A major $3.4 million reconstruction of the church and parish office complex at Narre Warren is progressing well and is expected to be completed in the first quarter of next year.

The development will provide seating for a congregation of more than 900 people at peak periods such as Easter and Christmas. When completed it will be the largest capacity church in the Sale Diocese. The church at Our Lady Help of Christian parish has previously been enlarged several times since it was constructed in 1981 and named the Chapel of Living Waters.

At that time the rapidly growing parish was only 18 months old, having been carved out of Berwick parish as the Melbourne metropolitan area started to expand into Gippsland. The church was enlarged in 1998, the sanctuary and altar area enlarged in 2005 and a further major extension in 2008 enabled seating for just over 600 people.

The current reconstruction retains most of the original building but the roof has been lifted and the sanctuary has been moved from the south west corner to the northern end of the building. This enables doors at the rear of the church to open into the narthex to accommodate larger congregations and then further open into the parish centre if required.

Parish priest Fr Brendan Hogan said the reconstruction had caused major disruption for the past 12 months but with the end in sight, he thanked parishioners, school parents and staff at both the parish and school for their understanding. The parish had 22,000 Catholics and the numbers attending Masses every weekend had continued to grow. He said the project would provide better facilities for parishioners and staff, and if work continued without disruption, it should be ready to hand over in the middle of February. The first stage last year had been to remove the parish office, the former Yallourn presbytery which was moved to the site in 1980 and in recent years was plagued by white ants. The parish staff had been in the temporary office ever since and as work began on the church at the start of this year, Masses were moved into the adjacent Don Bosco Primary School hall. Fr Hogan said the temporary office would be converted back into meeting rooms and the old church entry area would become a separate small chapel dedicated to Our Lady for private devotions. The new parish administration area at the rear of the church would feature an open plan office for staff, a meeting room and several individual offices for priests and deacons. He said an exciting feature of the development was the Stations of the Cross which would be mounted on 14 large vertical concrete slabs. Eight of these would lead into the church, five would be inside and the final station would be in a reflection garden. Fr Hogan said the garden would contain memorial plaques including that of former parish priest the late Fr John Allen.

This story first appeared in Catholic Life.