No. 137 - St Anne's Lilydale - "A Sabbath Desecration"

The drive to establish a Catholic church at Lilydale began in 1890. A report in The Colonist in May 1890 noted that a church was to be built on land donated by Mr. G. Sulzberger. A year later, the project was “still in embryo” but by July 1891 the foundation stone for a new church had been laid in a ceremony attended by Archbishop Murphy.  Six months later the church was completed. 

The opening ceremony for St Anne’s took place on Sunday 31st January 1892 and was a spectacular affair. The Tasmanian reported that:

“A special train left Launceston at half-past nine, and a considerable number of city residents took the opportunity of attending the ceremonies. The clergymen present were the Most Rev. Archbishop Murphy, Very Rev. Dean Beechinor [and] Father Alphonsus (Superior of the Passionist Order in Australia)….”

As a result of the special Sunday train service provided by the railway authorities, the ceremony was very well attended and numbers were swelled by the choir of the Church of the Apostles in Launceston. However, this ‘special Sunday train’ which had delivered the Catholic faithful became the object of a vociferous exchange in the local press, revealing sectarian tensions and reactionary sabbatarian sentiments in Tasmania. In a lengthy letter published in the Examiner under the headline “Sabbath Desecration”, Alfred Field took issue with the encroachments being made into the ‘day of rest’. Clearly he was outraged by the connivance of the railway authorities with the Catholics for putting on a Sunday train to Lilydale. He wrote:

“…the event should rouse every practical Christian in the colony to aid the Sabbath Observation Association in their efforts to reclaim “the day of rest” and worship before it is gone beyond the power of recall. Just imagine the awful immorality of the proceeding. Money is collected from the masses wherewith to build a sanctuary to be dedicated to God as a temple of worship; the dedication is polluted at the outset by a congregation within its walls who have violated the Sabbath by fragrantly breaking the fourth commandment; and by knowing how and by what means the congregation have been assembled they are met by dedicating priests by words of commendation for their presence. Their gift offerings for the day are polluted by sin, yet these are received with avidity and blessed for the Master’s service. …. In the Mosaic days…the least blemish in an offering forbad its acceptance, and should an offering in the present day be accepted if it be sin tainted? The excursionists who attended the opening services sinned to be present, and all they had with them was polluted in consequence…Will the people of Tasmania permit this wickedness to continue? Why are the clergy and Nonconformist ministers so silent on this question? Do they wish the fourth commandment to become a dead letter?"

With the Catholics being accused of violating the Sabbath, an exchange followed in the Examiner. A Catholic who signed himself as T.C. replied:

“Mr Field says that from our Saviour we know what a Sabbath’s day’s journey was, and out to be, a short two miles, so that it could be done leisurely and on foot. Now the question I would like Mr Field to answer is this: - Which of the two is the more sinful, a journey of two miles on foot, or one of, say, twenty miles by rail, in which case the only work worth mentioning is performed by the iron horse; the officials having ample time during the trip to say their prayers if they should desire to do so... Mr Field must know that the Roman Catholic Church, and she alone, ruled and directed the observance of the Sabbath many a long century before the introduction of Protestantism with its thousand and one ramifications… [the] Roman Catholics are quite capable of taking care of themselves…”

This skirmish over the sanctity of the sabbath might astound modern readers but it is a reminder of the extent to which religious sensibilities have changed over the last 100 years as society has yielded to secularism. I wonder what Mr Field would make of it all now?

St Anne’s has also changed with the times and was significantly extended in the 1990’s, a century after it was founded. The original timber building is still clearly visible amongst the newer extensions and is a reminder of the first pioneering Catholics of the Lilydale district.

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Source Unknown
St Anne's Catholic Church at Lilydale. Photo: Weekly Courier, April 1902. (photographer: Gratton) The photograph was taken on the occasion of the opening of a convent school. 

Extensions to St Anne's 1991 - Source QVM 1997P2590 (Margaret Tassell)

The Colonist Saturday 10 May 1890
Tasmanian Saturday 11 July 1891, page 4
Daily Telegraph Saturday 10 October 1891
The Tasmanian Saturday 6 February 1892, page 4
Launceston Examiner Saturday 13 February 1892, page 7
Launceston Examiner Thursday 18 February 1892, page 4


  1. Wow!!! Mr Field sure got out of the wrong side of the bed that day

  2. How men ignore the will of God to give us pleasure on our days of rest . The Catholic's it seems,chose well

    Judas might have said " the train fares could have been used to feed the poor "
    Lucky it was God who reminds that , beautiful as they can be , the buildings are not where God resides and it is up to us to find just where to find the rest he promises . .


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