Our Churches

History of our churches

St Joseph the Worker


Lobethal Church Nears Half a Century

There have been many times when new and visiting priests have had difficulty finding the Catholic church of St Joseph the Worker in Lobethal. It sits high above the township on the slope of a steep hill at 38 Ridge Road and is not readily visible to the passer-by. Our Parish Priest, Father Fred, recalls that he drove past it three times the morning of his first Sunday Mass there in August last year, before he finally focussed on the nine-metre high steel cross that stands prominently in front of the building. Needless to say, Mass was a little late that morning but all was well in the end and Father Fred has now also seen to the restoration of the church sign and ensured that it is clearly visible.

Such is the occasional dilemma of finding Hills locations, but the fact is that Catholics have been worshipping here for nearly fifty years. In November this year they will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening of this church.

Until the Adelaide Hills Parish was formed in November 1996 Lobethal Catholics were always part of the Birdwood Parish. Mass was once celebrated at the Old Institute, with Lobethal parishioners being joined by those from Lenswood and Woodside. This form of worship continued through the 1940s and well into the 1960s. But when the Catholic population was boosted by an influx of European migrants in the late 1950s it was decided that a church should be built. A planned giving program was introduced and church property in Jeffrey Street was sold to enable the present site in Ridge Road to be purchased. The church is built of red brick and undressed Canadian cedar timber. It has been said that the steel cross can be seen from Mount Lofty, about 32km away.

The Parish Priest at the time of the opening, Father Michael Dunne, named the church and presented the congregation with a wooden statue of the church’s patron saint, St Joseph the Worker. It had been carved in Italy. Monsignor W. Russell, then Vicar General, officiated at the blessing and opening of the new church on 7 November 1965.

Elizabeth Anderson

St Matthew's


Bridgewater Church

Designed to capture the nature of the Hills

St Matthew’s Church on the corner of Mount Barker Road and Wembley Avenue in Bridgewater, which accommodates 300 people, was built in 1966 to become the main place of Catholic worship in a fast growing residential area. Its erection took place nine years after the formation of the Stirling Catholic Parish.

The church was designed to capture the nature of the Adelaide Hills, with Littlehampton bricks, natural finishes throughout and emphasis on a four-gabled roof rising to a central steel spire and cross. A new liturgical spirit was just emerging after the Second Vatican Council and in line with a newly introduced practice the vestry was placed near the church entrance, to enable the priest to approach the altar through the people.

The architect was Mr C.W. Peters and the church was built by Russell Thomas Pty Ltd.

The work of well-known Stirling artist, Polish-born Stan Ostoja-Kotkowski, was featured in the windows and in the baptismal font which comprised two ploughshares and a column of multi-coloured St Gobain French glass.

The church was blessed and opened by Archbishop Matthew Beovich on 7 August 1966. The Parish Priest, Father Gavan Kennare, praised parishioners for the magnificent and generous way they had responded to a giving program, to make the church a reality. St Matthew’s was also dedicated as a war memorial.

The Stations of the Cross, cast in metal, were the inspiration and work of a Dublin artist, Richard King, and a Perth craftsman, Phil Somers. These were formally installed a month after the opening of the church.

In 1980 a Parish House was built on the Bridgewater property to accommodate the Parish Priest, who had previously lived in The Lodge at the Dominican Convent in Stirling. It also included a meeting room for parishioners.

The church interior has undergone various changes over the years, to meet liturgical changes and the needs of the congregation.

The Stirling Catholic Parish became part of a much larger Adelaide Hills Parish in November

Elizabeth Anderson

Our Lady of the Rosary

Stirling East

A tranquil chapel among the trees

The Church of Our Lady of the Rosary at 135 Old Mt Barker Road at Stirling East was built in the period between October 1881 and May 1882. At this time the Stirling district was not a parish in its own right but part of the Mt Barker Catholic Mission area which covered many other widely scattered places such as Kanmantoo, Nairne, Echunga, Macclesfield, Strathalbyn and Birdwood.

By the beginning of the 1880s the Catholics of Stirling had begun to feel the need for a church in their own part of the Mission area and time for action came with the arrival of a very energetic Irish priest, Father William Vincent Prendergast. With great encouragement from Stirling’s Catholics, he announced just eight months after his arrival at Mt Barker that he intended to build a church at Stirling East.

