History of the Catholic Church in WA

A Teacher's Request

The history of the Catholic Church in Western Australia began soon after the arrival of settlers to the Swan River Colony in 1829. By the 1840's there was an estimated 100 Catholics living in the Perth area but there was no priest. In 1841 a local school teacher, Robert D'Arcy made a request to the Church authorities in Sydney for a priest to be sent to Perth.

Arrival of Father John Brady

In 1843 approval for the request was granted from Rome (Vatican) and Father John Brady, Father John Joostens (Belgian priest) and Patrick O'Reilly (a Catechist) were soon to arrive in Fremantle on the ship 'Water Witch". Even though Father Brady was to stay in Perth for only a short time (two months) he was able to claim a land grant for the church, on Victoria Avenue. This was to be the site of the first Catholic cathedral, The Church of St John the Apostle and Evangelist (St John's Pro-Cathedral). Construction commenced on the site during Father Brady's brief stay. Following his departure back to Italy, Father Joostens stayed on to conduct school at St John's Pro-Cathedral and he became Vicar General.

A Mis-informed Bishop Brady Returns

On the 6th of May 1845 the Diocese of Perth was established by the Apostolic letter of Pope Gregory XVI. In 1846, misinformed Church authorities in Rome, sent Father Brady (now Bishop of Perth) and 27 missionaries back to the colony , believing there were now over 3000 Catholics and two million aborigines in Western Australia. The missionaries came from Ireland, Spain, Italy, France and England and included Benedictines, Sisters of Mercy, Heart of Mary priests and brothers, diocesan priests, catechists and laymen. The group arrived in Fremantle on the ship 'Elizabeth' in January 1846. At the time of their arrival the settlement in the Colony was almost entirely restricted to the local Perth area. Practically nothing was known about the interior of Western Australia or its Aboriginal inhabitants.

New Norcia

A few months after Bishop Brady's return he sent an expedition party to find suitable land to build missions for the Aborigines. The party included Dom Rosendo Salvado and Dom Joseph Serra both Benedictine monks from the monastery of St.Martin in Compostela, Italy. Both had been approved by the then Pope, Pope Gregory XVI to work as foreign missionaries in Perth. The Benedictine monks were to eventually establish the mission in New Norcia.

Sisters of Mercy

The Sisters of Mercy began establishing and providing Catholic education in Perth and the Heart of Mary travelled to Albany to establish a mission for Aborigines. The Heart of Mary mission was unsuccessful. By 1854, 18% of the colony's population were Catholic due mainly to the Irish convicts and young Irish women (sponsored by the government) sent to Western Australia.

St John's Becomes a Cathedral

Following Bishop Brady's arrival back in Perth the Church of St John the Apostle and Evangelist (St John's Pro-Cathedral) became a cathedral as it was now the seat of a Bishop. Interestingly the chair that Bishop Brady brought from Europe still remains in the Pro-Cathedral. Bishop Brady left Perth in 1852, following disputes with Bishop Serra.

St Mary's Cathedral

In 1859 Bishop Serra made a request to the then Governor Kennedy for the vacant land situated in the centre of Victoria Square for a new Catholic cathedral to be built there, to replace the small and humble St John's Pro-Cathedral. The site had originally be been set aside by John Septimus Roe for the Anglican Cathedral but they had chosen another site opposite Government House (St George's Cathedral) which was closer to the town centre. The request was granted on the 13th of August, 1859 to the Temporary Administrator of the Diocese, Father Griver. On February the 8th, 1863 the foundation stone was laid by Bishop Salvado of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (St Mary's Cathedral).

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