No. 233 - Our Lady of the Assumption at St Marys

The first Catholic Church in the St Marys district was opened in 1859 at Cullenswood. This church closed in 1899*, reflecting the supplanting of the Cullenswood settlement by the nearby township of St Marys, as the 'capital' of the Break O'Day Plains.  In the same year, ‘Our Lady of the Assumption’ was built and opened at St Marys.

The laying of the foundation stone of the new church was reported in the Daily Telegraph:

“The foundation stone of the new Catholic church was laid today by Bishop Delany.  Mass was celebrated by Father Mary in Victoria Hall, which was tastefully decorated…. A procession was then formed and all present marched to the site, where the Bishop formally laid the stone”.

Four months later, an attractive timber church was completed and opened for the first Mass on the 9th November 1899:

“Mass was celebrated by Rev. M. Mary; Bishop Delany preached on the ceremony of the day; and Mrs P. Robertson of Mathinna, brought a nice little choir along and rendered appropriate music…. After the celebrations a most elaborate free public dinner was laid out in Victoria Hall by Mr. M. Cullenan of St Marys Hotel”

Before a presbytery was built in 1924, priests who ministered to the Catholics of St Marys resided at Campbell Town. The strain of serving such a large area took a toll on the priests.  After Father Mary departed the 'Campbell Town - St Marys' parish in 1902, he was replaced by Father Henri Chetail, a Missionary of the Sacred Heart. This charismatic Frenchman arrived in Australia in 1894 as one of five priests of the Order.  In December 1903 he was called to Tasmania but within months of his arrival he died as a result of an infection. At his funeral Archbishop Delany observed that:

“Though barely four months in Tasmania, Father Henri had already won to himself the hearts of the people throughout his extensive parish. He was a singularly modest man. All knew well how much he shunned the ways that ordinarily lead to recognition; but evidence now pouring in from every side shows that genuine unselfishness cannot be hidden….”

Parishioners erected a simple monument to Father Chetail at Campbell Town which was unveiled in 1906.

Sadly, the original timber church was totally destroyed by fire in 1974.  A new brick church designed by Father Mitchell of Taroona was built in its place and was opened in May 1975.

*The Cullenswood Catholic Church will be the subject of a seperate blog entry. It briefly reopened in 1909 before closing permanently.

Source: The Weekly Courier 20 February 1908

The original church which burnt down in 1974. Source of photograph unknown - taken sometime after the building of the presbytery in 1924

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Father Chetail's memorial at Campbell Town (Photo Duncan Grant)

Daily Telegraph, Monday 17 July 1899, page 3
The Examiner, Monday 17 July 1899, page 6
The Mercury, Wednesday 15 November 1899, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Wednesday 3 October 1906, page 6
Examiner, Wednesday 4 June 1924, page 7

Southerwood, W. T Planting a faith in Tasmania : the country parishes. [W. T. Southerwood], [Hobart], 1977.


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