No. 1305 - Sandy Bay - Mount Saint Canice 'Memorial Church' (1910)

The focus of this article is exclusively on the ‘Memorial Church’ at Mount Saint Canice. The more controversial history of Mount Saint Canice Convent of the Good Shepherd (also known Magdalen Home) and other buildings on the site will be the topic of a further article on ‘Churches of Tasmania’.

The Catholic Church’s Mount St Canice property at Sandy Bay was established as a reformatory for “fallen”women. It was run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd on farmland purchased in November 1886 with funds from the estate of Father William John Dunne. The site covered an area of approximately eleven hectares and comprised of Magdalene House, a presbytery, the Memorial Church, Stella Maris and several other buildings. In 1995 Mount St Canice served as the Catholic Church’s administrative headquarters. It is now a retirement complex operated by Southern Cross Care.

The Memorial Church was built as a memorial to Father Dunne, a former Vicar-General of the Catholic Church in Tasmania. The church was designed by Tasmanian architect Alan Cameron Walker and its foundation stone was ceremonially laid in February 1909. The building was opened for worship in November the following year.

The foundation laying ceremony was reported in several Tasmanian newspapers including Hobart’s Mercury:

“The ceremony of laying the foundation-stone of the Convent Memorial Church was carried out yesterday afternoon….The ceremony was performed by his Excellency Sir Gerald Strickland, while the building was blessed by the Most Rev. Dr. Delany, the Archbishop of Hobart….His Excellency was greeted on arrival by a guard of honour, consisting of priests and members of the Hibernian Society. The Archbishop, having passed around the building and blessed it,…..His Excellency [ the Governor] said that it gave him great satisfaction to find himself in company with the Archbishop, the Premier, the Mayor, members of Parliament, and leaders of thought in every branch and every religion…..Passing on to a reference to the nuns, he drew attention to what, he said, was the very noble example of devotion to duty displayed by the ladies within the convent… He trusted that the work, which was made possible by Father Dunne's legacy of £75,000*, would be as successful in the result as it was noble in aim…”.

Construction was completed in the following year and the church was officially opened on Sunday 27 November 1910. The Mercury’s report of the occasion includes details of the building and its stained glass windows:

“The opening ceremonies in connection with the new church which has been erected at the Convent of the Good Shepherd, Mount St. Canice, Sandy Bay, took place yesterday afternoon in the presence of a large gathering….It is a fine piece of architecture in the Gothic style, and the material of which it is built is brick, with freestone dressing and courses. The sanctuary projects further into the transept than is usually the case, in order that the altar may be seen by worshippers in every part of the building. The sanctuary itself is tiled very beautifully, and there are steps of Australian marble leading up to it. The church is on the usual plan, with nave and transepts, which are about 100ft. long by 28ft. wide. The roof is beautifully lined with stained and polished hardwood. There are some very beautiful stained glass windows. That in the north transept is the gift of Mr. P. Brennan, of Gippsland, Victoria, as a memorial to his son, who died some few years ago. It represents the five joyful mysteries, and is of very artistic conception in design, while the colouring is superb. The window in the southern transept represents the glorious mysteries, and is also a very fine piece of work. The window over the portion of the church which is devoted to the use of the Sisters of tho Good Shepherd is not quite complete. It represents the sorrowful mysteries. There is richly coloured glass in all the windows. They were supplied by the firm of Robinson and Co., of Melbourne. The architect was Mr. Alan Walker, and the contractor Mr. James Dunn. A good deal of credit is due to the foreman of works, Mr. H Haney, for the careful and conscientious manner in which the work has been carried out. The cost will be in the neighbourhood of £6000”.

The report continued:

“The ceremony of blessing the church took place at 8.30 on Saturday morning. It was performed by the Archbishop of Hobart, Dr. Delany, who was assisted by Archpriest Hennebry, Monsignor Hoyne, and Fathers O’Regan and Murphy. The first mass in the new building was then celebrated by Dr. Delany. St. Joseph's choir, under the conductorship of Mr. W. Hammond, were present, and sang portions of Mozart's first mass, and also portions from Gounod's mass. Miss Reichenberg presided at the organ. At the public opening of the church yesterday afternoon there was a very large attendance, which included representatives of nearly every sect in Hobart….”.

