No. 774 - Forest - St Patrick's Catholic Church - 'Blown Down and Blown Up'

Forest is a small settlement off the Bass Highway close to Stanley in Tasmania’s far North West. The early settlers referred to the area as "the forest" and when an official name was needed it became "Forest". Several churches have been established at Forest including, Baptist, Anglican, Christian Brethren and Catholic. 

Forest long had a small but devout Catholic community but it was the arrival of the prolific church-builder, Father T. J. O’ Donnell in July 1909 that provided the catalyst for building a church. Father O’ Donnell wasted no time for in August 1909 The Circular Head Chronicle reported:

“Father O’Donnell is having plans drawn for the new Catholic church to be erected at Forest…. Father O’ Donnell is soliciting subscriptions for the building fund, and to augment it a grand bazaar will shortly be held…..The Catholic people of Forest district are delighted at the prospect of soon having a decent place of worship, and are enthusiastically aiding their new pastor in the good work of procuring it without delay”.

Land for the church was donated by Mr Patrick Martin and the foundation stone laid on Sunday 20 February 1910 by Bishop Delany. The Bishop had anticipated the construction of a timber church but did not resist O’ Donnell’s plans for a magnificent brick building. The church was designed by Mr Stephen Priest and built by a contractor from Devonport, Mr F. H. Haines.

In September 1910 disaster struck the building site when a tremendous storm wrought havoc across the north west coast. The Circular Head Chronicle reported:

“About 3 o’clock on Sunday afternoon an extra, fierce squall of wind struck the new Catholic church now in course of erection on Mr Patrick Martin's land, one of the brick walls was completely blown down and the rest will now have to be pulled down and started afresh. This means a big loss to the contractors as the building will now have to be practically reconstructed”.

The completion of the building was to take another 9 months with the church’s opening and consecration taking place on Sunday 7 May 1911. The Circular Head Chronicle provides a detailed report of the occasion:

“The handsome and imposing edifice erected by the Roman Catholic adherents at Forest was blessed and dedicated on Sunday, 7th inst., by His Grace the Archbishop of Hobart. There was a splendid attendance at the 11 o’clock service, being representative of the whole district from Wynyard to Smithton, and including visitors from other parts of the State….The church was filled, and the service was carried out with all due solemnity and impressiveness, the parish priest (Rev T. J. O'Donnell) conducting the masses. His Grace, the Most Rev. Dr. Delaney, delivered an appropriate address. He congratulated the people on the great work achieved".

"Only twelve months ago [sic] he had laid the foundation stone of the new church. On that occasion he addressed the men of the Forest and consulted with them as to their big undertaking. He recognised that there was only a small number of Catholics in the district, and what with the potato disease and the generally dull times he thought they were undertaking too costly a building. He suggested that they might be satisfied with a wooden structure, but naturally left it to those who had to bear the burden of the ex­pense. The people said they wanted a brick building, and Mr M. Tierney handed him names of six influential men who were willing to guarantee the money. He thought the people deserved immense credit for the way they have worked to attain their object. There was not another small bunch of Catholics in Tasmania who had accomplished such work as the Forest people, and he congratulated them. As a church it is a gem, and he passed a compliment to the architect (Mr Priest) for its originality. Both externally and internally, and the furnishings were splendid. The little altar boys, trained by Father O’Donnell, and attired in proper costumes, went through their part of the ceremony with a correctness scarcely ever seen in a city, and it was very creditable. A spirit of loyalty seems to permeate the whole thing. He did not hesitate to give generous thanks to the donor who gave the liberal grounds on which the church was erected. What a difference the church would make to the locality. It would have a spiritual and humanizing influence on the whole parish. Services held in halls and state schools were never the same….".

"He admired those sturdy pioneers who had cleared the Forest land, they had shown great courage and endurance. The church in their midst would allow the children to be brought up properly. It was essential to their welfare, as they were isolated and away from all city influences. The new church gave him the impression of durability, and showed the people were thoroughly in earnest in the work of God. Rev. T. J. O'Donnell then gave a financial statement of the church…. Mr Patrick Martin, had generously donated nine acres of land valued at £200. The erection of the church had cost £887, extras bringing it up to £993 7s 6d. The architect’s fee was £60, surveying and transfer of land £10, seats (of fine quality blackwood) £75, altar £25, also side altars, furnishings, pedestals, carpeting and confessional, the total cost being £1307…. He thanked the ladies and gentlemen who did not belong to the Catholic faith for their assistance at the bazaars and by donations, and hoped God would reward them for their generosity….”.

St Patrick’s served the Catholic community of Forest for over half a century. The nature of the church’s demise is perhaps as unusual as its “catastrophic” beginning when the church blown down in a violent storm. 
In 1979, prior to the sale of the property, the church was demolished with explosives in a spectacular fashion. The bricks were used to build the new convent near St Peter Chanel School in Smithton. Blackwood from the pews in the church was used to build a furniture for the new St Peter Chanel Church. Other items from the Forest church are also in the new church.

        St Patrick's at Forest c.1979 - Circular Head Heritage Centre - LINC Tasmania eHertitage website

                                                               The Weekly Courier 1911

         The remains of the church after it was 'blown up'. Circular Head Heritage Centre - LINC Tasmania eHertitage website

       The remains of the church after it was 'blown up'. Circular Head Heritage Centre - LINC Tasmania eHertitage website


Sources:

Circular Head Chronicle, Wednesday 11 August 1909, page 2
Circular Head Chronicle, Wednesday 9 February 1910, page 3
Daily Post, Friday 25 February 1910, page 2
North West Post, Tuesday 20 September 1910, page 3
Circular Head Chronicle, Wednesday 21 September 1910, page 3
Circular Head Chronicle, Thursday 20 April 1911, page 2
North West Post, Thursday 11 May 1911, page 4
Circular Head Chronicle, Wednesday 17 May 1911, page 3

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

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