The Old Friary, a beautiful Anglican property of enormous historical and spiritual significance to the Anglican Diocese of Brisbane and to the broader community, is being sold to UnitingCare Queensland to complement their adjoining Iona Retirement Village and residential aged care facility. The property ownership is expected to be transferred around June 2021. Importantly, special conditions of the sale are intended to ensure that the Old Friary remains a community-focused heritage oasis.
In 2017, Brisbane City Council acknowledged the historical significance of the Old Friary Complex (St Christopher’s Lodge (the large house), St Clare’s Cottage and the Chapel] by including it on their heritage register. Set amongst 2.6 hectares (6.5 acres) of parkland in Kenmore Hills, this significant property has been a place of spiritual nurture and sanctuary for decades.
Since the early 1990s, when the Brookfield Centre for Spirituality began at this site, various groups in the local community have enjoyed using it as a venue for meetings, workshops, art shows and other events including weddings and baptisms, while, importantly, its contemplative use by the Anglican Church and other denominations has continued.
Folklore told that a large colonial home dominated the hilltop, known as Carver Hill, since 1890. However, research suggests that, in 1924, a section of *Richard Gailey’s old family home, built in 1890, Glen Olive, was purchased by the Watts family to construct a grand family home on their Carver Hill property. (*Note: Richard Gailey (1834-1924), Architect, designed many historical buildings in Brisbane including the Regatta and Orient Hotels, Baptist Tabernacle, Brisbane Girls’ Grammar School, Moorland House at Wesley Hospital, and a section of Fernberg, to name a few.)
In 1932, Father Robert Bartlett Bates, Rector of All Saints’, Wickham Terrace, purchased this property in order to establish St John’s Home for Aged Men. Fr Bates felt that the Church in Australia was hindered in its advance by the lack of religious communities and desired to found both men’s and women’s communities based on the life of St Francis and St Clare. In 1928, A Church of England Order of St Francis, known as the Daughters of St Clare, was established by Fr Bates to care for aged women at Spring Hill and now included caring for the men in St John’s. However, St John’s was later relocated to West Toowong because the men considered it ‘too far out of town’.
In 1934, Fr Bates converted the site into ‘St Christopher’s Lodge for Boys’, a farm school to educate and care for disadvantaged boys. In 1940, a cottage was constructed on the site in order to house the Daughters of St Clare, who continued to assist in caring for and/or teaching the boys. St Clare’s Cottage then became the School House, enabling the school curriculum to be taught onsite (previously the boys had attended Kenmore State School) while also continuing to educate the boys in farming practices. According to many past students of St Christopher’s School, Fr Bates was a very caring and compassionate man, with some commenting, “He was the only father they knew”. The school continued to operate until Fr Bates’ death in 1955. Fr Bates had always intended bringing a men’s Order of St Francis to Australia.
In intervening years, the site was used by the Diocese as a youth and conference centre, becoming a campsite for Comrades of St George and for the Church Mailbag for outback children.
Ten years after Fr Bates died, the first Anglican Franciscan Brothers arrived from England, invited by Archbishop Strong and joined by many others, who, for 22 years used St Christopher’s as their Friary. In 1971, the Friars built and dedicated their octagonal chapel to Fr Bates under the patronage of St Mary, St Francis and St Clare. St Clare’s Cottage became the Novice House while the Friars were accommodated in ‘monks’ cells’ in St Christopher’s. Many people in the Diocese will remember the Brothers’ days with great fondness, especially their famed Friary Fayres, their famous pottery and their massive open-air services to the sounds of jangling guitars. They continued the tradition of farm production on the site. Of great significance was their work in the community to care for people who were disadvantaged. In 1987, the Brothers diversified and relocated.
Expo 88 volunteers working for the Pavilion of Promise were housed on the site, but it was left in a mess.
In 1991, under the direction of The Rev’d David Binns, as well as Jack Thurgood and his team of volunteers from St David’s Anglican Church, Chelmer, the site was rehabilitated to become the Brookfield Centre for Christian Spirituality. Fr Binns used his artistic talents to decorate the chapel while Franciscan Spirituality was a strong influence in his ministry. The site continues today as a place of community engagement, and for worship and retreat….and much more…and is now fondly called Old Friary.
As it changes hands to UnitingCare, a Friary Common’s Working Group is being established, which will include Anglican and community representatives along with the UnitingCare Mission team. Importantly, the working group will consider continuing the community engagement within the site’s spiritual and historical precinct. UnitingCare respects and acknowledges the sacred significance of this important site and will seek to care for and protect that heritage as they construct their new facilities.
The Old Friary has for the past nine decades been of great spiritual significance to many people in our Diocese and beyond. It has been a place where the teachings of the Gospels, as modelled by St Francis and St Clare, were central. It has been a place where care of others, including humanitarian work, has been paramount. The Old Friary has played a very significant role in God’s plan and within the life of our Diocese. May this work long continue.
Those who have been associated with the Old Friary are invited to join opportunities for farewell and thanksgiving before it changes hands.
- A Lenten quiet day will be held on Saturday, 20 February 2021. To register please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. [Editor’s note: event registrations have now closed for this event due to numbers].
- On Palm Sunday, 28 March 2021, the Archbishop, The Most Rev’d Dr Phillip Aspinall, will celebrate a final Thanksgiving Service in the chapel at 2.30 pm followed by a celebratory afternoon tea on the lawn. As COVID-19 conditions will apply, registrations are essential. Please register online.
In the meantime, please note that the Old Friary is still available for hire until the end of March 2021 with a Covid-safe plan in place. Bookings can be made through Linda Burridge at St Francis College. Please contact Linda via 3514 7424 or email: LBurridge@ministryeducation.org.au.