The Memorial Church was uniquely designed to separately accomodate three distinct groups of worshippers:

“Unlike other buildings on the site, it was to be for public as well as institutional use. The nave, with individual blackwood stalls, was set aside for the use of the Sisters, and the south transept, with its closed cloister, was solely for the use of the penitents. The northern transept, was accessible to the public by a separate entrance. The three congregations would be physically separate, but with one central focus”. [Baxter]

Magdalen Home closed following the deadly explosion of a boiler in Mount Saint Canice’s industrial laundry in 1974. Some time after the Sisters moved to Claremont north of Hobart. The church is still used although not on a regular basis.

* The source of William Dunne’s wealth was derived from an inheritance which he invested in land.

A note about William Dunne drawn from the Australian Dictionary of Biography:

“William John Dunne (1814-1883), was born at Ballycallan near Kilkenny, Ireland. After education at Burrell's Hall he entered St Kyran's College and three years later enrolled at the College of the Immaculate Conception at Ratcliffe in Leicestershire. He volunteered for service in Australia, arrived in Sydney in March 1843 and was ordained by Archbishop John Bede Polding. He was first attached to St Mary's Cathedral and then given charge of the mission at Windsor. In 1845 he went to Van Diemen's Land to take over the Richmond mission, which then extended from the south coast to the boundary of the Launceston mission. Dunne was reputedly responsible for the building and improvement of seven country churches including those at Richmond, Sorell, Brighton and Colebrook. When the newly appointed Bishop Daniel Murphy arrived at Hobart Town in July 1866 with a community of Presentation Sisters, Dunne housed the nuns under supervision of the Bishop's sister at his Woodburn estate in the Richmond parish.

Later that year Dunne was moved from Richmond and appointed the first Catholic archdeacon of Tasmania. He was stationed at St Joseph's Church in Hobart. In 1870 Dunne became vicar-general; as chief executive of the Catholic Church in Tasmania he was largely responsible for the harmony which existed between Catholic and public educators in the colony. He represented the Church on the Council of Education for sixteen years, sat on royal commissions into education and was active on the boards of several schools. He was closely associated with the building of the orphanage attached to St Joseph's and the formation of the Catholic Ragged School of St Luke's of which he was superintendent. As editor and proprietor of the Tasmanian Catholic Standard until 1872, when he visited Rome, he continued to influence Tasmanian educational change……Ill health caused him to relinquish his major duties in 1882 and he settled into what he hoped would be gentle retirement as pastor of Coburg and Brunswick in Victoria, but on 7 March 1883 he died at Coburg. After a ceremonial funeral in Melbourne his body was sent to Hobart and buried beneath the memorial he had prepared for himself in the churchyard at St Patrick’s [Colebrook]. His will established the Dunne scholarship for local scholars to attend St Ignatius Jesuit College in Sydney, while bequests placed St Joseph's Orphanage in Hobart on a sounder basis and met the initial cost of building at Sandy Bay the Magdalen Home for delinquent girls”.

All the photographs of the church used in this article are my own.

Seating in the nave for the Sisters of the Good Shepherd

The north transept which was used by members of the public.

The south transept which was designed to seat the penitents separately from the religious and the laity. The organ, built in 1939 by Hill, Norman & Beard, was originally placed in the rear gallery. In 1976 the organ was rebuilt and was moved to the floor of the south transept,

The entrance used by the public.

Architect Alan Cameron Walker's drawing of the church. (Weekly Courier 1909)

Planting A Faith


Weekly Courier, Thursday 18 February 1909, page 23
Daily Post, Monday 1 March 1909, page 5
Mercury, Monday 1 March 1909, page 5
Mercury, Monday 28 November 1910, page 6
Tasmanian News, Monday 28 November 1910, page 2
Mercury, Saturday 28 January 1933, page 10
Mercury, Wednesday 27 November 1935, page 5

Baxter, Valerie J 1993 , 'Magdalen Home, Mount St. Canice : the early years', Research Master thesis, University of Tasmania.

Southerwood, W. T. Planting a faith : Hobart's Catholic story in word and picture / [by] W. T. Southerwood [Hobart] 1970


Popular posts from this blog

Welcome to Churches of Tasmania

No. 624 - Dunalley - St Martin's Anglican Church - "In grateful memory of the men who fought in the Great War"

No. 592 - Gretna - St Mary the Virgin - "Worthy of Imitation"