Playwright, DAVID BURTON | Queensland Theatre Company Program
I came to St Mary’s as many others did: a sticky-beaking lapsed Catholic. I visited the church just once, at the height of its controversy, in 2009. What I encountered was a refreshing, relevant and resonant interpretation of a Catholic mass. It addressed, very directly, so many aspects of Catholicism that had alienated me, my peers, and Christians around the world. Any traces of theological coldness had melted into homilies and prayers that were intimate and heartfelt. There was an atmosphere of gentle protest, and incredible vulnerability.
So when I began a lengthy research process to transfer the story to theatre, I was expecting to write a story of rough and tumble spiritual underdogs against an inflexible empire. A modern day David and Goliath fable. I encountered something far more complex.
I sat for many hours with the real Terry and Peter, their congregation (past and present), the current Archbishop of the Brisbane diocese, and others Each person told the story of St Mary’s In Exile differently. But each were united in their very human search for meaning. Behind the hierarchical titles of ‘priest’, ‘bishop’, or ‘congregant’ were people looking for validation, solace intellectual stimulation, unity and hope.
The story of St Mary’s poses big questions for the institutions of the 21st century, religious or otherwise. How are we able to maintain traditions, acknowledging the past, but also maintain relevance to the present? Is any institution capable of truly comprehensive inclusivity? Is a belief meaningful if it doesn’t have practical application? And of course, what happens to a young person when you take away their capacity to feel romantic love, and tell them they have powers beyond an ordinary human?
It’s been a privilege to write this show, and to work so closely with the St Mary’s In Exile community. They live on, still gathering every weekend at the TLD Building on Peel Street. MICAH Projects continues to do amazing work for social justice (wwwmicahprojects.org.au). My heartfelt thanks to the community for their trust and generosity.