to be part of the worshipping community.


For us, the church building is important, but it is the people, the community it shelters, that are the real meaning of church. Thanks to Fr Smyth, and with the grace of God, we will continue to be a vibrant community, welcoming and open to all for many more years to come.


Article by Mary Roohan.


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