History of the Grail in Australia: An Overview

The Grail came to Australia in 1936 with the arrival in Sydney of five Dutch Grail members.  They had been invited by the Catholic bishops who expected that they would build a youth movement of young women here as successfully as they had done in the Netherlands.

Geographically, socially, politically, culturally, Australia was markedly different from the Netherlands. Even so, the Grail movement, based in Sydney, had speedy success among girls in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, regional centres in NSW, Victoria and Queensland, and in New Zealand.

By 1944, several Australian bishops had set up youth movements under the direction of the clergy and the Grail movement declined.

Click here to read a detailed summary of The Grail in Australia (1981 - 2016)

Centres of Christian formation for young women

Grail centres arose at various times and places reflecting the needs and interests of young women of that time and in that place.

In the early years, centres for Christian formation and personal development of young women were located in Springwood in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney(1938) in New South Wales; and in Melbourne, Victoria ( (Tay Creggan – 1940). These centres were places for living in community with Grail women and sharing in reflection and prayer.

‘Ballybrac’ was opened in Mackay, Queensland (1955) as a residential centre for working girls needing accommodation in the city. It became a regional centre of Christian life and mission, where successive Grail teams worked cooperatively with the Catholic community, members of other churches and other Mackay citizens on social development projects, actions for social justice, adult education programs, training of catechists, preparation for marriage courses and a family movement.

Between 1954 and 1971, the Sydney Grail centre (‘Avila’) in North Sydney accommodated 12 young women each year who came to Sydney from Asia and regional NSW for study or work. During their stay they were also offered opportunities for personal and faith development and ongoing participation in the Grail movement. Since 1972, the centre has developed a range of activities and programs of adult education and formation for the wider Christian community in Sydney: lectures, discussions, reflections on mid-week evenings; full-day and half-day seminars and workshops in weekends; liturgies, prayer and music from the Grail Singers (a choir of men and women’s voices) to mark special days and seasons. It is also the administration and communication centre for the other involvements of Grail women.

In 1964, The Grail agreed to a proposal from the Diocese of Townsville in North Queensland to take responsibility for a Catholic Women’s College, affiliated with James Cook University of North Queensland, another welcome project with young women. St Raphael’s College was a Grail project from 1964 to 1999 which aimed to be a Christian community committed to women’s development and leadership, engaging as fully as possible with other residential colleges, the university itself and relevant organisations in the town. Maintaining the independence of the women’s college was a recurring challenge. In 2006 , St Raphael's was amalgamated with the Catholic men’s college.

Grail work responding to noticed needs

Other Grail work in Australia arose out of the interests of Grail members and the needs they noticed within their communities.

In Sydney, married Grail members formed their own group, the Torchbearers, which developed, with the involvement also of their husbands, into the Family Apostolate Movement (1948-72) and spread through the Archdiocese. This movement gave way to the Christian Family Movement when it came to Sydney.

The Catholic Central Library in Sydney was a Grail project 1950-57. It flourished as the staff built up an extensive holding of books and current journals, a borrowing service for city and country dwellers and initiated evening lectures and a regular Books and Reading radio program. The Sydney Archdiocese resumed the site of the Library for another purpose and the Grail staff withdrew in disappointment,

From 1984 in Townsville, Grail members also engaged themselves in work and relationships with the aboriginal community, Pacific Island women, programs with Papua New Guinean Grail women, the House of Prayer, Townsville Little Theatre and the Multicultural Support Group helping refugees to settle.

Yarraville Neighbourhood House (1985 - 1992) was the initiative of a group of young university graduates who met weekly at the Grail Centre in Melbourne. Situated in a multicultural suburb, the house offered hospitality to people in the neighbourhood and tried to respond to some of their needs, eg, after-school help for non-English-speaking students at nearby Yarraville Girls’ Secondary School, English communication for migrant adults, an adult literacy program, community development projects. The initiating group gained the support of the local Council and set up a community-based Committee of Management, so that the Neighbourhood House could maintain its role in the community after they could no longer be there.

