BRISBANE Archbishop Mark Coleridge praised “the vision and energy” of the Burleigh Heads community as he blessed and dedicated the new Mary, Mother of Mercy Church in Australia’s largest Catholic parish.
“I praise God not only for the priests who have built this place, for the craftsmen who have done the same, but for all of you who have been so intimately part of this journey through decades,” Archbishop Coleridge said during a solemn evening dedication on March 10.
“And I pray tonight that the future will see emerging from this building, this womb, a people who are a Church belonging to Christ but showing forth the image of Mary, Mother of Mercy.”
Parish priest Fr Ken Howell described the new church, built on Marymount hill by more than 500 workers across 14 months, as “a contemporary, but beautiful building”.
A striking feature at the church entrance is a 2m-high timber statue of Mary (pictured), which includes a Marymount primary school girl, a couple of different ethnic origins, a widow and an iconic Gold Coast image – a young surfer holding a surfboard.
The church, featuring a 16m cross, towers above Burleigh Waters, and adjoins Marymount College and primary school, with 2230 students.
“I am sure you would agree, its position on top of Marymount is exactly where it was meant to be,” Fr Howell said.
“(It’s) a beacon of strength and welcome, a structure that will lead us into our future.”
Long-time Burleigh parishioner Evelyn Diga said she had waited nearly 17 years for a new church.
“It’s beautiful; it’s like a cathedral,” she said.
Another long-time parishioner Graeme Dwyer said his mother, a member of the choir who died five years ago, would have been overjoyed to witness the dedication.
“(It’s) a very emotional night, and the choir and the music was majestic. Absolutely inspiring,” he said.
After an official handover of the new church, Archbishop Coleridge led a procession into the assembly and was greeted by joyous singing of Let Us Go Rejoicing by a congregation of hundreds, accompanied by choirs and musicians.
He was joined by his concelebrants, including six bishops – Brisbane Archbishop Emeritus John Bathersby; Brisbane auxiliary Bishop Joseph Oudeman; retired Brisbane auxiliary Bishop Brian Finnegan; Sydney auxiliary Bishop Anthony Randazzo; Townsville Bishop-elect Tim Harris and Fr Howell together with fellow priests from the parish and across the archdiocese.
Archbishop Coleridge then led the sprinkling of the church – first blessing water and with it sprinkling the congregation, then the walls of the church and finally the altar.
“It is said that human beings make buildings, and the buildings then make them. And it is absolutely true,” he said.
“This building for many years to come will make human beings …”
Under the patronage of Mary, Our Mother
Archbishop Coleridge said the name of the new church – Mary, Mother of Mercy – honoured the Mother of Christ and the Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis, “that continues to yield such fruit at the heart of the Church”.
“This church then will create a people, a Church which is both maternal and merciful, not a Church which can seem brutally masculine, crushingly patriarchal but a Church which is genuinely maternal and is therefore genuinely merciful,” he said.
“(It is) the mercy that sees sins as a mother sees all the flaws of her children more clearly than anyone. But she sees more … she sees the heart of her children, she sees the truth – and the truth which is so much greater and more beautiful than any truth or flaws and failings and faults.”
Archbishop Coleridge spoke about the statue of Mary, which he later blessed.
“These are contemporary figures, which you and I know – a child from the school, a boy with a surfboard … all of them children of the Mother of Christ, but all of them therefore children of the Mother Church,” he said.
Archbishop Coleridge quoted the French poet Paul Claudel talking about the role of the Church – “Blessed be this great and holy Mother at whose knee I have learnt everything.”
“And that is truth of the Church, in the image of Mary… beyond all the faults and the flaws and the failings,” he said.
“This is the Church that has given birth to us and will continue to give birth to this community of faith in Burleigh Heads.
“It’s a place of the Spirit. It’s a place therefore of wind and fire, a place that can turn the human womb into a temple of God himself.”
Archbishop Coleridge thanked the architect and the builder “for their energy and devotion”.
He recognised the efforts of Fr Pat Molony, former Burleigh Heads parish priest of 18 years, and Fr Howell for leading the church project from the drawing board to completion.
