Dominicans to depart Canberra after 60 years

The Dominican house in Canberra is currently home to two men – Blackfriars Parish priest Fr Mannes Tellis and Brother Francis.

It’s a far cry from the mid 1960’s, when around 35 Dominican priests and seminarians resided in the nation’s capital.

Towards the end of this year, the Dominican order will depart Canberra after marking 60 years of service, returning the pastoral care of the Watson parish to the Archdiocese.

“For Dominicans, our religious life hinges on a substantial community of priests and religious,” Fr Mannes said.

“It should be about six people or more, so the idea of living with two priests or religious in the house is a bit of an anomaly. It’s not consistent with the spirt of the order.”

The Dominicans first came to Canberra in the early 1960’s, establishing Blackfriars Priory and Signadou Teachers College.

“There was the hope that the order would set up a seminary here in Canberra,” Fr Mannes said.

“There was an idea that Canberra would be a university town – a lot of academics.”

Previously, the formation of Dominican priests had been divided between Sydney and Melbourne.

“The men did their first two or three years in Melbourne in philosophy and then they went up to Sydney to our house to do theology,” Fr Mannes said.

“And because there were a lot of vocations at that time, the quarters were getting far too full, and they were trying to find a new place to have all of them.”

Once established in the capital, the Dominicans offered valuable support to the community.

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“I think one of the main things the order brought to Canberra was the chaplaincy to the ANU, and having chaplains there that were often academics as well,” Fr Mannes said.

“I think that really added to Canberra’s intellectual scene at that time, and obviously helped students maintain their faith.”

Another important aspect of the Dominicans’ ministry was adult faith education.

“Because the community consisted of priests who were academics, they would teach theology, philosophy and scripture,” Fr Mannes explained.

“So, you had a cohort of priests who were able to not just teach the seminarians, but also the wider community. There were a lot of faith activities going on in the community. That was really one of the major contributions, not just to the parish but to the wider catholic community as well.”

Fr Mannes, who arrived in Canberra in 2019, said he would likely be moving to Adelaide – the first foundation the Dominicans made in Australia in 1868.

“The memories I take from here is the kindness and fraternity of the priests of the diocese. That’s been really good for me,” he said.

“Our community is quite small, so the priests have been helpful and fraternal. That’s been a real aid to my priestly life. Archbishop Christopher has been very good to us as well – encouraging and welcoming.”

Fr Mannes said the people of the parish had been an incredible support during his time in Watson.

“They are wonderful – they have a lot of talent and organisational skills and have taken on board a lot of things for the parish, like Alpha and the adult education the Dominicans used to do,” he said.

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“The torch has really been passed on to them, and they continue that legacy.”

Fr Mannes said he was grateful to the Archdiocese for hosting the order for so many years, and it was with some regret that they were leaving.

“Hopefully we have contributed to the life of the diocese and the people,” he said.

“But I suppose there is new growth there too, with the new community of fathers coming from the Philippines.”

Fr Mannes celebrates his last Mass as parish priest in Watson on 26 November, with a final Thanksgiving Mass to be held on 3 December.