Mass in St Kilda was celebrated on 4 September 1853 at the Bay View Hotel,
corner of High and Argyle Streets, by the Reverend Patrick Niall. On 22
January 1854 Bishop James Alipius Goold, the first Catholic Bishop of
Melbourne, laid the foundation stone for a small brick building, which was
to be used as a church and a school. Capable of seating 250 people, it
cost £4000. It was at the southern end of the present St Mary’s Church and
was demolished in 1867.
foundation stone for St Mary’s Church was laid on 27 February 1859 by the
Very Reverend Doctor Fitzpatrick, Vicar General of the Diocese. It is the
oldest Catholic church south of the Yarra river. William Wardell, one of
Australia’s most significant nineteenth century architects, designed the
bluestone Gothic church. Wardell migrated from England to Australia in
1858 for health reasons. He soon became Inspector of Public Works and
retained the right of private practice. His best known works are St
Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne and St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. A
deeply religious man, he attended St Mary’s in St Kilda and maintained his
interest in the church after he left Melbourne.
Wardell was one of the senior civil servants sacked on ‘Black Wednesday’
when Sir Graham Berry became Premier in 1877 and as a result, Wardell
moved to Sydney.
beginning, there were problems with the building: the original materials
proved to be defective and the workmanship was poor. The sum of £1600 had
been spent on the church when work was suspended through lack of funds. In
1862 St Kilda and Brighton became separate parishes and St Mary’s first
resident priest, the Reverend Ed McCarthy, died after just three months
and his successor, the Reverend F. Hayden, died at Easter after only two
months in the parish. Dr James Corbett was appointed on 30 August 1863 and
work on the church resumed in September 1863. The first Mass in the new
church was held the following year. In 1869 Wardell was invited to prepare
revised plans to enlarge the church. Dr Goold once more performed the duty
of laying the foundation stone for the additional work on 1 May 1869. The
work was completed in 1871 at a cost of £3800. The nave and sanctuary were
lengthened, the vestry and a new chancel added. The original church
occupies about half the length of the nave from the Dandenong Road end.
Early English Gothic Revival style of bluestone with freestone dressings
and a slate roof, St Mary’s Church is notable for being the ‘purest
example of Wardell’s parish churches which were built according to ancient
The design has a nave with side aisles with a vestry, side porches and
chapels. A belfry surmounts the gable. The original gas lamps over the
entrances are rare. The organ was built for the first Melbourne
St Mary’s is
notable for its remarkably intact interior. It has a wealth of internal
fittings, including the high-quality stained-glass windows by Mayers,
Settler and Mathieson & Gibson. Above the southern porches there are two
nineteenth century spherical lights, which were originally in the school.
The sanctuary features rich stencilling while elsewhere the decoration is
simpler. This reflects the historic separation of the sanctuary, which
belonged to the Church of Rome, and the nave which was used by the
The decoration was restored in 1981. The Caen stone altar retains its
original fixtures and curtains. Designed by Wardell, it is the only
non-Gothic feature, being based on a Roman design in the church of San
The stone statues were possibly designed by Wardell.
Corbett, Bishop of Sale for just six weeks, consecrated St Mary’s in 1887
in a five-hour ceremony. It was the first Roman Catholic church
consecrated in Victoria and the second in Australia. Corbett had studied
for the priesthood in France and Belgium and travelled extensively in
Europe. He became parish priest at St Mary’s in 1863 and with Wardell is
responsible for bringing the church into being. This collaboration was
recognised in 1981 when two windows were added representing Wardell as St
Thomas, the patron saint of architects, and Corbett as St James. When
Corbett was appointed bishop, the St Kilda mission was divided into St
Kilda East, St Kilda West and South Yarra. Later, in November 1892, St
Kilda East was further divided when Malvern district was handed to the
care of the Vincentian Fathers.
