It’s an unassuming building in suburban Melbourne, but Dorish Maru College, has been a powerhouse of missionary formation since it was established 30 years ago.
Dorish Maru College (DMC), the formation house of the Divine Word Missionaries AUS Province, opened its doors in 1988 and since that time has formed and trained hundreds of missionaries who are now serving all around the world.
Located at Box Hill, on land owned by the Franciscans , DMC began as a place to train Australian missionaries and now offers one of the most multicultural formation experiences in the world.
Fr Larry Nemer SVD, a missionary and theological academic from the United States, who has lived at DMC since 1991, apart from a short stint in London, has put together a short history of DMC to celebrate its 30th anniversary.
In it, he says that until 1967,the candidates who joined the SVDs in Australia from 1944 onwards would complete their novitiate and philosophical studies at St Vincent’s Missionary Seminary in Marburg, Queensland and would then go overseas to the United States, England or Indonesia, to pursue their theological studies.
Then, in 1967, it was decided that the candidates to the priesthood would receive their philosophy or initial2-3 years of training in Australia and their final 3-4 years overseas. They moved to Marsfield, in Sydney and attended lectures at the Marists’ seminary at Toongabbie.
“However, the arrangement of students living in several houses on the property proved unsatisfactory,” writes Fr Larry in the history. “It was decided to take up the option of our students joining the Yarra Theological Union in Melbourne.”
The students first took up residence in a section of the Carmelite Monastery at Donvale in 1978 and began attending classes at YTU that year.
The following year the Province bought a large house in Essendon from the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary and attended YTU, which was by now located at the Franciscan Monastery in Box Hill. They remained there until 1988 when the current Dorish Maru College was built.
It was named Dorish Maru College to keep alive the memory of the SVD priests and brothers and the SSpS sisters who had been killed on the Japanese Ship – the Dorish Maru – when they were being transferred from the island where they had been interned, back to the island of New Guinea, during World War II.
Fr Larry says it is ironic that a formation house set up for Australian missionaries to be educated in their own culture is now known for its multicultural intake.
“By the end of the 1980s, local vocations had pretty much dried up,” he says. “However, Dorish Maru became one of the most multicultural/intercultural formation houses in the Society and was able to offer an experience of intercultural living to seminarians and brothers in the Asia Pacific Zone that no other institution could offer.”
Over the last 30 years, DMC has been home to seminarians and brothers from various countries including Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, India, Papua New Guinea, Japan, Korea, China, Colombia, Mexico and the Pacific Island countries such as Vanuatu and Fiji.
One of the great strengths of DMC has been its strong relationship with YTU over the years as well as the various other religious congregations and other Christian churches who are part of the University of Divinity.
“For the seminarians and brothers coming from other countries, perhaps the greatest challenge for them was sitting side by side with men from other congregations, sisters and lay women, and students from other churches,” Fr Larry says.
“This helped them to develop a real openness to people from different backgrounds, made them sensitive to feminist issues in the Church, and taught them to be ecumenical.”
Apart from its purpose as a house of study and prayer, hospitality and fellowship has always played a central role in the life of DMC.
“Being on the same campus with YTU, it became a place where students would feel welcome to come for lunch, faculty would have department meetings and seminars, Christian groups would consider DMC their ‘second home’,” Fr Larry says.
“Mutual enrichment took place.”
Fr Larry says that in compiling the history of DMC to mark its 30th anniversary, he was able to reflect on the role of the College in the life of the Province.
“I think my overwhelming feeling when I finished the task was gratitude to God for being part of such a vital institution in the life of the Church and our Society for so many years,” he says.
“So many wonderful memories came back – happy ones, especially of our Mission Days and ordinations, but also sad ones, of times when we went through very challenging periods for a variety of reasons.”
He says he hopes DMC will have a bright future in forming young missionaries to go out into the world.
“I would hope that DMC will continue to be a place of hospitality for the University of Divinity, Yarra Theological Union, and the churches of Melbourne, and a formation centre for those SVD students and candidates who are open to living an intercultural community life dedicated to serving the poor and marginalised, and people of various cultures.”
Top Right: Students from Dorish Maru College over the years are now missionaries working in both Australia and around the world.
Middle Left: Academic theological study is a major focus of life at DMC.
Middle Right: Ordinations and final vows ceremonies are times of joy for the DMC community and the whole SVD AUS Province.
Bottom Left: Hospitality is at the heart of DMC life.