Since 1986 an active Grail group has developed in Brisbane consisting mostly of former residents in Mackay and former university students from Townsville. They are engaged in parish development, an overseas aid project, issues of social justice, children’s liturgies and adult Christian formation and interfaith relations.

The Australian Grail overseas

Since 1948, Australian Grail members have collectively given well over 100 years of their energy and creativity living and working with people of other cultures in other lands: in Asia (Hong Kong, Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore, India, Thailand and Cambodia), in the Pacific (Papua New Guinea, the Solomons, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa) in Africa (South Africa, Uganda, Ghana and Tanzania); in Europe (England, Scotland, the Netherlands, Italy and Portugal); and in the USA.

Status in the Catholic Church

In the revision of Canon Law after the Second Vatican Council, The Grail fits into the designation, Associations of Christ’s Faithful (Private). This means that The Grail has not been established by the decision of a Bishop and so is not authorised to speak on behalf of the Catholic Church. This status has given The Grail the freedom to hold to its original vision and discern its way in changing times and circumstances.

Chronology of major events and projects

1936:              The Grail arrived in Australia

1938 – 63:         A property in Springwood, Blue Mountains, New South Wales, a gift from Mrs Collins, provided an ideal place for particular programs of personal development and training for young women wishing to dedicate their lives to God in the Grail.   It was also used for  a variety of short residential programs  for other young women in Sydney and regional New South Wales, including summer schoolsschoolgirl camps and seasonal celebrations  of liturgical feasts.  Springwood was sold in 1964 and replaced by a house close to Tay Creggan in Melbourne. 

1940 – 69:    At the invitation of Daniel Mannix, Archbishop of Melbourne, the Grail established a centre in Tay Creggan, Hawthorn, where residential programs of adult Christian education and formation for young women were created. The house accommodated over 50 residents, mostly from the Eastern States of Australia. From 1960-69, Tay Creggan became also an evening college offering a wide range of courses of education and Christian formation for women and men of any age living in Melbourne.  In  its peak years, this project attracted close to 1000 participants annually.

1942-45:           The Arrows Club in Edgecliff, Sydney, was a centre for rest and recreation for women serving with the armed forces during World War II.  Tay Creggan  was used for this purpose in Melbourne.

1946:                   The Grail in Sydney secured a house of its own, another gift of Mrs M Collins. The Minnow, a small stone cottage in Darling Point was sold in 1954 and replaced with the larger Avila in North Sydney.

1943 – 72:             Married Grail members in Sydney formed their own group, the Torchbearers - the forerunner to the Family Apostolate Movement and then the Christian Family Movement.

1950-57:                The Catholic Central Library became a Grail project in Sydney.

1954 – 1971:       ‘Avila’ in Sydney provided accommodation for young women each year who came to Sydney from Asia and regional NSW for study or work.   Since then it has served as a centre of adult education and social, cultural and spiritual formation.

1955 -1984:         ‘Ballybrac’ in Mackay ran as a residential centre for working girls needing accommodation in the city and regional centre of Christian life and mission.

1964 - 99:             The Grail runs the Catholic Women’s College (St Raphael's), affiliated with James Cook University of North Queensland, another welcome project with young women.

1970 - 2001:          After leaving Tay Creggan at the end of 1969, The Grail continued its work in Melbourne from a house of its own in Kew, which it named Hesed.  Hesed has variously served as a residence for Grail members and for a small number of overseas students, an administration and communication centre, and a location for on-going adult personal development, for reflection, prayer and celebration and for planning projects.

1985 - 92:             Yarraville Neighbourhood House was founded and managed by The Grail until 1992 and continues under community management to offer hospitality and service to the neighbourhood.

2002:                  The Grail Centre in Melbourne was replaced with a smaller centre and secretariat in Balwyn.