No. 250 - Our Lady of Lourdes at Devonport - Three Churches and a Funeral

The first Catholic church at Devonport was established at Torquay in 1870 on the east side of the Mersey River. Known as the ‘Star of the Sea’ this timber church was transported across the Mersey to West Devonport in 1899 and reassembled alongside the convent that had been established by the Sisters of St Joseph in 1893.

The rapid growth of Devonport meant that the old Star of the Sea was not adequate for the needs of the town’s Catholic population. Ten years after the relocated church had reopened, plans were made for its replacement with an imposing new structure. The design of the new church was ambitious and was never completed as envisaged:

“The new Catholic church to be called Star of the Sea….will be of the Romanesque style of architecture, and with exception of Wynyard, will be the first of its kind in Tasmania, all the others being Gothic order…”

The new church was to have a magnificent copper dome and spire:

“The height of the dome will be 75 feet, and the tower about the same, ….and will be tiled with copper fish-tail tiles… When finished, the seating accommodation will be about 700 people, and the cost about £5000”.

The establishment of the new ‘Star of the Sea’ was also to commemorate the golden jubilee of the priesthood of the Archdeacon Beechinor of Latrobe and Devonport. The laying of the foundation stone took place on the 14th of June 1913. The trowel used in laying the stone was also used at the Church of the Apostles in Launceston in 1864.

The church was completed 18 months later and opened in November 1914. However it was not dedicated as the ‘Star of the Sea’ as Archbishop Delany explained:

“They were naming this building after the Lady of Lourdes, but the first foundation a bit higher up on the hill was dedicated to their Lady Star of the Sea. The change in name was due to the Archdeacon’s great devotion to the former, and it was a worthy inspiration…”

At the time of the opening only the nave had been constructed. The transepts, chancel and dome were to be added as soon as finances permitted. Archbishop Delany expressed the hope that:

“As far as this church was concerned, there was no reason why in years to come the whole plan of the church could not be completed, but it all depends how God would remain in the souls of the people”.

Our Lady of Lourdes never got its dome, chancel or transepts. A tower was built but not the copper spire. The tower was completed and formally opened in February 1919:

“The tower is very handsomely finished inside and ornamented with paintings, which include a representation of Our Lady from the brush of the Rev. Mother of the Latrobe Convent”.

Although not completed, Our Lady of Lourdes has become an icon in Devonport. An interesting aspect of the church’s history is its connection with Joseph Lyons, the only Tasmanian to hold the office of Prime Minister. Lyons was a staunch Catholic and had a close association with the Devonport church. He and his family worshipped at Our Lady of Lourdes therefore it was fitting that he was buried in its grounds following his unexpected death from a heart attack in April 1939. Joseph Lyon’s funeral was one of the biggest public events every witnessed at Devonport. The Burnie Advocate and The Launceston Examiner provide moving local reports of the funeral:

“The body of the late Prime Minister… whose tragic death last Friday shocked the nation, was laid in its last resting place in the quiet and beautiful grounds of Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Devonport, yesterday afternoon, with solemn ceremony, accorded to few but Royalty… Never before has a public man in Australia been paid such a magnificent tribute, a concourse of 25 000 people attending.

The body was conveyed from Sydney by the destroyer Vendetta, after the funeral march there, where half a million people paid tribute. A hushed crowd of many thousand people at Devonport early yesterday afternoon watched the slim ship of war bring home the man who had risen to the highest position in the nation… Then the entry into his parish church, where so often he had worshipped… The final culminating scene, one of supreme anguish – the open grave, just at a time when the orphaned nation needed most his strength in leadership, his genius in counsel, his cheery optimism, his wide, all-embracing humanism, his firm, resolute guiding hand…. Here his last resting place had been prepared in the circular lawn between the church and the convent.”


Joseph Lyons’ grave is no longer at Our Lady of Mercy. His body was interred and now lies together with that of his wife Dame Enid Lyons in an unimposing gravesite at the Mersey Vale Memorial Park Cemetery. The brick church still stands but was replaced with a new church, the third Catholic church on this site, which opened in the early 1970’s. The original timber ‘Star of the Sea’ has long vanished and Archdeacon Beechinor’s church now forms part of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Primary School. The grave and memorial stone of the man to whom Our Lady of Lourdes commemorates lies on the northern side of the church.


The history of the East Devonport Church - Star of the Sea can be read HERE

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

The Examiner Friday 27 November 1914

The Argus Friday 14 Apr 1939  Page 1 

The original site of Joseph Lyons grave at Our Lady of Mercy

Joseph Lyons tomb can be seen in the centre of the photograph - source Father T. Southerwood

The Lyons Memorial stone now at Mersey Vale Memorial Park - Source: https://geocaching.com.au/gallery/log/3883241

Sources:

Cornwall Chronicle, Monday 17 October 1870, page 3
The Tasmanian, Saturday 7 January 1893, page 32
North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Friday 24 February 1899, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Monday 24 April 1899, page 3
North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Monday 24 April 1899, page 3
North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Monday 25 September 1899, page 2
The Examiner, Friday 13 June, Page 7
North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Saturday 14 June 1913, page 6
The Mercury, Monday 16 June 1913, page 5
North West Post, Monday 30 November 1914, page 2
The Advocate, Monday 3 February 1919, page 2
The Advocate, Friday 14 April 1939, page 6
The Examiner, Friday 14 April 1939, page 7

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

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