Gentle, loving chaos at St Kilda parish inner-city refuge

Fr John Petrulis

Sacred Heart Mission in the Melbourne suburb of St Kilda, an inner-city refuge for mainly homeless and troubled men, was a swarm of gentle chaos on a Sunday morning in mid-November, reports NCR Online.

Volunteers were serving a meal in a parish hall that seems an extension of the nearby church. Or perhaps it is the other way around, for it appears to be a seamless connection between sanctuary and ministry, and it's been that way since the day in 1982 when Sacred Heart Parish's then-pastor, Fr Ernie Smith, opened his door to share a meal with a man who was homeless.

The story is as Catholic as Catholic gets in the modern era: It wasn't long before the parish staff was serving meals from the presbytery's kitchen, according to a history of the place. Within a year, the number had grown to 70 a day and today the parish's dining hall serves breakfast and lunch every day of the year to hundreds of people in need.

Sacred Heart Mission, explains Fr John Petrulis, the current pastor, is now a separate nonprofit entity from the parish, but that is largely a paper formality. The reality is that the parish is intimately tied to the work of the mission.

As the meal service has expanded, so have other ministries associated with the mission. The standalone nonprofit had an annual budget of more than $14 million in 2012, funded by a combination of federal, state and local government money, donations from individuals and groups, as well as support from the Melbourne Archdiocese.

Fr Petrulis said the staff numbers nearly 200 full- and part-time and the work is augmented by a partnership with a local hospital's psychiatric team, which works with mission staff on preventive measures, and it has cooperated with professionals studying links between trauma and homelessness.

Photo: Fr John Petrulis, right, leads the baptism of a young Catholic at Sacred Heart Parish in Melbourne, Australia

FULL STORY A quiet Australian revolution (NCR Online)

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