Situated in the west of Melbourne, the region we now call Sunshine North was once bare paddocks with no houses or roads but attracted by the prospect of work in the many industries in Sunshine, people flocked to this area after the Second World War. Before 1956, Catholics would have to attend Mass at Our Lady’s in Sunshine or St Theresa’s in Albion so in 1952, Fr Maurice Heriot, Parish Priest of Our Lady’s approached locals about establishing a Weekly Giving Scheme for a ‘shilling or two’ to build a Church. To help raise even more funds a small marquee was often erected on the corner of Suffolk and Westmoreland Roads for fetes, cake stalls and gatherings.
The journey began with the construction of the Church in 1955 on land donated by the Craddock
Family under the direction of Father Leonard Egan, then Parish Priest of Our Lady’s. The
Architect was Mr A Niven, the builder was Mr J Fraser and the quoted price was £15,000. Because of limited resources the building had to be a multi purpose one, suitable for
school during the week and Mass at the weekend. Parishioners would come on a Friday evening
to pack up the desks and move partitions and fold special seats into pews.
Conditions were primitive and for many years there was no heating, proper sewerage or grounds and many children would come to school during the winter months in gumboots.
In 1956 St Bernadette’s became a separate parish and Father Leo Halloran, then assistant
Priest at North Brunswick was appointed first Parish Priest celebrating his first Mass in
the new parish on Pentecost Sunday (20 May) of that year. Unfortunately, Father Egan,
died just one month before the church/school was officially opened and blessed by Archbishop
Mannix on 23 September 1956.
In 1964 the Parish became a three Priest Parish under the care of the Missionary Society of St
Paul and it was then decided to build a new hall. Father Charles Borg and many parishioners co-ordinated the works beginning with the foundation stone laid at the end of 1964. For many
months Parishioners worked tirelessly every weekend to erect the building which became a
fantastic asset, hosting functions and parties which raised much needed funds for the Parish.
There are many fond memories of this important period in the life of the Parish, especially
the many gatherings and parties which took place encompassing all the many and varied cultures
of our Parishioners.
After even more fundraising and planning by then Priest Father Galea, 1976 brought about
one of the biggest changes in the Parish with the opening and the blessing of a new Church.
Officially opened and blessed on 30 May 1976 by Archbishop Frank Little it is an important
date which signifies the beginning of a new era and St Bernadette’s third decade as a Parish.
A Mass Centre at Cooke Avenue was completed in the early months of 1988 once again built
by monies raised by Parishioners. A Home for the Elderly was constructed by Catholic Homes in the mid nineties, to accommodate ageing Parishioners who wanted to
continue living in the area.
Further renovations to the Church were undertaken in 1997-2000, and these changes have contributed to the modern and welcoming building we enjoy today.
From very humble beginnings in 1956 the Parishioners of St Bernadette’s have forged a strong
Community that not only stamped the Parish’s formative history but would also lay the foundation
for growth in the years that followed. The community has always prepared itself for the inevitable
changes that would be needed for the next decade of the parish and beyond.