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A Brief History

Early Days

4 Sep 1853

In true Australian style, the first Mass in St Kilda was celebrated at a local pub, the Bayview Hotel on Argyle St.

Jun 1854

The first Catholic Bishop of Melbourne, Bishop James Alipius Goold blessed and opened a Church which was later demolished in 1867. It stood at the southern end of where the present Church stands.

31 Jul 1864
After five years of construction, St Mary's Catholic Church, designed by William Wardell held its first Mass.

26 Nov 1871

After a further two years of construction, the building was deidcated after undergoing major expansion in accordance with William Wardell's design and as per the request of the parish priest, Dr James Corbett to make room for future needs.

The History

From this date, the Church grew with the Presentation Sisters arriving two years later at Corbett's invitation. A convent and primary school were created where the gabled-roof component of today's building stands to enable Catholic education to continue after government subsidies were removed from the Education Act. Five years later, the Christian Brothers arrived to take on the education of the students at Christian Brothers' College (CBC), St Kilda.

Nine years later, parish priest, James Corbett was consecrated in St Mary's as first Bishop of Sale and later consecrated St Mary's, making it the first Church consecrated in the colony, the second in Australia. This was a tribute to the dedication of the Catholic people who had paid for the Church's development and to his own pastoral leadership and energy. James Corbett was parish priest for 24 years.

In 1959, the Lady Chapel baptistery and entrance was added to the design. The interiors underwent reworking multiple times to align with the liturgical requirements of the Second Vatican Council with the most significant re-design occurring in time for the 1987 consecration under the direction of Fr Noel Coghlan.

St Mary's Church,

St Kilda East, 20th Century


The Design

St Mary’s Church was designed in the early English style of Gothic architecture by William Wardell. It’s built from local bluestone with sandstone dressings and Welsh slate roofs to remain humble to its surroundings. Walking into the space, the length and height of the interior is awe-inducing with light being gained from stain and painted glass windows that have been crafted by craftsman since it was established in 1864.


The features of the Church all hold importance whether it is what they are built from or who they were made by. The Blessed Sacrament shrine, the old high altar, is made of limestone from Normandy and many altars of the same style were constructed in this stone. The Virgin Mary and St Joseph sculptures on the flanking altars are made of Caen limestone.


The High Altar mounted on a predella of three steps symbolises the Holy Trinity and the Altar supported on four piers represented the four major prophets of the Old Testament, the four Evangelists and four Great Fathers of the Church. The small cavity in the centre of the Altar table contains relics of St Benedict, the founder of the Benedictine Order.


The patterns stencilled into the ceiling and walls of the sanctuary were the responsibility of a leading decorating firm Lyon, Cottier and Wells of Sydney. They are intricate, geometric and floral patterns.


Three stained glass windows at the east end are believed to have been made by Mayer of Munich in Bavaria. The figures are of the risen Christ coming from the tomb, the Virgin as the Mary of the Immaculate Conception and St Joseph, foster father of Christ. The two small chapels on either side are dedicated to the Virgin Mary and St Joseph.


The new sanctuary was moved forward, closer to the congregation in 1981 and satisfies the requirements of the new liturgy. The furnishings for the new sanctuary were all made from English and Macedonian Oak timbers of the pulpit formerly in St Patrick’s Cathedral. They depict acorns, oak leaves and shamrocks. The communion rails are not original but date from 1920, when the original iron and timber ones were removed.

Sunday Service at St Mary's,

St Kilda East, 2020


Present Day

Our Parish welcomes all in a community focused on worship, pastoral care, and service. 

St Mary's has a strong tradition of working in the local community through organisations such as St Vincent de Paul, which provides support and material aid for the homeless and jobless. 

Since the late 2000s, St Mary’s in collaboration with Sacred Heart Mission is working to provide stable housing support for the disadvantaged in the local Community. Inspired by Shane’s story, who, for several years, made his home on the verandah of St Mary’s presbytery, the Parish Community understands that there are many people like Shane who needed secure and safe shelter but have difficulty in attaining a place of their own. This project is now called Shane’s Place


St Mary's is open to all between 9 to 5 Tuesday to Sunday. On behalf of Fr Jerome and the Parish Team, welcome and thank you for visiting.

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