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The Cathedral we lost, and the Cathedral we saved

Updated: Apr 25, 2019

Good Shepard Convent, now Chadstone Car Park

There is a shopping centre called Chadstone, monolithic and modern, with 20 million shoppers each year. Yet floating in its car park is a ghost cathedral. Its shadowy, but I can see it still, with its arches and rose window, because I went there every day, for a few years of my life. This church was set in a convent, created by the Sisters of the Good Shepard. It had orchards that blossomed in spring, and horses that loved being fed the apples, by me. It was a labyrinth of graceful arched courtyards, quiet walled gardens, and beautiful buildings. But no sheep though, not even one, which mystified me at the time. I know all this, because we went to school there, in the high-ceilinged rooms that the nuns and girls worked and lived in. My school had been next door, but mysteriously burnt down, so for two years, thats where all us young ladies went. Sometimes we went to mass at the church. We children thought it was a cathedral, with its marble pillars, and marble alter piece carved to an airy, frilly laciness from stone. It was another world, to see the nuns in their veils sitting at the front, holding hands with the disabled old ladies they looked after, who had lived there all their lives.

Good Shepard Church, Chadstone, 1930's photo

One day, the Convent lost the protection it had. Chadstone Shopping Centre

pulled it down and turned it into a parking lot. I was 15 and too young to do anything. Yet I still regret I didn't think to do anything, we all just accepted it.

Good Shepard Church Chadstone, back entry. Photo by Norman Wodetzki 1985, weeks before demolition

Part 2: Abbotsford

15 or so years later, the world changed, we changed. Melbourne had a second Good Shepard Convent, in Abbotsford. When the developers came after it, this time we fought, and we won. I remember campaigners would stand on the bike paths that passed it, showing the cyclists the plans for demolition, for new apartment towers. They invited us to to sign petitions, write letters.

We did.

They gathered beautiful enterprises: a Steiner school, artists studio's, vegetarian social good cafes.

It worked.

Abbotsford Convent is now a glorious village-like place where good things happen, and culture gets created. Its bringing wholeness to people's lives and spirits in a way the original nuns would never have imagined. Thats what being holy is all about, after all.

This week, on a dreamy Autumn day, I got to go to the very first Superbloom Festival at the Abbotsford Convent. You wander from one joy to the next, do yoga, see beautiful art, and get your thoughts turned upside down listing to your heroes present. The sun slanted in dapples though the trees, people looked happy and amazed, and I didn't want the day to end.

While 20 million people are caught in the parking lot and shops at Chadstone, where the ghost of a catherdral floats, we escaped that. We stretch, eat good food, get closer to our friends, and hatch ways of making life even better.

Abbotsford Convent c. 1960 Music, conviviality, fun. Nothing has changed

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