The Windows of St Ignatius

Dad had a procedure on his heart today at Epworth. Just an investigation, he called it. That makes it four in total, including a Bert Newton type quadruple bypass thirteen years ago when things were touch and go. Dad turned 70 recently.

This morning, I found mum in the hospital cafeteria over a sudoku. Dad had just gone in. We had a coffee and under a friendly sun walked around the corner and up the hill to St Ignatius Church, Richmond. Groups of chatty teenage girls on Christmas shopping trips rushed along Bridge Road while workmen in fluoro shirts lazed about during smoko.

Mum always visits St Ignatius when Dad’s in Epworth. This time she had extra reason as the other day at home in Warrnambool, Dr Quinn told her his sister belongs to the Sisters of St Joseph, the Brown Joeys, Saint Mary MacKillop’s mob, and they have a window there, dedicated to the order. It also has a footy theme.

We found the window in one of the little chapels off to the side. Near the bottom, Mary MacKillop is depicted before a classroom full of students. Above her is the first wooden, ramshackle Josephite school, in Penola, South Australia. Towards the top of the window a teacher stands protectively over two small children. In a scene from the parish’s children’s homes, she holds the hand of the girl while the boy is wearing a Richmond jumper and holding a footy. He’s wearing high lace up boots and three-quarter pants, the type worn at the turn of the last century.

We moved around the inside of the church, comforted by its familiarity and quiet. Volunteers swept the vast floors and replaced flowers. Mum checked Mass times.

We walked through the grounds of the old primary school, now part of Jesuit Social Services. I recalled reading about Richmond during the 1880s, when the suburb was one of the most crowded and squalid in the western world. And photos from the Depression era, half a century later. Groups of smiling orphans with grubby clothes and frosty breath, on a wintry Saturday on the fence at Punt Road. I thought of Captain Blood. Of the comfort footy and the Church have brought people and the tragic irony of the need for a Royal Commission.

Back at Epworth we met my sister Anne who had arrived to take over from me.

By mid-afternoon Mum and Dad were back at Anne’s. While chatting to Mum on the phone I could hear him in the background: I’m right. Driving home tomorrow.

Dad’s like the You Yangs – big, back from the road, always there. That’s one thing I’ve learnt from him: the first and most important part of being a parent is being there. I will be.


  1. Great yarn, Starks… the You Yang metaphor – brilliant.

  2. N eil Anderson says

    Enjoyed your close family story particularly how you would always be available as your father goes through another checkup at the Epworth. I have a six degrees of separation story of sorts. I also live near Warrnambool and had to go as far as Geelong for a quindruple (is that a word?) by-pass six years ago. Like Bert, I emerged from hospital thinner, knackered, but with a lot more hair at least.
    The thing that gets you through the first couple of weeks and then months is having family there immediately after the operation, even if they see you with all the tubes sticking out and your so doped up you keep asking did the Bulldogs win on Saturday…even though it’s January.
    The best thing to help country people is the subsidised accommodation at least in Geelong, where family can be just around the corner for visits.
    Hope your parents have the phone and internet again after two weeks off the air around Warrnambool. It’s hard beeing a knacker with no internet.

  3. Great piece, Andrew.

    I identify with every sentiment and observation.

    You covered a lot of turf in very few words.

    The skill of a good writer.

    Also love the You Yangs metaphor.

  4. Andrew Starkie says

    Ta daff. have you seen the window?

  5. Terrific read AGS.

  6. lovely piece Andrew.
    i often find myself distracted by the details stain glass windows during mass.
    i Hope your father recovers well :)

  7. Lovely work AS

  8. Great Man,

    Enjoyed the read and love the ‘Youees”.

    Jack Dyer I think was St Ignatius.

    Bobby and KB gave brilliant eulogies for probably the funniest bloke who may not have realised how funny he was.

    There’s the Fred Swift ‘tribute’ on World Sport. When asked to comment on his death, Jack went with “a bit of bad luck for Freddy”.

    I also remember him on World of Sport saying that Fitzroy had “copulated to the opposition”.

  9. It is worth reading Jack Dyer’s book ‘Captain Blood’ for his memories of the St. Ignatius church.
    My favourite memory of church and footy supposedly or mythically occured at the Immaculate Conception Church in Hawthorn in the 1960’s when an annual mission had a theme of ‘What would you do if God came to Hawthorn?’ which was posted on a noticeboard in the vestibule. Some wag wrote beneath this question, ‘Move Peter Hudson to centre half forward’.

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