Fr Brian Cosgriff compiled and wrote this history of the parish for its Fiftieth Anniversary, 1938-1988. It was revised by Fr Pat Harvey for the Sixtieth Anniversary in 1998. With the help of Sr Margaret McKenna the history between 1998 to the present is currently being compiled.

Before 1937 the area of Fitzroy which now comprises the parish of All Saints was part of the parish of St Patrick’s Cathedral. Like inner urban areas in other cities, Fitzroy had undergone many changes. By the end of the 1860’s it had become a popular residential area. Many politicians found it a convenient and pleasant area, close to Parliament House substantial houses were built in the southern sections of Nicholson, Brunswick, Gore and Napier Streets and of course Victoria Parade.

Before 1937 the area of Fitzroy which now comprises the parish of All Saints was part of the parish of St Patrick’s Cathedral. Like inner urban areas in other cities, Fitzroy had undergone many changes. By the end of the 1860’s it had become a popular residential area. Many politicians found it a convenient and pleasant area, close to Parliament House substantial houses were built in the southern sections of Nicholson, Brunswick, Gore and Napier Streets and of course Victoria Parade.

Following the first and other gold rushes in Victoria, many who expected to make fortunes returned to the city. Fitzroy absorbed large numbers who sought employment in newly founded industries around Melbourne. The industrialisation of inner Melbourne was probably a factor in changing the structure of the Fitzroy population. As the more affluent residents of southern Fitzroy moved on to newer suburbs the large houses, now entirely unsuitable as family homes, changed to rooming and boarding houses thus providing essential accommodation for many single people.

In the depression of the 1930’s it was from the residents of these rooming Houses, many of whom were widows and members of broken homes, that the agitation came for a local church. The grandeur of the Cathedral was neither in keeping with their aspirations nor life style and lacked the warmth of a small parish where they could comfortably be involved in church affairs.

During the 1930’s, priests (notably Father Fennessy and Father M.Brosnan) were engaged in pastoral work among the people of Fitzroy whom they had found remarkable for their piety, in spite of the unsuitable conditions in which many of them lived. These priests were aware of the peoples’ desire for a church of their own and found a sympathetic supporter in Mgr. Lonergan, Administrator at the Cathedral. But it was the daughters of Charity, always in sympathy with the poor and dispossessed who pursued the goal of a local church for the south-western area of Fitzroy. In 1949 the Daughters of Charity had bought a shop on the corner of Brunswick and King William streets which, under the guidance of Sister Louise, was made into a home for the aged. Other daughters of Charity, with girls from St. Anne’s Hostel, were also engaged in apostolic work in the Fitzroy area. So it was the Daughters of Charity who pressed the Cathedral to consider purchasing a suitable building.

In 1936 Father Ted Fennessy, Senior Priest, and Mgr. Lonergan, administrator of the Cathedral, proposed the purchase of the old Methodist Church in King William Street, Fitzroy. (An old resident can remember Archbishop Mannix arriving by car to inspect the building in late 1937.) This church was built in the 1870’s. To accommodate a larger congregation a new Methodist Church was built in 1864 in Brunswick street where parishioners would attend service on Sundays and afterwards walk to the King William Street church for Bible Studies and Sunday School.

Before being purchased by the Catholic Church in 1938 the building had been used for some years as a furniture factory run by Mr. Millichamp. Its exterior appearance was still that of a church but there had been internal alterations – a floor had been inserted to divide the building into upper and lower floors; the ledge used in support of this floor is still apparent. There was disrepair with broken windows where pigeons nested.

The renovation and restoration of the church was the responsibility of Father P. Lyons (later Bishop P. Lyons) who was then on the staff of the Cathedral. He commissioned Mr. Connelly, Architect for the Diocese, to design the renovations and oversee the project. The whole interior was gutted and Mr Connelly designed the Gothic arch of the sanctuary which is the outstanding architectural feature of All Saints. A wooden altar was installed which had been the sacred Heart altar in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Part of the Cathedral’s discarded choir loft was also incorporated into the building of All Saints.

The King William streetscape was then quite different from that of today. All Saints was flanked by residences and opposite were terrace houses which stretched from Brunswick Street to J.Stone’s timber mill on the corner of Napier Street.

The naming of the new church had brought forth many suggestions from interested parties. The Daughter’s of Charity, who had played a prominent role in the decision to provide a church in the area, put forward the names of their patron saints, St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise, and several other saints’ names were listed. With these suggestions before him, the Archbishop decided on “The Church of All Saints” thus returning to a name much used in the early years of the Church but which, in later centuries, had been used almost exclusively by churches of other denominations.

On Sunday, 9th. October, 1938, a blessing and opening ceremony was performed at The Church of All Saints by his Grace Archbishop Mannix in the presence of a large gathering, representative of all parts of the Cathedral parish and other districts. Among those present were: Very Rev. Dr. P. F. Lyons, administrator; Very Rev. T. O’Dwyer, S.J.; Rev. M. Beovich, DD.; Rev. J. A. Morgan; Rev. N. Hoare, P.P,; Rev. M. Brosnan, P.P,; Rev.D. Gleeson, P.P.; Rev. Dr. F. Greenan, P.P.; Rev. E. L. Fennessy; Rev. J. O’Connell; Rev. W. Fox, S.S.S. and representatives of Religious Orders in the Parish.

On behalf of the people of Fitzroy the Very Rev. Dr. Lyons welcomed his Grace and thanked him for making provision for the new Church. He praised the efforts of the late Mgr. Lonergan who had been responsible for the purchase of the building and thanked other priests, notably Father Brosnan and Father Fennessy who had laboured with untiring zeal for years in the Fitzroy district.

