Once Were Monks SERIES


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2000, Total Running Time 130 Minutes (5 X 26 Minutes)

Life in a religious order is turned upside down when a group of monks is forced to move from their monastery into a pub.

Melbourne is home to a fascinating, eccentric, erudite and warring tribe of men. They are pious and bawdy, gregarious and solitary, indulgent and ascetic, radical and conservative, young and old. They are the men of the Blessed Sacrament Order at the St Francis Monastery in the heart of Melbourne. Their lives are turned upside down when they are forced to move to a pub during renovations.

Many of the fathers and brothers are facing old age. They can no longer climb the stairs and it is hoped that new en-suite bathrooms will ease the problem. While most of the men relocate to the pub across the road, Father Ken Boland decides to stay on-site in a workers shed. Others seek alternative accommodation: historian Father Donald Cave moves to his old house in inner-city Melbourne, Father Gonzalo Munoz takes a job as live-in caretaker of a meditation centre, and Brother Gerard Develin must part with his pet budgie for the period of construction.  

The renovation acts as a catalyst, prompting the men to question their faith and commitment to the Catholic church. A number are even unsure whether they will return to the monastery once refurbishment is complete.

Throughout the upheaval, church life goes on. Mass is still said and confessions are heard. A young member of the order, Brother Boris Perlaki, is ordained and a funeral is held for Brother Bernard Scanlan, who dies on his 102nd birthday.

The series follows Father Donald to Rome where he delivers his latest book on the order’s founder, and to Istanbul where he fulfils his life-long dream to visit Aya Sofya, once one of the greatest churches in Christendom. Back in Melbourne, Brother Gerard makes regular trips to the outskirts of the city to visit his budgie, now boarding with a friend.

Once Were Monks is the story of what happens when this tight-knit community is thrown into the outside world. It is about the problems of faith in the modern era, the forces of change and the pressures of tradition. Ultimately it is about a group of men who share in religious life with all its joys and sorrows.


Moving House A religious order in the heart of Melbourne moves from St Francis monastery into a pub during renovations. Father Donald Cave, however, moves to his former home to write a book on the order’s founder, while Brother Bernard, at the age of 100, is too old to stay at the pub and must be cared for elsewhere. Father Ken Boland, in charge of the building works, vents his opposition to the renovations. Brother Gerard Develin parts with his pet budgie for the period of construction and Father Gonzalo Munoz shows signs of disillusionment with the church. How will Don, at 71 years of age, cope without his usual support? Will Gonzalo stay at St Francis? Will the budgie survive?

Taking a Gamble The men of St Francis monastery adjust to their new lives at a Melbourne pub. Gerard visits his budgie, now boarding with a friend. Ken struggles with the builders and Bernard, now living in a nursing home, is paid a surprise visit. As the community’s youngest member Boris plans for his ordination, Gonzalo decides to take a break from monastic life after 45 years, accepting a job as live-in caretaker of a meditation centre.

Keeping the Faith Father Gonzalo settles into his new life at the meditation centre and attends a performance of the Tibetan Gyuto Monks, the personal choir to the Dalai Lama. He invites them home to dinner and develops a growing interest in Buddhism. Back at the pub, the men of St Francis have a heated discussion about the role of the Catholic Church in the world today. Despite their differences, they come together to witness Boris’s spectacular ordination.

Remembrance Day Brother Bernard dies on his 102nd birthday and a mass is held for him at St Francis Church. Meanwhile, Father Donald Cave travels to Rome to finish his book, where he suffers a worrying bout of fever. After years of hard work, he finally presents the book to his superiors.

Another World The men of St Francis move back to the newly renovated monastery, pleasantly surprised by what they find. Don, returning from overseas, decides to continue living at his former home, and Gonzalo, with his rediscovered spirituality, resolves to stay at the meditation centre. A reunion dinner brings everyone back into the fold, but will it tempt Don and Gonzalo to change their minds?

A Film Australian National Interest Program in association with Abracadabra Films. © 2011 National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.

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Directors: Luigi Acquisto, Andrew Sully

Year: 2000

Total Running Time: 130 Minutes

Classification: Exempt from classification

Curriculum Links: Religious studies, Comparative Religion, The Church in the Modern World, PDHPE, SOSE, Gender studies.

SKU 199800600
Brand Film Australia

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