Last supper? Church urged to ‘show heart’ after tossing out beloved South Melbourne cafe

Last supper? Church urged to ‘show heart’ after tossing out beloved South Melbourne cafe

South Melbourne residents and parishioners have urged the Catholic Church to “show some heart” after the owner of a beloved Italian café on church grounds was told his doors must close next month.

More than 100 South Melbourne locals and primary school students gathered outside the Saints Peter and Paul’s Church on Saturday to try to save the Montague Street cafe Pietro e Paolo.

Parishioners and locals say café owner Andrea Mantese has kept alive the community spirit fostered by Father Bob McGuire, who was the parish’s priest until he was forced to retire in 2012.

Andrea Mantese inside his beloved Italian cafe, which he will have to close next month unless the Catholic Church has a change of heart.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

Bags of lemons are routinely swapped for fresh croissants at the café, while homeless people living in the area are fed, no questions asked. During COVID lockdowns, the venue became a pop-up florist, with fresh flowers sold to brighten the days of those living nearby.

Chelsea Murrell, whose children attend Galilee Regional Catholic Primary School across the road, said the bustling café has become the go-to meeting place for the school community.

“It’s a little slice of Tuscany. I actually call it my second home because it’s where we meet every single day that it’s open, all the mums together after drop-off,” she said.

Inside Italian cafe Pietro e Paolo. Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

“It’s been part of every celebration we’ve had since it’s opened. Andrea has made every birthday cake for my children. It would be a shame to let the property just sit vacant.

“Andrea has more charity in his little finger than we’ve seen being shown by the people [in the rectory] next door.”

More than 500 people have signed an online petition to save the cafe, while hundreds more have put pen to paper on a petition inside the venue.

South Melbourne locals and parishioners outside the Saints Peter and Paul’s Catholic Church in a bid to save Pietro e Paolo on Saturday.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

Robert Larkins, who has been part of the congregation for 30 years, said it was not yet clear why Pietro e Paolo’s lease would not be renewed. He said parishioners haven’t been given any detail of what is planned at the site, with no active council planning applications for the red brick building.

Larkins said the parish’s head priest Father Gary Deverywas refusing to discuss the decision.

“Let’s hope that the Catholic Church shows some heart, particularly in this day and age when it needs to indicate it has some compassion for the community,” Larkins said.

Protesters outside the Saints Peter and Paul’s Catholic Church on Saturday.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

Prominent Melbourne barrister Robert Richter, QC, who represented former Catholic Archbishop and Cardinal George Pell against charges of child sex abuse, was among the protesters on Saturday morning.

Richter said the parish had form when it came to “tossing people out” following McGuire’s forced retirement at the age of 77.

“Pietro e Paolo is an iconic place which has given people a sense of community and feeling to people around here,” Richter said. “The closure is practically a deliberate challenge to people who love the place to get them out.”

This is not Mantese’s first run-in with the church over the building lease. A costly legal fight took place two years ago when the church tried to end the cafe’s five-year lease prematurely.

Andrea Mantese inside Pietro e Paolo on Saturday morning. Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

Mantese said the support from the South Melbourne community was “overwhelming”, but he’d been left “shocked and horrified” by the manner in which he was being removed from the venue.

“I’m disgusted. I asked if we could arrange a lease at least until Christmas, or go month by month, but they said no,” he said. “[Father Devery] said to my face, ‘it’s not up to me’, but the archdiocese says the parish is 100 per cent independent.”

The Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne did not respond to questions from The Age, but in correspondence with protesters, executive director of stewardship Tim O’ Leary said the building was under the ownership of the parish and the decision “ultimately rests with the parish priest”.

“[I] understand that the parish is in the midst of a broader master planning process, including a review [of] all aspects of parish property,” he said in an email.

After the protest finished, local resident Patrick Casey led a large group to Devery’s home at the parish rectory to try to get some answers. After a series of loud knocks, there was no answer.

Patrick Casey leads protesters to the parish’s rectory.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

Casey, who fears the entire block could be sold off to developers, said the cafe “has recently been the only functioning part of this community”.

Devery could not be contacted for comment.

The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.

Most Viewed in National

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article