Among his strongest supports were two local men, John O’Reilly and James McMahon, both of whom gave considerable amounts of money towards the cost of the building. John O’Reilly, who lived in a cottage which still stands near the church, also gave the land on which the church was built.

Michael McMullen, an Irishman from Cork who had been practising as a builder and architect in South Australia for nearly two decades, designed the church and an Adelaide builder by the name of Maloney was awarded the contract to build the church.

It took only seven months for the church to be built. It is speculated that the speed of its construction could be attributed to help received from some Irish Catholics who were at that time working on the laying of the railways line through the Mount Lofty Ranges.

The church was officially opened in 1882 and dedicated in 1884. It was described as one of the handsomest in South Australia, ornamented with beautiful stained glass windows made by the glazier William Brookes.

Throughout the remaining years of the 19th Century and the first half of the 20th Century the church was the spiritual centre of Stirling’s Catholic community.

Then in 1954 the church was closed after suffering minor damage in an earthquake. It fell into a state of neglect, became a target for vandals and was on the verge of being sold just for its stone. But instead, when Father Gavan Kennare established the Parish of Stirling in 1957 it was restored and re-opened.

This tranquil chapel, set among the trees, remained a favourite with many from that time on and there was considerable regret when it became necessary to discontinue Sunday Masses there in late 1996 due to new pastoral management in the district, though it remained a well-used wedding venue. In February 2015 Parish Priest Father Fred Farrugia re-introduced a weekly Sunday evening Mass there.

The neo-gothic building is included in a local Heritage Register, where it is acknowledged for “its importance in the lives of local residents” and described as “a building of good design and construction and, as such, having aesthetic merit”.

Elizabeth Anderson

St Matthew's


Birdwood - “A remarkable little church”

The oldest church in our Parish of the Adelaide Hills is the picturesque St Matthew’s in Shannon Street Birdwood, situated in the Torrens Valley. In 1997 the late Barbara Hanafin, historian and a parishioner, wrote: “Considering it was such a small parish and the congregation was always far from wealthy, this little church really is remarkable. It is a truly lovely little building with a gallery. The windows behind the altar are of some really lovely stained glass…….. It has an atmosphere of peace and serenity. It has obviously been loved and cared for over the year.”

The land on which this church stands was purchased back in 1865 and the first part of the building was opened two years later.

The adjacent block of land on which the cemetery is located was bought in 1869. Father Julian Tenison Woods’ name appears on the title deed.

The town was then known as Blumberg and it was part of the vast Mount Barker Mission. The name was anglicised to Birdwood in 1917.

Father Thomas Dowling travelled on horseback from Mount Barker to celebrate Mass in Blumberg on the first, third and fifth Sundays of each month. He usually slept in the vestry overnight before celebrating Mass.

On 24 August 1884 extensions to St Matthew’s were dedicated by Bishop Reynolds and the following year Father Thomas O’Neill became the first Parish Priest of Blumberg. He lived in two rooms at the back of the church. But these were trying times and, with little money, the community once again became part of the Mount Barker Parish in 1891, remaining so for the next four years.

Blumberg became a separate parish again in 1895. Eight acres of land adjacent to the church were added to the property for the priest’s horse. A presbytery was built and the new Parish Priest, Father Patrick Ryan, would stay for 18 years.

In the earliest years the Parish of Blumberg encompassed an area that stretched to Eden Valley, Rhine Valley (Cambrai) and even Waikerie and Morgan. The places which later comprised the Parish were Mannum, Mount Pleasant, Springton, Kersbrook, Gumeracha, Forreston, Kenton Valley, Cudlee Creek, Lenswood, Mt Torrens, Lobethal, Charleston, Woodside, Oakbank, Mt Crawford, Williamstown and Cromer.

The Birdwood Parish had three Mass centres - at Birdwood, Lobethal and Mannum. Their last Parish Priest was Father Noel Molloy, who left in 1996. In November that year the Parish was divided up, with Mannum joining Murray Bridge and Birdwood parishioners joining the new Adelaide Hills Catholic Parish together with the Catholics of Stirling and Bridgewater.

The three hectares of grazing land at the Birdwood Church were sold in 2009 and new development options are currently being considered.

Elizabeth Anderson

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