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Under the care of the Jesuits
You are here: Home About Us Churches History St Ignatius' Church A Church on the Hill - 1853 - 1866
A Church on the Hill - 1853 - 1866 PDF Print E-mail
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A Church on the Hill
1853 - 1866
1867 - 1894
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Father Dalton: Founder

Fr Joseph Dalton - Founder of St Ignatius' Church.  Photographer: Unknown.Fr Joseph Dalton SJ was the person chiefly responsible for undertaking the project to build the church.

At the urgent request of Dr Goold OSA, Bishop of Melbourne, who was seriously short of priests to attend to the religious and educational needs of the rapidly increasing Catholic population in his diocese, the Irish Province of the Society of Jesus (SJ) agreed to send him as many of its members as it conveniently could. The first two Irish Jesuits, Frs Joseph Lentaigne and William Kelly arrived in Melbourne in September 1865, and in April 1866, 17 years after the first Austrian Jesuits arrived in South Australia. Dr Goold offered the Jesuits two ministries: the Parish of Richmond, and the college reserve at the University of Melbourne.

 

In April 1866 five more Jesuits arrived including Fr Dalton.

The old St James' Church in Bridge Road, Richmond.  Artist: Unknown. Before leaving Europe for Australia, Fr Dalton had been appointed Superior of all the Jesuits in Melbourne. He was a man endowed with many excellent qualities. He not only endeared himself to everyone with whom he came in contact by his gentle and unassuming manner, but possessed uncommonly good judgement, remarkable foresight, great initiative and moral courage. He was a deeply spiritual person, as well as a person of action.

Within a few days of his arrival, Fr Dalton had accepted from Bishop Goold, the pastoral care of the Parish of Richmond in Victoria, Australia, which at that time included not only Richmond as we now know it, but also Hawthorn, Kew, Camberwell, Nunawading and extended as far as Lilydale - several kilometres distance.

On 25 April 1865, only a few days after he had landed in Melbourne by ship, he moved to Richmond with a companion, Fr M'Kiniry, and took up residence in the presbytery attached to the old St James' Church which was in Bridge Road at the time.

Search for a Permanent Church Site

Mr Joseph L'Estrange - Owner of home 'Erindale' where the first Mass in Richmond was offered.  Photographer: Unknown.Although the Richmond of years gone by was little more than wild scrub in the 1840s, there was rapid development in the district in the decade that followed. By the early 1850s, the population had increased to such an extent that the local Catholics petitioned Bishop Goold to send them a resident priest, as many found the journey on Sundays to St Francis' Church (the only Catholic church in Melbourne at the time) so inconvenient that they had given up attending Mass altogether.

In 1853, the Bishop granted the people's request for a priest and sent them Fr Joseph Madden, who lived for a time in the home of Mr Joseph L'Estrange, chief clerk of the Crown Law Department. According to an old tradition, it was in this house, which was named "Erindale" that the first Mass in Richmond was offered.

"Erindale" was situated in a 9 acre paddock bound by Highett Street, Bromham Place and Ross Street. It was here that Catholics came each Sunday to attend Mass.

After some time, this house became too small for the increasing number of Catholics, so a move was made for a brief period to a house in Abinger Street. This, however, was only a temporary arrangement as a site for a permanent church was being sought. This was found at the corner of Bridge Road and Coppin Street.

Fr Joseph Madden - First resident priest in Richmond.  Photographer: Unknown.Fr Madden took advantage of funds provided by the Colonial government to build the first church of St James' on a site provided by the government on Bridge Road, Richmond. He also built the church of St Joseph, West Hawthorn, which still stands.

Several priests succeeded Fr Madden in St James' Church until 1866, when it was handed over to the Jesuits by Fr Parle, the last diocesan priest to serve there. It is of interest to record that the tabernacle in which the Blessed Sacrament was reserved at "Erindale", was preserved for years in the L'Estrange family. In 1948 it was presented to the Jesuit Community by the family, in commemoration of the centenary of the arrival of the first Jesuits in Australia.

A Church Site is Found

The population of Richmond when the Jesuits arrived there in 1866 was about 20000 of whom about 4000 were Catholics. It was soon apparent to Fr Dalton that a much larger church situated in a more central position was urgently needed. On looking around, he saw that the most suitable, most central and most attractive site in the whole area was the summit of Richmond Hill. But how could Catholics of Richmond who were, for the most part, people of very moderate means acquire such a valuable property? To a man of less courage and vision than Fr Dalton, it would have appeared impossible.

With his boundless confidence in God, Fr Dalton convinced himself that the site on Richmond Hill was the only suitable place for the church he had in mind. Devoting all his energy and gifts of persuasion to the task, he finally purchased the site from a Dr Stewart for £2500, a princely sum of money in those far-off days. The total area of the property was an acre and a half.

Having secured such a splendid site, Fr Dalton was determined to build a church truly worthy of it. He was fortunate to receive as a gift from the sons of W W Wardell, architect of St Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne, plans of a church whose size, beauty and magnificence were completely in accord with his own great ideas and vision. When built, it would be the third largest church in Australia.