Immaculate Conception: How it came to be
The Church of the Immaculate Conception lies in the heart of Hawthorn’s biggest shopping strip. A strange place to see a church these days but back in the days of its construction this was the best of locations. The first foundation stone was laid and blessed in 1867 and the first divine service held 10 October 1869. The South Bourke Standard newspaper released 15 October 1869 read, the ceremony “drew together a large congregation, so large, indeed, that the Church though estimated as capable of accommodating a thousand persons, could not hold all who wished to witness the services, and a considerable number of persons had to remain outside the building.” The reports of the event told of the assemblage consisting of residents in the neighbourhood and large numbers of visitors from the city and even the more distant suburbs.
Originally part of the Richmond parish, the idea for this Hawthorn church came in 1856 when St. Joseph’s school and church (now St Joseph’s Mews, Villa Maria Catholic Homes) became too overcrowded. The Catholic community in the area was very prevalent at this time; it is obvious in the massive turn out that the church had a huge importance in the community surrounding Glenferrie Road. Old newspaper reports acknowledge the importance of the church even to those who didn’t identify as Catholic. The Advocate’s report from 15 October 1869 sheds light on all the different people who came to the first service and how the crowd was “not by any means confined to members of the ancient faith.”
At the start there was difficulty with erection of a church due to a lack of eligible sites. In 1867 Michael Lynch, who owned crown allotments bounded by Powers Street, Burwood Road and Glenferrie Road, to the north of Mary Street as well as owner of 102-acre Grace Park Estate, donated treed land on the corner of Glenferrie and Burwood Road. This land at the time had the approximate value of £800.
This donation of land was the perfect location for a building of such significance. It was in close proximity to Town Hall (now Hawthorn Arts Centre) and at that time the centre and heart of the Glenferrie community.
The donation of land by Mr. Lynch encouraged other residents of Hawthorn to come forward with contributions and soon the plans for the Immaculate Conception were in progress.
A design competition was held. Fourteen proposals were received and those of Messrs Crouch and Wilson were selected with a style from the decorated period of gothic architecture.
With the final construction being finished by 1869 the most significant architectural pieces include the stained glass window, spire and the large iron gates.
There are eight stained glass windows, which were created by a pair called Ferguson & Urie. South Bourke Standard from 19 August 1870 writes, “a meeting of the Catholics of Hawthorn was held in the church for allocating all eight to the parishioners who volunteered subscriptions for their purchase.”
The church spire was constructed between 1921-22 at a cost of £16,000 and was designed by a local architect Augustus Andrew Fritsch who also designed some of the buildings along Glenferrie Road.The large iron gates to the Church came from Sir John O’Shanassy who had personally imported them from England at the price of £250. When he died in 1886, his son donated them to the Church.
The Church of Immaculate Conception still stands in all its beauty in what once was the centre of Glenferrie Hawthorn. Although one can see how the area around the church has changed, it still holds a significant place on the street today.