No. 1124 - Ulverstone - Sacred Heart Catholic Church (1886-1961)

Ulverstone, or ‘River Leven’, as it was once called, was permanently settled by Europeans from the late 1840’s after Andrew Risby developed farmland from the thickly forested wilderness. During the 1850’s the district received new settlers and was also frequented by transient timber splitters. In 1854 Hugh Ross McKay opened the first store and the Leven Post Office opened in 1857. Despite the growth of River Leven, the settlement remained without a church until the late 1860’s.

In 1867 the River Leven correspondent for the Launceston Examiner complained:

“…At the Leven there exists not one place which is solely devoted to the worship of God. To be sure services are held in private dwellings by two or three denominations, which no doubt are useful in a degree; but several persons have an aversion to attend meetings held under these circumstances.”

A year earlier, another River Leven local correspondent had offered a more positive view of religious life in the town:

“The religious history of the Leven is somewhat brighter. A service is held occasionally in Mr. M'Donald's store, conducted by the Rev. Mr Martin, a clergyman of the Church of England. A meeting of the Wesleyans is held every Sunday, at the house of Mr. Tongs, when a local preacher discourses. The rites of the Roman Catholic Church are observed at the residence of Mr. B. Lynch, Gawler, the same being administered by the officiating minister of that denomination, formerly the Revd. Mr. Burke, but now by a gentleman whose name I do not know. The independent body is represented by the Revd. Walter Mathieson, who preaches once a month at the house of Mr. A. Rigby, on a Tuesday, service commencing at half-past six.”

The name of the Catholic priest that the correspondent could not remember was in fact Father James Noone who replaced Father Burke who had died earlier in that year. Father Noone became responsible for the enormous Mersey parish which stretched from Latrobe to Ulverstone and beyond.

By the 1870s Ulverstone’s Catholic population had grown and moves to build a church began to gather pace. A site for a church on King Edward Street was donated by Laurence Counsel in 1877. In 1879 tenders were advertised for the erection of a ‘Catholic chapel’ but no bids were considered suitable. A report in the Examiner speculated:

“It is likely an arrangement may be made to purchase the materials, and let the work by contract. The site is not far from the Post-office, quite in a central position, and the building when erected, will improve the appearance of that part of the township”.

In the end the King Edward Street site was sold by Father Noone and a new site was purchased on Alexandra Street. The failure to secure an acceptable tender and the sale of the original site delayed the construction of the church until 1886. The opening of Sacred Heart Church in November 1886 was reported in the Devon Herald:

“The Church of the Sacred Heart was dedicated to divine service on Sunday last. The Bishop of Hobart performed the ceremony at 8 o'clock, after which he said the First Mass. At 11 o’clock a Missa Cantata was sung by the Rev. Noone. The Church and Sacristy were crowded, and several were unable to gain admittance. Coaches and vehicles arrived during the morning from Latrobe, Formby, Forth, Emu Bay and surrounding districts, bringing crowds of visitors. The day was very fine and Ulverstone looked its best….”

A report in the Examiner provides some details about the building.

“The Church, which was built by Mr. J. P. Dooley, of Forth, is a very pretty building, situated to the rear of the town, and is a credit to the builder. His Lordship and Priests were thoroughly satisfied with it, and the general, opinion was it is a compact and strong piece of work. Among the subscribers were a large number of Protestants. The building will cost about £600…”.

In 1889, three years after the opening of Sacred Heart, a school was established alongside the church on Alexandra Road. The school was run by the Sisters of St Joseph led by Sister Francis McCarthy. Unfortunately the original school building burnt down in 1962.

In 1907 Ulverstone became a separate Catholic parish and Father Dowling was appointed as its first pastor. This remarkable Irishman went on to serve the Ulverstone parish for 45 years.

In 1961, seventy-five years after the opening of Ulverstone’s first Catholic church a modern church was built on a site opposite the old building. Unfortunately the old church has been demolished in recent years.

Sacred Heart Catholic Church - Libraries Tasmania

The original church before it was extended. Source: Libraries Tasmania PH30-1-762


Launceston Examiner, Friday 8 June 1866, page 3
Weekly Examiner, Saturday 14 April 1877, page 2
Weekly Examiner, Saturday 12 January 1878, page 10
Devon Herald, Saturday 15 February 1879, page 3
Devon Herald, Saturday 29 March 1879, page 1
Launceston Examiner, Thursday 9 October 1879, page 3
The Mercury, Tuesday 15 June 1886, page 3
Devon Herald, Tuesday 16 November 1886, page 2
Daily Telegraph, Wednesday 17 November 1886, page 3
Advocate, Wednesday 18 December 1929, page 2

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


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