By John A Winship
The Record Bookshop
Mgr Brian O’Loughlin, VG
Archdiocesan Historical Commission chairman
On the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, 8 December 2010, the Patronal feast of the Archdiocese, there occurred the first anniversary of the Dedication of the completed Cathedral and the launch of a book on the history of St Mary’s Cathedral – Our Cathedral – by John A Winship. The author is a Cathedral parishioner and guide. He was requested by the Historical Commission of the Archdiocese to research and write the history.
The starting point is a letter written by a school teacher, Robert D’Arcy, on behalf of the Catholics of Perth to Dr William Ullathorne, Vicar General of Sydney, whom D’Arcy mistakenly thought was the Archbishop of Sydney; a very understandable mistake, given the isolation of the Swan River Colony at that time. The purpose of D’Arcy’s letter was to request that a priest be sent to them and a promise that he would be supported.
Archbishop Polding responded by sending Fr John Brady as his Vicar General in Western Australia, accompanied by a Belgian missionary, Fr John Joostens, and an Irish catechist, Patrick O’Reilly. They arrived by coastal steamer in Albany on 4 November 1843 and spent three weeks engaged in pastoral care before sailing to Fremantle, where they arrived on 8 December 1843 and proceeded to Perth.
Thus, 8 December is a significant date for the Catholic Church in Western Australia from its beginning.
The author traces Fr Brady’s request to Governor Hutt for a grant of land for a church and school and, following the successful application, building commenced on Victoria Avenue of Western Australia’s first Catholic Church.
The first sod was turned on the feast of St John the Evangelist, 27 December 1843.
After two months, Fr Brady left for Europe to advocate the establishment of a Diocese of Perth, which was created by Pope Gregory XVI and was offered firstly to Dr William Ullathorne, who declined and instead recommended Fr Brady, who was consecrated in Rome as first Bishop of Perth on 18 May, 1845, and so the incomplete little church became Perth’s first Cathedral after his return from Europe with the missionary band of Benedictines, Sisters of Mercy, Holy Heart of Mary [Spiritans] and catechists.
The author brings to light Fr Brady’s earlier work among the Aborigines in the Windsor district, west of Sydney, and his interest in this apostolate in Perth, shown by his presentation in Rome of an Aboriginal language pocket book based on George Moore’s A Descriptive Vocabulary of the Language in Common Use Amongst the Aborigines of WA which had been published in London in 1842.
Brady’s adaptation was published in Rome in both English and Italian, the latter prepared by Nicola Caporelli, who accompanied Bishop Brady and his missionary band which arrived in Perth on 9 January 1846.
Mother Ursula Frayne, leader of the Sisters of Mercy, describes vividly the poor state of what was to pass as the Cathedral of St John the Evangelist, now the Pro-Cathedral on Victoria Avenue, Perth’s first Cathedral and second oldest public building.
The oldest in the Perth CBD is the old Court House in Supreme Court Gardens.
Bishop Brady was aware of the limitations of the Cathedral and so he applied for vacant land around what is now Victoria Square, then known as Church Hill for the priests’ house and for the school conducted by the Sisters of Mercy, now Mercedes College.
The Colonial Secretary notified the Bishop on 2 February 1849 that the requested lots were granted. No mention was made of his daring request for Church Hill which the Anglicans had declined, as they preferred a site opposite Government House. On an 1845 map of Perth, the place where the Cathedral is now located was called Victoria Square, not Church Hill.
The Bishop was undaunted and, with funds from the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, set about acquiring building materials for his hoped for Cathedral worthy of Perth.
But events were to outstrip him as Dom Serra was appointed coadjutor Bishop and administrator of temporal affairs.
In this capacity, Bishop Serra attended in Rome the definition of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
On his return to Perth, he was accompanied by the Sisters of St Joseph of the Apparition who established a Convent in Fremantle.
While in Rome, Bishop Serra had petitioned the Pope to declare Mary under the title of her Immaculate Conception, Patroness of the Cathedral and of the Diocese.
Bishop Serra returned to Spain and Fr Martin Griver, also Spanish but a qualified surgeon, was appointed Administrator of the Diocese until the death of Bishop Brady at Amelie-les-Bains, a spa town in the south of France on 3 December 1871.
Archbishop Hickey will spend part of his leave in January visiting the grave to see what possibility there is of bringing the remains for interment in the Cathedral Crypt.
Bishop Griver was assisted in his ministry by his close friendship with Governor and Lady Weld. On their transfer to Straits Settlements, now Singapore and Malaysia, Lady Weld presented Bishop Griver with an amethyst necklet which had been given to her by the Governor’s mother. Lady Weld requested the precious stone be fashioned into a Bishop’s ring. This was done and the ring remained on Bishop Griver’s finger until his remains were exhumed from the vault beneath the floor boards of the Cathedral to be interred in the Crypt. The ring is now on display in the Crypt entry.
Bishop Griver was responsible for the 1865 Cathedral in Victoria Square, which was dedicated on 29 January 1865.
His successor, Bishop Matthew Gibney, was consecrated in the Cathedral on 23 January 1887 and added the west facing porch in 1905 and embellished the façade.
In 1910, he added the JE Dodd pipe organ. He resigned the See of Perth shortly after having given service to the Church throughout Western Australia, a giant among the men of his day.
His successor in 1911 was Patrick Clune CSsR who became first Archbishop of Perth in 1913.
The author covers in great detail in Chapter 4 the early plans for Archbishop Clune by the illustrious Geraldton priest-architect, Monsignor John Cyril Hawes. These came to nothing when Archbishop Clune invited Michael Cavanagh to design a Gothic Cathedral.
Archbishop Prendiville and Archbishop Goody both embellished and adapted the Cathedral.
The Cavanagh Cathedral was cut short by the Depression and so remained incomplete until the final effort of Archbishop Hickey to complete St Mary’s Cathedral in a project that spans three centuries.
Many people have contributed to the Cathedral we have now.
Architect Peter Quinn gave his heart to the project; artists and crafts-people brought their skills to perfection and many builders, engineers and artisans have contributed and all are named.
The author has brought to his task a love for the subject and this shows forth on almost every page.
The author is to be commended for telling the story of our Cathedral, with all its ups and downs over all those years.
Not only has he laboured over the text, he has completed it with a photographic record; many of the photographs he has taken himself.
The finished product is a very engaging read in a beautifully illustrated book of 240 pages.
Our Cathedral: A History of St Mary’s Cathedral, Perth, published by the Archdiocese of Perth, 240 pages, with illustrations and index, paperback $29.95 per copy, available from the Church Office, Victoria Square and The Record Bookshop.