Corpus Christi College moved to Carlton in 2000. It was the hope and intention of the trustees that the new site would permit the seminarians to have more of a presence at Melbourne’s Cathedral. Proximity to the University of Melbourne and the Australian Catholic University would assist the seminarians academically, and a more central position in the city could widen the opportunities for pastoral placements.
The site of the Carlton seminary dates back to the very origins of the Church in Victoria. In 1854, the needs of the growing population of Carlton claimed the attention of Bishop James Alipius Goold, first Bishop of Melbourne. His Carlton flock needed a church and a school, and so in 1855 he laid the foundation stone of St George’s. He did not know then what we know now ― he had just commissioned one of the most important historical buildings in the Archdiocese of Melbourne.
St George’s was home to an active and vibrant community of local Catholics. In 1881, now-Archbishop Goold removed St George’s from the mission of St Francis’ and established it as a mission in its own right. Rev. James Hannessy O’Connell, nephew of the Irish national hero Daniel O’Connell, was the new mission’s first pastor. Every priest needs a presbytery, so Fr O’Connell promptly raised £3000 to build the magnificent Victorian house on Rathdowne Street which is today occupied by Melbourne’s Ministry for Priests.
Carlton kept growing, and St George’s School followed suit. As soon as the presbytery was completed, work began on St George’s Hall on Pelham Street, which was finished in 1884 at a cost of £2000. The new hall (designed by local parishioner William Tappin, architect of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Bendigo) quickly became one of the social centres of Carlton. It served as venue for balls and parties, housed the meetings of Irish nationalists and the Christian Doctrinist Society, and would later become the birthplace of Italian social welfare in Melbourne.
In 1897, the Sisters of Charity took charge of the education of girls in Carlton, which soon put pressure on St George’s provisions for student accommodation. Archbishop Thomas Joseph Carr, second bishop of Melbourne, decided to build a new church on the corner of Rathdowne and Pelham Streets. A generous benefactor left her entire estate to its construction ― on the condition that the new church be dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. St George’s became a full time school house.
In 1902, the Christian Brothers took charge of the education of Carlton’s boys. The combined efforts of Fr O’Connell (a committed educationalist), the Sisters of Charity, and the Christian Brothers, meant the Church in Carlton was renowned for its high quality of education. Building continued. In 1913, the foundation stone was laid for St George’s Infant School and Kindergarten. In 1927, the foundation stone was laid for St George’s Girl School. The ceremony served as a memorial to the late Fr O’Connell, who had served as pastor of Carlton for 40 years.
The Carlton site continued to accommodate the catechetical needs of Australian Catholics for 80 years, and this tradition continues today. Although the two churches and the presbytery are the only structures still preserved, the new buildings which occupy the site are dedicated to the education and formation of tomorrow’s priests. In the meantime, today’s seminarians appreciate and avail themselves of the famous cafés and restaurants of Lygon Street!