“The whole town has turned up, over many years, to build the building in which we gather here tonight,” he said.
Following his homily Archbishop Coleridge led the Prayer of Dedication and the anointing of the altar and the walls of the church.
Relics of St Peter Chanel, St Therese of Lisieux and St Damien of Molokai were deposited in the altar.
Then a prayer of dedication signalled the intention to dedicate the church to the Lord for all times and a petition for his blessing.
Archbishop Coleridge then led the rites of anointing, incensing, and covering and lighting the church’s sandstone altar.
The anointing with chrism made the altar a symbol of Christ, “The Anointed One”, and signified the church being given over entirely and perpetually to Christian worship.
Incense was burned on the altar to signify that Christ’s sacrifice ascends to God as an odour of sweetness, and to signify that the people’s prayers rise up pleasing and acceptable to the throne of God.
The covering of the altar indicated that this is a Eucharistic sacrifice and the table of the Lord.
The lighting of the altar, followed by the lighting of the church, was a reminder that Christ is “a light to enlighten the nations”; his brightness shining out in the Church and through it in the whole human family.
After the Eucharistic celebration, Archbishop Coleridge blessed the Mary, Mother of Mercy statue, and Fr Howell delivered words of thanks to the craftsmen and artists, fundraisers as well as the parish and school choirs, and the choir and musicians of St Laurence’s College led by Anthony Young, who he said “delivered beauty and dignity through music and song”.
The church is one of three opening in the next few months in the Brisbane archdiocese.
Watch the video of the Blessing and Dedication Mass at Mary, Mother of Mercy Church:
How Burleigh Heads’ new church was built
The new Mary, Mother of Mercy Church, the work of Peddle Thorp architect Peter Gardiner, and builder Stokes Wheeler Pty Ltd, sits on the steepest, most difficult part of the Marymount site, preserving the rest of the site for car parking, and a community centre.
The church is deliberately built squarely within the daily journey between the set-down point for the two adjoining schools, Marymount College and Marymount Primary.
The roof above the nave (the main church space) is supported by and bound to the earth by a massive pair of concrete portals.
The axis is defined by the two massive roof beams with a skylight between. Light filters through glass inserts in the floor of the nave to the columbarium in the basement.
This is both practical and symbolic, a connection from the columbarium through the nave to the sky speaking of the connection of the living and the dead to heaven above.
The Crucifix: An Italian-made fibreglass corpus with a bronze finish. The crown of thorns is fabricated from natural vine and African Thorn Tree thorns. The cross is constructed from two layers of solid Tasmanian oak. Total weight: 80kg.
Tabernacle Window, by Christopher John, Red Phoenix Glass, Palmwoods: Features an ancient Christian symbol for the sacrifice of Christ ñ the pelican tearing its breast and feeding its young. This image is a strong reminder of our Lord who suffered and died through his Love for us. With the window situated in the Blessed Sacrament chapel, the pelican symbolises Jesus who nourishes us in the celebration of the Eucharist.
Earth and Spirit: At the church entrance is a first nationsí artwork by Burleigh Heads artist Lisa Sorbie Martin. This mosaic is inspired by what Pope John Paul II wrote about indigenous Australians after his visit to Alice Springs in November 1986: ìYou lived your lives in spiritual closeness to the land, with its animals, birds, fishes, waterholes, rivers, hills and mountains. Through your closeness to the land you touched the sacredness of manís relationship with God, for the land was the proof of a power in life greater than yourselves.
Statue of Mary: At the church entrance, stands a striking, contemporary wooden statue of Mary. Traditional images of Mary, Mother of Mercy showed the Virgin sheltering the people under her cloak. Fifteenth Century paintings had the clergy being sheltered. This image stands 2m tall and reflects todayís multicultural Australia. Sculptured in Austrian oak, Mary is holding the Infant Saviour, reflecting the Burleigh Heads parish. The figures show a girl in Marymount primary uniform, a young surfer, a couple of different ethnic origins, and a widow. The statue stands on a block of local sandstone.