On February 26 1854 Capuchin friar Father John Aloysius O'Connell, newly arrived from Ireland, celebrated the first mass on the crown allotment where Saints Peter and Paul's church now stands.
This mass was held in a tent and served the tent dwellers who lived crowded into the settlement that had grown up south of the Yarra. On June 1 the same year the church tent was opened as a school for the children of the parish (which at that stage served the whole area down to the mouth of the Yarra).
The following years saw a rapid expansion in the population of the area and in the buildings to serve it: churches, schools, orphanages, a hall, a presbytery, churches, convents, etc. See Chronology. Through the riches brought from the gold fields and, more surprisingly during hard times too, the parish kept raising money for an expanding number of buildings and services.
The foundation stone of the first Sts Peter and Paul's Church was laid in 1855. Meanwhile the population of the area had grown so much that Fr O'Driscol put it to the parishioners they needed a new church. They agreed that he should begin to prepare plans and collect funds. Of the designs submitted by leading architects T.A. Kelly's was accepted and in November 1869 the foundation stone was laid.
The construction of the church was to be in three stages: first the nave and chancel to hold 400 people; then the rest of the church to hold 600, and finally, the spire and tower. The bluestone was to be hewn from the Brunswick quarries and the freestone was to be carted from Malmsbury and Kangaroo Flat. After delays caused by difficulties in fundraising, the first stage of the church was finally completed in April 1872. In 1875 the organ was installed.
Money towards the next stage of the church was raised at a gigantic bazaar in the Orderly Room of the Military Forces in Howe Crescent.
This section was completed in 1879. The final stage with the design modified to accommodate 1230 was built in 1912. The building of the 40 m tower was left to a later generation, and still is.
Sts Peter and Paul's School moved from its tent home to a brick building later in 1854. About 50 girls and 50 boys were separately educated there by Mr John Sargeois and Miss Anne Doolan. Over the years the parish raised funds for and played host to many other schools, among them, Loreto commercial college, Our Lady's school and domestic science college, Christian Brothers college, St. Joseph's technical school, Our Lady of the Assumption primary school, St Peter and Paul's primary school.
The links below give access to the draft parish history compiled by Robert Grogan.
(Please note that page numbers within the sections relate to the other sections. The document has been divided for ease of use)