No. 150 - St Patrick's Church at Latrobe (Part 1) - 'A Lion's Heart'

The early history of St Patrick’s at Latrobe is personified through the lives of three individuals. The first is Father James Noone; or “James the builder”, who established the church at Latrobe as well other Catholic churches across the Northwest. The second is Sister Agnes, one of the pioneering Sisters’ of Mercy who opened the Order's first convent at St Patrick’s. The third is Father T.J. O’ Donnell, a charismatic and controversial leader who was not afraid of challenging authority. All three had an intimate connection with St Patrick's and the lives of each will frame a three-part history of this fascinating church. The first story is that of Father James Noone.

The earliest reference to the establishment of a Catholic church at Latrobe is found in a report in 1869 from the Cornwall Chronicle:

“The Catholics in the district are bestirring themselves to erect a place of worship, the site for which is most conveniently situated at an easy distance from the township, and near the railway station. Under the auspices of Father Noon (sic), from fifty to sixty men have for some days past been busily employed in clearing the ground…. Quite a little stir was made when, one day last week, these workmen…paraded the street, two of them skilled upon the flute playing lively airs during a march, and all conducting themselves in a most orderly manner”.

In 1863, Father Noone, a Kilkenny-born Irishman came to Tasmania from Dublin. Bishop Willson sent him to Latrobe and within six years he had raised sufficient funds to open a church in the town. Prior to this services and Masses had been held regularly in barns, hotels and private homes across the Northwest region. At Latrobe, Mass had even been held in the old lock-up near the bridge on Frogmore Lane.

The opening of St Patrick’s in 1871 was reported in The Tasmanian. The building was described as being:

“ …of wood, consisting of nave, chancel, sacristy, and porch…. The interior is lined and plastered, the roof is sheathed with Blackwood beautifully varnished. The style is of Gothic architecture… and the plan was carried out by Mr M. Dooley in a most finished and tradesman like manner”.
An interesting feature of the church was its bell. Speaking at a visit to Latrobe in 1938, Archbishop Simonds recalled the bell’s history:

“The bell is a very old one, and originally was one of a peal in an old French abbey, which was destroyed by fire. The bell was then purchased for a church in England. Later the church wanted something better, and the bell came to Australia for a church in Sydney. On arrival it was found to be out of tune with the other bells. It cost £300 to land in Sydney, and because of the fault in the tuning of the peal it was offered for sale at a little more than a third of its cost. It is here that St Patrick’s comes into the picture, as this time St Patrick’s parish was making itself felt on the North-west Coast….Father Noone …heard of the bell being for sale, but the problem was the purchase price. The parish was a scattered and isolated place, and money was not too plentiful, so £100 for a bell seemed a lot of money, particularly as the cost of the newly erected church had just been faced".

Archbishop Simmonds went on to describe how the dilemma was resolved:

“No one seemed to know where the money was to come from, but a young girl from the Sassafras district [Miss M.A. Roche] came forward with an offer to collect at least some of the cash necessary. She set out on a self-appointed task, and travelled on horseback as far East as Westbury. Through all the country from there to Circular Head, she steadily gathered the money, mostly in small donations. When her journey was finished she handed in the sum of £85, which made it possible for Father Noone to despatch an order for the bell".

The Archbishop concluded the story:

“On arrival the bell was dedicated and a wooden tower erected from which for many years the melodious tones of the bell floated out all over the Latrobe district. At that period it had a beautiful tone and had been heard for fully 14 miles from Latrobe. Some years ago the bell developed a crack, and after discussion it was decided to have it recast. This was done, but the old wonderful mellow tone was not reproduced, and although still a bell with a fine sound, its glory has departed”.

Father James Noone was a remarkable man whose contribution to the Catholic Church and the people of Latrobe cannot be underestimated. The early years of Father Noone’s work was recalled in the North West Post:

“In those days…the pioneer priest had to encounter numerous hardships in the arduous work of travel along bush tracks, through bogs, heedless of winter storms, to perform the duties of his sacred office…. The mission extended from Badger Head to the Blythe, and, in addition, Father Noone travelled right on to Stanley, through belts of primeval forest, to assist…Rev. Father Burke in the work of his parish. The 90-mile trip was accomplished on horseback, the rivers along the coast having to be forded, in the absence of bridges. Riding through the tidal rivers, the rev. gentleman had many unpleasant experiences. On one occasion, in crossing the Rubicon, rider and horse were carried out to sea, and the rev father had an extremely narrow escape from being drowned…In his younger days [he] was a skilled and fearless horseman, and many of his parishioners can recollect his ‘taking the fences’ by way of short-cuts to the farmers’ homes”.

In his 38 years in the Northwest, Father Noone helped establish churches and convents at Latrobe, Ulverstone, Forth, Devonport, and Railton.

In July 1899, Father Noone experienced a bad fall from his horse as he entered the gate to St. Joseph’s Church in Forth. At the age of 66, this most probably contributed to a rapid decline in his health over the next year and a half and he passed away in November 1901.

Father Noone’s funeral was widely covered by the press across Tasmania and this is a valuable source of insight into the deep respect the priest had in the community. The Daily Telegraph of Launceston described the funeral procession at Latrobe:

“The remains of the late Venerable Archdeacon Noone arrived by Wednesday night’s train from Launceston, and was met by the Federal Band, will muffled drums… The coffin was removed to a hearse in waiting, and a procession formed headed by the school children of Sacred Heart… The hearse was followed by some 2000 sincere friends… [and] on nearing the church the bell tolled solemnly”.

The North West Post reproduced Archbishop Delaney’s panegyric outlining Father Noone’s early days in the North West. Delaney said:

“His heart must have been like a lion’s to face the difficulties of the time. He spent 20 years of the first part of his mission, it might be said, on horseback, having to ford or swim rivers, there being no bridges. But he was about his Master’s business, and must be up and doing. He did not wait for his flock to come to him; he went into the bush, teaching the children, and attending on all who had any call on him. For 38 years he never looked back… He built no monument unto himself, except the numerous churches, schools, and convents, which stood as monuments to his energy and zeal”.

In the grounds of St Patrick’s Church stands a simple memorial to Father Noone. A raised chalice and harp carved on a Celtic cross are fitting symbols of this Irishman who left his mark across the Northwest coast of Tasmania.

The second part of the story of St Patrick’s will focus on the establishment of the convent school and the life and work of Sister Agnes and the Sister’s of Mercy. 

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018
 The Tasmanian  Saturday 21 July 1894  Page 37  LATROBE ILLUSTRATED.


The Cornwall Chronicle Sat 11 Dec 1869  Page 5 
The Tasmanian Saturday 25 November 1871, page 15
Cornwall Chronicle  Friday 24 November 1871, page 3
North West Post Saturday 16 November 1901, page 2
Daily Telegraph Friday 15 November 1901, page 3
Tasmanian News Monday 31 Jul 1899  Page 4 
The Advocate Friday 3 June 1938, page 4
Southerwood, W. T Planting a faith in Tasmania. Hobart, 1970.


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