Hegarty was succeeded in 1895 by Father T. Lynch, who died in 1942 at the
age of ninety, having been a priest for sixty-three years and parish
priest at St Mary’s for forty-six years. Father Keenan served until 1949
when Father Durkin became parish priest. In 1959 a chapel was added to
house the Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, which had been
installed by the Reverend Corbett in 1886. The organ was removed and found
a new home at St Margaret Mary’s in Brunswick. In the 1960s alterations
were made as a result of the Second Vatican Council, but to a lesser
extent than in other churches. An altar was placed in the nave to enable
the priest to face the congregation when celebrating Mass.
The rood perch was removed but reinstated in 1981.
One of St
Kilda’s most famous sons, Albert Jacka VC, married Veronica Carey in St
Mary’s in 1929. Jacka served in the 14th Battalion and was awarded the
Victoria Cross on 19 May 1915 for his bravery in a rear-guard action at
Courtenay’s Post at Gallipoli. It was the first VC awarded to the
Australian Imperial Force in World War I. Jacka later became a mayor of St
Kilda but died prematurely. At his funeral, his coffin was carried by
eight VC recipients.
mass was conducted on 31 October 1975 for Gary Cunningham, Greg Shackleton
and Tony Stewart, members of the news crew who were killed at Balibo in
brick two-storey presbytery was built in 1866-67 to a Wardell design and
is one of his few domestic buildings. It replaced an earlier building,
which fronted Westbury Street. Its foundations are still visible. The
alterations and extensions of 1908-10 were supervised by Grainger, Kennedy
and Little. John Grainger designed the new Princes Bridge crossing the
Yarra and was the father of the eccentric musician Percy Grainger.
later St Mary’s Hall
Presentation nuns arrived in St Kilda from Limerick on 21 December 1873.
They came in response to a crisis caused by the withdrawal of funding for
religious schools by Parliament. The priests vacated the presbytery until
Turret Lodge’ opposite St Mary’s, was bought in 1874 to house the nuns.
Their leader, Katherine Mulquin or Mother Paul, established Presentation
Convent and Colleges, which had a high reputation for progressive
education of girls. Three Christian Brothers arrived from Ireland in 1878
and a new school was opened in 1880. Congregate graves for the nuns and
brothers are at St Kilda Cemetery.
hall was built adjacent to and east of the church in 1902-04. The design
was by John Rigg, in conjunction with Godfrey and Spowers, and probably
influenced by Robert Haddon.
Robert Gamble was the contractor and £7500 was spent, including £2000 for
the land. The two-storey, red brick hall has stucco decoration and
includes Romanesque Revival and Art Nouveau elements. Architecturally it
presents a contrast to the church and presbytery and demonstrates changing
styles and the ‘new self confidence of Catholics in the general
It was extended in 1909. It is a substantial building and was used for
small theatrical performances. In addition there are rooms for classrooms,
offices, a library and a kitchen. It was built at a time when church
communities were attempting to provide for the betterment of young people
through education, physical activities and spiritual guidance. This echoed
the earlier movement to build mechanics institutes to provide educational
opportunities for working-class men.
The hall is now occupied by the Christian Brothers College. St Mary’s
Catholic School is now on the corner of Dandenong Road and Westbury
account is based on the following: Australian Heritage Commission,
Register of the National Estate Database, ‘St Marys Catholic
Church, St Kilda East, Vic’, database number:015771, file
number:2/11/046/0092. Class:Historic; and ‘St Marys
Catholic Church, School Hall and Presbytery, St Kilda East, Vic’,
database number: 014701, file number: 2/11/046/0092. Class:
Historic. Also: Timothy Hubbard and Petri Juhola, ‘St Mary’s Catholic
Church, Presbytery & Hall, Dandenong Road, East St Kilda: Submission
to the Classifications Committee of the Historic Buildings Council’,
Hubbard, St Kilda, 1989.
biographical details see: Ursula M. De Jong, William Wilkinson
Wardell, Monash University Press, Melbourne, 1984; and Tom Hazell,
‘William Wardell, Historic Environment, vol. 3, no. 4, 1984,
and Juhola, ‘St Mary’s Catholic Church’.