Catholic Mass was held at South Brisbane from 1866, in a small wooden chapel built on land granted by NSW Department of Land and Public Works for ‘R.C. Church purposes’. A school run on the same site by a lay teacher was auspiced by The Sisters of Mercy. The situation changed between 1870 and 1880 when the Sisters of St Joseph led by Mother Mary MacKillop took up the opportunity to establish their first Queensland school at St Mary’s. However, they left in 1880 due to ‘difficulties with Bishop James Quinn’. Over the next the decade as South Brisbane developed into a town of fine buildings the parish of South Brisbane was formerly established. In 1892 a presbytery was built, the foundation stone for a new church was laid and opening its doors the following year. With parish growth evident the Sisters of Mercy opened a new school in 1909 and a convent nearby in 1915. In 1929 the church was refurbished and a new sanctuary constructed, prior to industrial expansion changing the face of South Brisbane and impacting on parish numbers. As the locality became less attractive and new suburbs developed, people moved out, although they were soon replaced by an influx of European migrants in the post war era. Regardless, as parish numbers declined the school was eventually closed in 1964. With less than 50 people attending Masses, the last priest departed in 1980 and South Brisbane was no longer a parish.
In the same year, Fr Peter Kennedy was appointed Prison Chaplain for South East Queensland and Administrator of St Mary’s. During this time, Fr Kennedy was acutely aware of the plight of prisoners and the ongoing devastation resulting from entrenched poverty. After serving as Prison Chaplain for six years, Fr Kennedy travelled from his home in the Numinbah Valley to preside at weekend Masses at St Mary’s. Over time, numbers at St Mary’s increased as people from all over Brisbane and beyond were inspired by both Fr Kennedy’s and Fr Terry Fitzpatrick’s homilies focused on social justice, spirituality and support for the relief of homelessness. By 1998 attendance peaked at around 800 and a decision to work closely with Micah Projects to reduce the impact of poverty, became the focus of each weekend.
Over the next ten years while numbers fluctuated, the commitment to Micah never wavered. In 2008, as the Archdiocese of Brisbane challenged changes implemented over time to St Mary’s liturgy community support significantly increased. When in April 2009, Fr Kennedy was ‘sacked by his Archbishop for contravening aspects of Catholic doctrine’, a substantial community , followed Peter Kennedy and Terry Fitzpatrick to the nearby Queensland Trades and Labour Council (TLC) building, after they were required to it vacate St Mary’s South Brisbane.
Adapted from Maggie Boyle, A Timeline of St Mary’s South Brisbane in Peter Kennedy the Man Who Threatened Rome