34: St Joseph's Catholic Church

History of St. Joseph's Catholic Church

1857 - 1957

By Fon Ryan.

Reproducded from: "Back to" Learmonth and District.

25th to 28th January 1957. Souvenir Programme.





In the year 1857, a beautiful site on the northern side of the Lake was granted to the Catholics of Learmonth for religious purposes. After a meeting of the district congregation it was desided to build a Church. Among those present on that occasion were: Messrs. W Burke, R Butler, T Cantwell, J., M. and D. Casey, A. and M. Cavananagh, J. Connelly, T. Cashier, D. Direen, P. Donovan, M. Feary, G. Fitzgerald, A. McAuley, J. McNeil, T. McGuire, P. McCarthy, D. Mulcahey, M. Monahan, P. Neary, P. O'Brien, N. Purcell, P. and T. Quinlivan, Martin and Mat. Ryan, M. Riodan, S. Smith, and Mrs. Nolan.


The Church which they erected was a long wooden building. During the week-days it was used for a school. Mr. L. O'Flaherty was appointed school-master in 1859. However, it was not long before the ambitious congregation sought some more lasting and noble expression of their religious beliefs. They decided to replace the earlier wooden building with a substantion brick church. Their faith and zeal were evidenced in the beautiful and commodious Church of St. Joseph's, which now stands on the site of the original building. The design of this Church is by Hansom. Buckley and Sons were the contractors, and Mr. H. R. Cassilli the architect. Dr. Goold, Bishop of Melbourne, laid the foundation stone in 1873. The occasional sermon was preached by Rev. D. F. Barry, O.S.B. The total cost of the church was £3,000. Unfortunately, a cyclone struck the church shortly after its completion. The gable ends were destroyed, but the pioneers were undaunted by the catastrophe. They immediately rebuilt the damaged portions of the church.


Learmonth was originally in the Diocese of Melbourne, but Ballarat was created a diocese on 31st March, 1874, and Learmonth came within the province of the new diocese. the first Bishop of Ballarat, Most Rev. Dr. O'Connor, was consecrated on 17th May, 1874. He died on 14th September, 1883, and was succeeded by Bishop Moore. The next prelate was the Most Rev. Dr. Higgins, and his place was taken by the Most Rev. Dr. Foley who died in 1941. The present Bishop, the Most Rev. Dr. J. P. O'Collins, was appointed to the vacancy. All of these prelates honoured St. Joseph's Church and the devoted congregation by the pastoral visitations.


The interior decorations of St. Joseph's Church were gradually completed, and are now regarded very highly. Two stained glass windows have been erected to the memory of the late Mary Doolan and Charles Coglon.

Many of the pioneers have now passed away, and new members are found among the congregation, including New Australians, who continue to carry on the good work.

So maginificently did the pioneers plan and work that little was left to their successors except to keep in repair the Church building and grounds. In 1912, the choir gallery was erected at a cost of £150. In 1926 the younger members of the congregation erected the Church tennis courts at a cost of £450. The prime movers in this undertaking were Rev. J. Timmins, Mr. P. Donovan and Mr. J. P. Ryan. In April, 1931, the ordination of one of St. Joseph's congregation, Rev. V. Ryan, took place. to celebrate the occasion, a dinner, given by the congregation in his honour, was held in the Mechanics Institute and 250 persons attended, the organisers were Messrs. M. Casey, J. Miller and M. Ryan.

The interior of the Church is well adorned with Statues and Pictures, being often added to by donations from past and present members of the congregation. St. Joseph's Church is still attached to the Ballarat Diocese. At one time there was a movement on foot to make Learmonth a Parish, but it did not eventuate. Many distinguished priets, too numerous to mention, have been in charge of the district, the present one being Rev. T. O'Brien.


Since the brick church was built there have been but three caretakers, Mrs. Stutt, Mrs. Quigley and Miss Quigley, who pasted away in December, 1948. Since then, the ladies of the congregation take it in turn to decorate and keep the church clean, and the condition of the furnishings and the interior of the edifice put the hall mark of distinction on their work.

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