Last week the University of Divinity moved to a new home, located at 90 Albion Road Box Hill in Wurundjeri country. This is part of the St Paschal Estate, property of the Franciscans and until 2020 the site of their friary and college. Situated next door to one of the University’s Colleges, Yarra Theological Union, the new premises provide a beautiful place to study, think, work and learn. The move was made possible by the vision and generosity of the Franciscans and their Provincial, Fr Phil Miscamble, together with financial support of the Victorian Government through the Victorian Higher Education Investment Support Fund.
Since 1991, the University’s administrative office has been housed in the Uniting Church manse in Highbury Grove, Kew. This facility has served the University well through an exceptional period of growth and development, during which the staff grew from four members – one living upstairs – to over twenty employees.
At a practical level, St Paschal Estate provides room for existing staff and for the University’s administration and governance functions. It also offers new possibilities, through the provision of spaces for hosting major events, conferences, research seminars, and classes. This will include the School of Graduate Research, providing support for MPhil and PhD students, and the new Professional Supervision Program, as well as the Office of the Vice-Chancellor. In addition to the University’s new neighbours, YTU and the Franciscans, the site will also accommodate tenants from partner organisations engaged in theological research and education.
St Paschal’s, in recent generations a place of gathering for Christian education and formation, will, I hope, become a focal point not only for the University but for our partners and the wider community. Its location in a friary reflects the medieval heritage of western Universities, born as places where the contest of ideas was embedded in a community of scholars and disciples, sending out graduates for the service of others and to change the world around them.
Our new home’s longer history as land in the keeping of the Kulin nations will, I pray, be acknowledged in the emerging ministry of the soon-to-be-launched School of Indigenous Studies, supporting Indigenous theological education and research in partnership with NAIITS, and resourcing all staff and students of the University through cultural awareness training and access to Indigenous scholarship.
It is undoubtedly a strange time to move, in between Melbourne’s fifth and sixth lockdowns; and I write this from home, unable for a few more days to return to my new office. Yet St Paschal’s reflects the University’s long history, intertwined in theological inheritances of this land and of more distant lands overseas. My hope and prayer is that St Paschal’s will be a source of joy and hope for all members of the University as we walk into the future. I look forward to welcoming you there soon.
Professor Peter Sherlock is the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Divinity. He is a cultural and religious historian of Renaissance and Reformation Europe and an expert on governance and leadership in educational and church settings. A graduate of the University of Melbourne and the University of Oxford, his academic career has included an ARC Postdoctoral Fellowship in History at the University of Melbourne and four years as Dean of the United Faculty of Theology, Melbourne.