History of the Cliffs
The original house was built sometime around 1923 and was a guest house managed by the Wilson family. When that house burned down in 1936, Albert (the son) and his father built the present house on the same site and more or less in the same design.
The property was purchased by Father Paul Fleming, the superior of Sacred Heart Monastery, the seminary for the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSC) in Croydon shortly after the Second World War.
Even before the purchase of the property in Shoreham in 1945, the MSC had rented The Cliffs several times for groups of students to come for their summer vacation. In those early days of Croydon, student numbers would have been close to thirty each year. At Shoreham, they were housed mainly in four army huts alongside the main house.
Many locals still refer to The Cliffs as ‘the monastery’, remembering visions of habited young men walking in the grounds. A local artist in 1970s, Hal Hattam, exhibited a beautiful painting of the headland below The Cliffs, which he entitled Monks’ Lookout.
Brian Gallagher came to Shoreham on New Year’s Day 1999 after he had finished a six year term as MSC Provincial. His plan was to have a transition year, while deciding on future ministry. Here he remained until the start of 2020.
Brian developed his ministry in Shoreham. Retreats individually-directed and ‘private retreats’ as well as small groups for a weekend retreats became the norm.
Retreatants came and went and many others came and went regularly for spiritual direction. As Brian says, “I believe we have a ‘silent’ ministry of witness and support for the local church and the wider Shoreham community.”
Over the years Brian and latterly Chris Chaplin who lived at The Cliffs from 2012-2017 had a close association with Heart of Life Centre for Spiritual and Pastoral Formation, http://www.heartoflife.melbourne/ the 'retreat' option was mentioned every year in their brochure. Heart of Life, in fact, funded the renovation of the retreat cottages.
Brian’s vision for The Cliffs gradually took shape and became the glorious place of retreat that it is today. Brian writes, “Early in my time in Shoreham, I recognised something quite special about this place, a sentiment that has deepened in me over the years. I have heard others call The Cliffs a sacred place, a place of the Spirit – which they say they sense, even on arrival. This is true of all God’s creation, I know. The ‘special’ element is that we seem to sense it here. The divine energy of love that is God’s Spirit permeates all creation, permeates this place. God has given us this Spirit from the moment of creation – when this land in all its beauty was untouched, still uninhabited, when the hills and gullies hadn’t yet taken shape and the cliff face was much further out to sea, when no flora or fauna had yet been introduced, maybe when no bird or animal life had yet evolved. God’s creation has gradually come to life, grown, developed, evolved. Evidence of this is all around us at The Cliffs.”
Clare and Artie Shearman returned to Australia from running a retreat house in the UK in 2020 and hope to continue this fruitful ministry in the future.
Excerpts from 'The Cliffs in Shoreham" by Brian Gallagher 2013 reproduced with Brian's kind permission.
Brian with Scobie