St James the Apostle Parish History

St James the Apostle Parish church today

St James the Apostle Parish can be said to have been conceived in 1981 when Fr Dom DeGiorgio, parish priest of St Peter Apostle Mission Parish, Hoppers Crossing, purchased a ten acre wheat paddock on Derrimut Road. Mindful of the rapid population growth planned for this outer Melbourne western suburb, this land was earmarked for a new parish and primary school. Continuing the theme of naming local parishes after the apostles, the new parish was dedicated to St James the Greater.

In January 1982, St James the Apostle Primary School started functioning from portable classrooms at St Peter Apostle Primary School, and moved to its Derrimut Road campus later that same year. Sr Marlene Monahan csb, a Brigidine sister, was appointed the founding principal.

St James the Apostle Parish was officially established in January 1989 and Fr Peter Ray was appointed its first parish priest; upward of 650 families lived in the area. As there were as yet no church buildings, on January 25 Fr Peter celebrated the first Mass in one of the classrooms, a humble beginning for the new parish.


The first Mass at St James the Apostle Parish – 25th January 1989


Fr Peter started his ministry from a rented house in the Grange Estate while a portable in what is now the car park, served as a church. Fr Peter then set out to plan and build a presbytery and a church. The presbytery, including a parish office, was built first while the church was inaugurated in 2000. A great part of the building and painting in the presbytery was provided by Fr Peter and the parishioners. The decommissioned portable was relocated and now serves as a school hall.



St James portable church; photo taken from the presbytery side; note the cross located at the front door of the new church


During the initial period of its formation, the St James parish community developed its mission statement, which still is as central to the community today as it was to those who discerned this over twenty years ago:

St James the Apostle Parish: A faith-filled, welcoming and caring Catholic community.

In 1995 Fr Peter and the parish community set out to build their church. As a reminder to the parishioners of their commitment to this new goal, Fr Peter planted a wooden cross on the site where the new church was going to be built. After the opening of the new church this cross was relocated near the statue of the Pietà between the church and the presbytery.


The site where the new church was going to be built


The new building project was not without its challenges. Melbourne Archdiocese was concerned about building a large church in such close proximity to St Peter’s; as a compromise it was proposed that a smaller church be built at the St James site allowing for a larger church to be built to the north sometime in the future. The Archdiocese expressed some hesitation in relying on a growing community of generous parishioners to fund the building of the new church, consequently finance and fund raising now became a major focus of the parish activities. At this time the parish bought into the Travelling Fete system, starting the annual October tradition of the St James Fete. The parish also became part of the combined parishes’ raffle.

Finally in 1999, after many fund raising activities and lots of perseverance, the Archdiocese gave its approval to build a medium size church to the budget of approximately one million dollars. A committee was set up to consider a church design based on the theme of St James as a faith-filled, welcoming and caring community. The architect Graeme Law was engaged and a design emerged that complemented this vision of the community.

On19th March 2000, just before construction began, the parish community blessed and broke the ground on which the new church was going to be built. Many excited parishioners attended this momentous occasion. A young and excited David Zammit, the first child to be baptised in St James Parish, and his family broke the ground. The Walsh family, representing parishioners who had lived in the area for a long time, broke the ground at the eastern point of the new church (near the place where the altar stands). The Pham family, representing the new parishioners living in the north of the parish, broke the ground at the northern point of the site. Lena and Arthur Palmer, representing the elderly members of the parish, broke the ground at the western point. Martin Enright, the school principal, and the Vivona family, representing the school community, broke the ground at the southern point. Brett Nicol, Vin Halloran and Peter Portelli removed the wooden cross, to return it after completion of the building to its new location, and children placed flowers where the cross had been. The construction of the new church by builder E.J. Lyons Constructions Company was about to begin!


