The Russian Catholic Center in Melbourne

Chapel of St. Nicholas

A Short History Based on the Note of Fr. George Branch (Brianchaninoff)

Towards the end of the Second World War, many Russians displaced by the war refused to return to Russia fearing reprisals by the communist regime. This resulted in a considerable number of Russian refugees in Europe. Thousands of these refugees were assembled in refugee camps, especially in Germany and Italy.


Photo: Fr. George and the Pope

Fr. George Branch (Brianchaninoff), M.I.C., was ordained in July 1944, and soon after finishing the regular course of theology, started to work with the Russian refugees in Italy, visiting them in different camps located in Bagnoli, Aversa, Pagani, Cinecitta, and Lipari, among others.

A center for Russian children was organized in Rome in a building belonging to the Ursuline nuns. There Fr. George used to celebrate the Divine Liturgy nearly every day and also worked in the center for Russian refugees located in the building of the Pontifical Russian College (the Russicum). Sometimes he would visit refugees in the camps run by UNRA or the IRC.

Towards the end of 1950 many refugees settled in other countries, such as the United States, Canada, Argentina, Chile, and Australia. Fr. George was then sent to London where he lived until 1956, trying to contact and assist the new Russian settlers in England. There was not much work to be done in England, and Fr. George was sent to Australia in 1957.

Fr. George first settled in Sydney, but later in 1960 he moved to Melbourne. Many Russians from China started coming to Australia and there was much work to be done in helping them to settle in their new home country. Most of them did not know the English language and with that found it difficult to find jobs or lodging. Not many Australians at that time wanted to lease their houses.

The children, too, needed to be sent to schools and in general there was much to do to help the new arrivals who during certain periods came in the hundreds. Fr. George often used to meet the new arrivals at the ports of entry.

While Fr. George worked in Sydney, Fr. Andrew Katkoff worked in Melbourne doing the same job as Fr. George did in Sydney. Fr. Andrew also found sponsors for many Russians thus enabling them to come from China to Australia. When Fr. Andrew was called to Rome to be consecrated Bishop for the Russian Catholics, Fr. George moved to Melbourne. Fr. Andrew helped Fr. George to organize the Russian Catholic Centre with the vigorous support of then Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop Carboni, and with financial help from the Oriental Congregation.

With the help of Russian friends, Frs. Andrew and George established the Chapel of Saint Nicholas in a large house in Kew and started to celebrate the Divine services there in October 1960. Some icons were brought from China, some were later acquired by Fr. George in Australia and in Europe.

After Fr. Andrew's departure, Fr. George was greatly aided by Fr. Peter Knowles, O. P., and occasionally by other priests, especially during Holy Week and Pascha. The Chapel of Saint Nicholas has had several distinguished visitors, including the Melkite Catholic Patriarch Maximos, Archbishop Isssam Darwich, Melkite Metropolitan of Australia, His Eminence Cardinal Knox, Archbishop of Melbourne, and Archbishop Francis Little of Melbourne, among others.

In 1992 part of the block of land where the Centre stands was sold and with that money the community managed to construct a hall with a capacity of fifty people. At present the hall is often used by the Russian community for concerts, lectures, receptions, viewings of programs on Russian television, and even for wedding parties and anniversaries. Fr. George allows the hall to be used for these events without charge, being happy to provide a place where Russians can gather together, mingle and feel at home.

Fr. George is happy that he has been able to do something for the welfare of the Russian people in the new Russia.

In 1991 he visited Russia for the first time since he was born there in Blagoveschensk. His family had left Russia nearly immediately for Harbin, China where he was raised and received his primary and secondary education; thereafter he entered the Congregation of the Marian Fathers which sent him to Rome for theological studies.

Thanks to the generosity of many people in Australia, Fr. George has been able to go to Russia again in 1992 and 1994 to visit with many new friends there and to provide material assistance to them. He hopes to visit Russia once more in the near future, perhaps for the last time, to visit his newly acquired friends there and to help them in this difficult period of transition through which they are now struggling.

From left to right:
Fr. Archdeacon Lawrence Cross
Melkite Catholic Metropolitan of Australia Archbishop Issam (Darweh)
Fr. Peter (Knowles), O.P.
Fr. George Branch (Brianchaninoff), M.I.C.
before the iconostasis of The Chapel of St. Nicholas

Copyright © 2000-2004 St. Michael’s Chapel Association, Inc.
Last modified on Sunday October 31, 2004 at 2:15 AM EST