• Vivamus lobortis
  • Ut porttitor urna ut pretium
  • Phasellus convallis tincidunt enim.

Sacred Heart Church

Corner Grey and Neptune Streets, St Kilda

 When it was realised that St Mary’s could not cope with the expanding numbers attending, a site was bought for a new Roman Catholic church in Grey Street for £1000.[1] The foundation stone was laid by Archbishop Goold on 13 July 1884 and the church was dedicated on 7 December 1884. The first priest was the Reverend William Henry Quick, who was born in England and educated in Spain. He arrived in Melbourne in 1872 and assisted Father Corbett at St Kilda East before moving to Sacred Heart. Father Quick died in 1899 and was succeeded by Father William Ganly, a brilliant scholar, who served until 1917. The early congregation had its share of prominent men, including Francis Quinlan (a judge), Frederick Wimpole (developer of the George Hotel and a mayor), Edward O’Donnell (grocer and mayor six times), Dr M. U. O’Sullivan and the parliamentarians, Nicholas Fitzgerald, James Orkney and Sir Bryan O’Loghlen (a former premier). But as David Moloney has shown not all the parishioners were wealthy. There were sixty-one weddings in Sacred Heart between 1894 and 1900 and twenty-two of the brides were domestic servants. Ten others stated they were gentlewomen and fourteen described themselves as ‘lady’. The grooms had more varied occupations with clerks, tramway employees and labourers outnumbering the well-to-do. In addition, the most numerous occupations of parents of girls attending Presentation Convent, Windsor, were publicans and shopkeepers.[2]

Sacred Heart is a substantial brown brick building with cement dressings and a slate roof. Consisting of the nave, sanctuary and two sacristies, it cost £3300. The architects were Reed, Henderson & Smart. The Italian Renaissance church is significant because it represents the abandonment of the Gothic Revival style favoured by Victoria’s Roman Catholics. It is only a year or so later than similar churches built overseas. Sacred Heart set the trend for subsequent Roman Catholic churches in Victoria, which were Renaissance and Baroque designs with red brick and cement dressings. In 1890 the side aisles and the belltower were added. The church was completed in 1922 by Kempson and Conolly, architects, and Brady, the contractor. The hipped roof campanile at the front was replaced with another at the rear, measuring 36 metres and featuring a copper dome topped with a statue of Christ. The chancel and three bays at the rear were also added at this time. During this work a fire broke out, near where temporary walls and screens had been placed around the altar. It quickly spread to the ceiling and the local fire brigades had difficulty getting at the fire between the wooden ceiling and the slate roof. One of the altars was damaged and all the vestments were burnt and the furnishings damaged by water and falling cinders. Fortunately the brick building was only slightly affected. Masses were said at the St Kilda Theatre until the building was useable again. Archbishop Mannix opened the renovated church in November 1922. The work had cost £18,000.[3]

The interior has a barrel-vaulted ceiling and is decorated with floral stencilling apparently carried out in the 1940s but which may have incorporated some of the 1901 scheme by G. and W. Dean. An anonymous donor paid for the original decoration. The high altar of Carrara marble was the gift of a Mrs Petty in 1909 and designed by Kempson and Connolly. Judge Casey donated a bell in 1910. Weighing 4.75 cwt (240 kg), it was made in Dublin by the O’Bryne firm and cost £120. The stained glass is also of interest, being the first use in a Roman Catholic church in Victoria of the Classical style in preference to the Neo-Gothic, which was then in vogue. Above the organ is a rose window which was covered during the blackout of World War II and only discovered fifty years later when the church was being restored.[4] The result of the two years of renovations was dedicated on 21 April 1991.

The two-manual organ of eleven stops was built in 1910 by George Fincham & Son and is unaltered except for a new wind system. It is centrally placed on a rear gallery and retains its original tonal scheme, tubular-pneumatic action, pipework and detached console, which gives the organist a clear view of the sanctuary. The highly polished casework is one of the most accomplished local designs of the period.[5]

Father James Byrne was the parish priest from 1917 until his death in 1936. He was fondly remembered for taking about forty altar boys on a paddle steamer trip to Sorrento each year. An annual picnic for children at Ferntree Gully was another fixture for many years.

In 1982 Father Ernie Smith became the parish priest at St Kilda West.[6] By this time the congregation had declined and the suburb of St Kilda had more than its share of disadvantaged people. Father Smith provided an open door to all comers. The presbytery kitchen soon became a place for informal companionship. The growing numbers calling in for a cup of coffee or lunch highlighted the loneliness and isolation of people in the community. Many lived in a single room with no cooking facilities. By March 1983 an average of seventy people were having lunch each day in the very crowded kitchen. The decision to move to the hall was not made easily because it was feared that the special atmosphere of friendliness in the kitchen might be lost. However, the move proved a success and about 400 people enjoy a free, three-course lunch every day, although on occasion up to 600 have attended. Despite this ‘catering nightmare’ no-one is ever turned away.[7] The kitchen remains open and homeless people come for tea and toast in the morning. Others drop in during the day, sometimes for the company, sometimes seeking help with housing or advice on other problems.

The Sacred Heart Mission was constituted as a separate legal entity in 1984. The welfare work undertaken now includes community programs for the unemployed and providing affordable housing; aged care, which includes home visits, care in the home to help people remain independent and aged hostels; and a women’s program. This assists women working as prostitutes and heroin-addicted women, and provides safe housing and counselling for women who have been abused. The outreach program visits people living alone in rented rooms, some of whom are socially isolated through agoraphobia. Another program co-ordinates visits by volunteers to the aged in nursing homes. The Mission also has an opportunity shop which assists the needy and raises money for the Mission lunches. The parish also provides funerals and burials for people who die alone and efforts are made to find lost families. Many of these initiatives are assisted by volunteers and community donations. In the process, the parish has changed in character and attendance at the church has increased significantly.

Sacred Heart Hall and Presbytery


The hall was built in 1901 of red bricks with stucco mouldings and a slate gabled roof. The crosses at the main corners and on pediments, which are a distinctive feature of the church, are replicated on the hall.


The presbytery is a two-storey red brick building featuring a cast-iron verandah and balcony. It was opened in 1901. The presbytery and hall are now primarily used by the Sacred Heart Mission, which provides a range of social services to the local community.


[1]     Australian Heritage Commission, Register of the National Estate Database, ‘Sacred Heart Church Group, St Kilda Vic’, database number: 015379, file number: 2/11/046/0021. Class: Historic, registered 26/10/1999.

[2]     David Moloney, From Mission to Mission: The History of Sacred Heart Parish West St Kilda, 1887-1987, n.d., p. 8.

[3]     The Advocate, 23 March, 30 March and 9 November 1922, MDHC, Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne.

[4]     Brochure on Sacred Heart Church, MDHC Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne.

[5]     National Trust of Australia (Victoria), ‘Sacred Heart Church, Manse, Hall and Organ’, file number: B5296.

[6]     See: Ernie Smith, Miracles do Happen: A Priest Called Smith, Collins Dove, North Blackburn, 1993.

[7]     David Moloney, From Mission to Mission: The History of Sacred Heart Parish West St Kilda, 1887-1987, n.d., pp. 74-5. See also: www.sacredheartmission.org