David Zammit and family breaking the ground

The Walsh family breaking the ground

The Pham family breaking the ground

Lena and Arthur Palmer breaking the ground

Martin Enright and the Vivona family breaking the ground

Brett Nicol, Vin Halloran and Peter Portelli removing the wooden cross

Preparation for pouring of the foundations; photo taken from front door of the new church

The bricks for the wall behind the Altar

St James the Apostle Parish church at its consecration in December 2000; note that the cross had yet to be fitted


After nine months of construction the new church was opened and consecrated on 17th December 2000 by Archbishop George Pell. The day of official opening and consecration of the new church was incredibly hot with an outside temperature of 40°C. With the incense brazier burning, it was even hotter inside the church than it was outside! The ceremony started outside with the builder handing the church key to the Archbishop who then gave it to Fr Peter. Fr Peter then invited everyone inside for the Consecration Mass.

The church walls and the altar were consecrated with the oil of Chrism; the candle holders on the four grey steel posts mark the place of the consecration. The unsealed rock Altar absorbed litres of oil poured out by the Archbishop, one could still smell the beautiful Chrism oil for days later. The stain on the surface rock and the faint whiff of the balm in Chrism remains to this day.

Local stone sourced from a property at the northern end of Tarneit Road, was used for the Altar, Baptismal Font, Lectern and Tabernacle stand. These were prepared by a Buddhist Japanese stonemason; after the Mass of Consecration the stonemason reverently sealed the relics in the altar. The relics were placed in the altar come from St Peter Julian Eymard, Fr Peter’s patron saint, and St Oliver Plunkett, the parish Fr Peter grew up in was dedicated to this saint. Rowena, a parishioner, wrote to Ireland asking for a relic of St Oliver Plunkett to be placed in the Altar for the new church, and amazingly a relic arrived in the mail!

The Stations of the Cross came from the Sacred Heart Hospital chapel in Moreland, the Sisters had commissioned them from Germany in the 1960s. Fr Peter came across these Stations of the Cross when he was looking around for furniture for the portable church. They were kept stored away for many years, awaiting the day when they would be proudly mounted on the walls of the new church.

The Tabernacle was also found at the same time, it came from the Vaucluse Hospital chapel in Brunswick. The tabernacle was originally set into a wall and was refurbished to its present state now for the new church.

The Cross on top of the main entrance of the church was constructed from reclaimed timber from the old Freemantle Wharf while the bell was a gift from St Peter Apostle Mission Parish. The Crucifix, and the statues of Our Lady and of St James were especially carved for St James by the noted religious sculptor Leopoldine Mimovich. The St James statue includes the hat, scallop shell and staff associated with mediaeval European pilgrims.


Parish Priests

Fr Peter Ray ministered in our parish from 1989 to early 2005. He was followed by Fr Ed Vella who offered ministry in our community for some months in 2005. The Paulist Missionaries agreed to take responsibility of St James the Apostle Parish and Fr Jude Pirotta mssp was appointed parish administrator on 1st July 2005 and appointed parish priest on the 8th of December 2006.

Fr Peter Ray

Fr Ed Vella

Fr Jude Pirotta mssp


The Catholic community in the suburbs around St James continues to grow rapidly, necessitating the opening of Thomas Carr Catholic College, and a second primary school named after St Francis of Assisi. A third primary school in Truganina South is already in the planning stages, with an opening date set for 2015. In 2011, a new and more spacious parish office was inaugurated.

St James the Apostle Parish continues to welcome many new parishioners who are choosing to make our parish their worshipping community. The generosity of the parishioners is visible in the large number of ministries that help reaching out to different members of the parish. These ministries include St Vincent de Paul Society, Soup Kitchen, visits to the sick and home-bound, maintenance groups, ministers during the liturgies and ministries with youth and young adults.

When one visits St James the Apostle parish, Hoppers Crossing North, it is easy to see that our story is about so much more than bricks and mortar: we are indeed a community of faith filled, welcoming and caring people who remember our founders and give thanks to our priests and to God for His continuous and abundant blessings.

(Material in this article researched by John Fisher.)


St James The Apostle