No. 886 - Stanley - Star of the Sea Catholic Church (1850-1897) "A very nice little church of wood"

Stanley is a historic town on the northwest coast approximately 80 kilometres west of Burnie. The Van Diemen's Land Company once had its headquarters in the area which was originally known as Circular Head. It was later named after Lord Stanley, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, who went on to serve three terms as British Prime Minister.

Stanley has had four Catholic places of worship: Edward Curr’s Chapel at Highfield (1838); a church built of timber (1850); a stone church (1897) and the present brick church (1931).

The first Catholic place of worship at Stanley was a two story stone chapel at Highfield. It was built by Edward Curr, a devout Catholic and the first manager of the Van Diemen's Land Company. The chapel was principally used for Anglican services. When Curr’s chapel was built in 1838 there were only three Catholic priests in the colony with Stanley falling under the charge of Launceston.

When Bishop Willson arrived in Tasmania in 1844 he decided to make Stanley the centre of the first Catholic parish established in the colony. In 1849 Willson appointed Father Michael Burke to take charge of a parish which stretched from George Town on the East Tamar to Duck River in the far North-West. Father Burke arrived at Stanley in mid-August 1849.

Within eight months of his arrival at Stanley, Father Burke built “a very nice little church of wood”. The church was opened by Bishop Willson on Sunday 21 April 1850. Writing to Bishop James Goold of Melbourne, Willson noted that the church was “dedicated to the Blessed Virgin as ‘Star of the Sea’” and that it was set in “a most picturesque situation”. This was was the first Catholic church in the colony dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The original church was situated on the site later occupied by the presbytery.

During his early years at Circular Head, Father Burke lived in the church itself. Burke’s work at Circular Head was extraordinary. Upon his death in 1868, the Catholic Standard eulogised his pioneering work and “the difficulties encountered in crossing almost impassable mountains and rivers, often overflowing their banks, in order to preach the Word of Life and administer the Holy Sacraments to his scattered flock”.

Father Burke was buried in the church that he had built. It is believed that his remains were removed and reburied beneath the stone church which opened in 1897. In 1931 when a new church was built on the foundations of the old building, no signs of a grave was found.

The first Catholic church at Stanley, which was located on a site later occupied by the presbytery.    
                     Source: Circular Head Heritage Centre Object No. CHH_00239 

Father Michael Burke - image courtesy of The Archdiocese of Hobart


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

The Sword - Marist College 1965 (annual magazine)


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