In Archbishop Mannix’s sermon he congratulated the people of Fitzroy and thanked all who had given assistance. He contrasted the old building, which had been in a state of decay, with the beautiful new church which had been transformed with great skill by the architect, the builder and those who had been responsible for the furnishings. He also paid tribute to the late Mgr. Lonergan’s foresight in purchasing the building in King William Street and acknowledged his deep indebtedness to the new priests who had laboured in Fitzroy. He hoped the new church would be productive of many blessings for the people of the district. He concluded by thanking them for their generosity in furnishing the church. After the service afternoon tea was served from the hall which had been purchased at the same time as the church.

Masses were celebrated at 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. on Sundays and 7 a.m. on weekdays. The first mass was celebrated by Rev. Dr. Lyons on Monday, 10th. October, when a large congregation was present.
Until 1955 all Saints was served by the following Chaplains from the Cathedral: Father Lyons (later Bishop); Father Morgan (later Bishop); Father Fox (later Bishop under whose direction further work was carried out on the church and the hall was renovated); Father J. Perkins; Father Conlon; Father Murray; Father K. Ryan and Father Herriot.

In 1955 Father Ryan bought the three storey house on the corner of Brunswick and King William Streets to use as a presbytery. This building had, for several years, been used for the storage of furniture; prior to that it had been the National Hotel. So at last, the people of Fitzroy had not only their own church but resident priests.

During the period of European migration after the 1939-45 war many Italians had settled in Fitzroy. To cater for their needs, in 1959, the Scalabrinian Fathers took over from Father Ryan and Fitzroy was made a parish separate from the Cathedral. The Scalabrinian Fathers remained at All Saints until 1970 when Father Gavin Fitzpatrick became the Parish Priest. He was succeeded by Father Len Thomas and Fr Hart. In 1980 Father Brian Cosgriff served here until 1990.

Fr Brian Cosgriff’s last baptism at The Church of All Saints was on 20 Jan 1991.He was given a fond farewell by the school children who sang songs and made a presentation to him. The parishioners farewelled him at the end of January.

Fr Brian is best remembered for his warm, open hearted hospitality, particularly towards the homeless and street people of Fitzroy whom he knew personally. He was ‘a man for all seasons’. He was very much revered by the staff at the school, as he shared morning tea and exchanged stories with them every day. Fr Brian was a wonderful counsellor to each person in need and he was not only interested but compassionate and confidential.
Fr Brian loved music and was an accomplished musician and had a good singing voice which led the congregation in their singing.

Fr John Rogan spent a year at All Saints Parish during his seminary days. He was inspired by Fr Brian and his attitude towards the poor. He chose to be ordained a Deacon in All Saints Church and he always retained fond memories of his time spent here. Fr Jon Rogan was appointed Parish Priest of the Ivanhoe Cluster and was much respected by the parishioners there. Sadly he died of a heart attack only ten years after his ordination. He is remembered with love.

Fr Brian went from here to be in charge of a Priests’ Ministry Program and he took up residence at Balwyn. He was then appointed Parish Priest of Maidstone where he is currently still ministering.

Father Patrick Harvey was welcomed into the parish in February 1991 after having spent eighteen years on the Melbourne Mission in New Guinea All Saints was his first parish as a leader. He is remembered for his re-decoration of the church. It was by the addition of religious icons painted by Mr  Geoffrey Horgan, a noted Melbourne iconographer and QC. He commenced with the large crucifix in the Northern Italian Byzantine style which hangs in the Sanctuary. On the back wall, he painted triple Deiisis panels of Christ in majesty, Mary the Mother of God and St. John the Baptist, the Forerunner. Two icons representing all the saints flank both sides of the Sanctuary, an Icon of the four Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is on the Lectern and on the left hand side of the church there is an icon of Blessed Mary MacKillop of Fitzroy, Fitzroy being her birthplace. The Mary MacKillop Icon was blessed on 15th January 1995, her birthday, by Archbishop Frank Little at the start of the Beatification celebrations by Pope John Paul II held later in that week in Sydney.

Archbishop Little was a friend of Mother Teresa’s and she herself had visited and prayed in All Saints Church when she came to Melbourne at the invitation of Cardinal Knox to found the first House of Mercy in Australia.  

The Sacred Heart Primary School, founded in 1869, had been in operation at the Mercy Sisters ‘Academy of Mary Immaculate’ in Nicholson Street for many years but was relocated in King William Street in 1961 after the purchase by the Scalabrinian Fathers of a site adjacent to All Saints’. A new school building to the left of the church was erected by Father Fitzpatrick and was opened in 1973 by the Hon. Gordon Bryant, Minister in the Whitlam Labour Government.

Many migrant groups have found a home at All Saints’ Church since its beginning as a Catholic Church, now over 69 years ago. As well as the Italian community already mentioned, Portuguese, Armenian and Spanish speaking communities have worshipped regularly in their own languages. A strong Vietnamese presence is also notable, with Vietnamese Australians giving their lively contribution to the All Saints’ Parish life. More recently the Sudanese community have found a home here, and their active participation at Church and within the Parish is another wonderful contribution to the life of All Saints’ Parish.

All Saints was originally founded for the poor and dispossessed and this ministry continues 69 years later. The majority of parishioners live in the high rise flats in Napier and Brunswick Streets. A lot come from many lands as new arrivals to Australia and join with those born here. But all find in The Church of All Saints a place where they can meet together in the fellowship of Jesus Christ.