Early Jesuits in Australia Print

Jesuits first came to Australia in 1848, when on 8 December Fr Kranewitter and Fr Klinkowstroem arrived at Port Adelaide. They were members of the Austrian Province, and they accompanied a group of migrants from Silesia.

Soon after the Silesian group together with Fr Kranewitter settled in the Clare Valley at a place they called Sevenhill (a reference to the seven hills of Rome). There the Jesuits established a parish, a school for boys, a novitiate and a vineyard. The parish’s southern boundary was at Gawler. There was no northern boundary, since most of what lay north was not yet explored by Europeans. But Sevenhill became the centre of a vast mission territory in the central north and north of South Australia. Later a mission was established in Darwin and from there at Daly River. The Daly River mission, named Uniya, was a remarkable and innovative venture with the indigenous community.

Fr Aloysius Kranewitter sjMeanwhile in 1865 Jesuits from the Irish Province were invited to Melbourne by Bishop Goold to staff St Patrick’s College in East Melbourne. In the following year they were invited to staff the parish of Richmond, an invitation readily accepted by the superior, Fr Joseph Dalton. The Richmond parish had been established in 1853, with a church, St James, situated on the corner of Bridge Road and Coppin Street. But the area was subject to flooding from the Yarra, and the Jesuits looked for property on higher ground.

An opportunity quickly presented itself in the shape of a property on the top of Richmond Hill. It was owned by a Dr Stewart, who was apparently in some financial difficulties and looking for a quick sale. According to Fr Dalton’s diary, Richmond Hill was populated by Protestants who would have been adamantly opposed to having a Catholic church next door. The sale was organized through a proxy, a Mr Cameron of Brunswick. Dalton records that the Protestants were dismayed to discover that the property had fallen into Catholic hands, and that, when they discovered that the Catholics in question were Jesuits, "they became even more frantic"! The property was sold to the Jesuits for 2,500 pounds, the money coming from Irish Jesuit funds, which themselves were from the Therry bequest (Fr Therry was one of the first priests to work in NSW).

In 1867 work was begun on St Ignatius' Church, designed by architects William Wardell and his sons. It was substantially complete in 1894, with the spire (not part of the original design) being added in 1927.

Joseph Dalton sjThe original parish stretched as far as Lilydale, until the establishment of a separate parish of Hawthorn in 1882.

In 1878, Fr Dalton was transferred to Sydney after 12 years of untiring labour in Richmond. Before his departure, which took place on 21 April 1878, he was presented with a farewell testimonial by the parishioners in St Ignatius' Church which was crowded to excess.

An illuminated address, a purse containing 250 sovereigns, and a chalice was presented to Fr Dalton. The address, which was read by Mr S V Winter, expressed in moving words, the sorrow of the Catholics in Richmond at losing their father and friend who by his zeal, prudence, foresight, and business tact, had done so much for the parish and people of Richmond. Fr Dalton, deeply affected, thanked his friends for their affectionate farewell and their generous cooperation during the 12 years he had been among them.

On the day of his departure for Sydney on the ship Ly-ee-Moon, a large number of his friends assembled on the pier to wish him "God Speed" and "a ringing cheer was sent after him as the steamer bore him over the waters".

Fr Mulhall sj.  Courtesy State Library of VictoriaTo Fr Joseph Mulhall, who succeeded Fr Dalton as Parish Priest of Richmond, fell the task of completing the building of the church which had been so splendidly begun. Fr Mulhall arrived in Melbourne in 1867 and later went to Richmond where he remained until his death in 1897. He was Parish Priest for 15 years from 1878 to 1893.

In 1882, Fr Mulhall brought the nuns of the Society of the Faithful Companions of Jesus (FCJ) to Richmond. They established Vaucluse Convent and at once took charge of the Girls' School, which in a short time had an attendance of 400 girls. Soon after that, they opened their well-known secondary school at The Vaucluse.

The first Jesuit to arrive in Australia, Fr Kranewitter, after working for several years at Sevenhill, moved to Melbourne as chaplain to German-speaking Catholics (in Heidelberg and elsewhere). He was a member of the St Ignatius Richmond Jesuit community until his death.

The Jesuits founded a second school, Xavier College in Kew, in 1872, with classes beginning in 1878. The property, known as Mornane’s Paddock was purchased with funds on loan from the Richmond Jesuit Community. Repayment of the loan has not as yet been requested!