St James Catholic Church, Cygnet (1)

Mary Street, Cygnet. Approximate location on Google Maps.

There seem to have been four Catholic churches at Cygnet. The first was a weatherboard, possibly temporary, building erected in the early 1860s. This was replaced in 1867 by a more a more substantial small weatherboard church, St James. In 1903 a stone church, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, was constructed which incorporated the older building. This was later demolished and the current St James built in 1940.

Photos of older St James & newer building of both stone and weatherboard

The Church of St. James the Apostle at Port Cygnet was consecrated on Tuesday by, Dr. Murphy, Roman Catholic Bishop of Hobart Town. The services were witnessed by more than five hundred persons. The Very Reverend Dr. Hayes, Dean of Sandhurst, Victoria, delivered a most eloquent sermon. Several priests took part in the ceremony. Subscriptions amounting to £68 11s. 6d. were received. A sumptuous luncheon was subsequently given to the visitors in a spacious building adjacent to the church
Launceston Examiner, 21 February 1867

In the ecclesiastical history of the Huon,Cygnet occupies a unique place, in that it may claim to have been the foundation centre of the Roman Catholic Church in the district, for the first Mass in the Huon was conducted at Cygnet by the Rev. John Murphy on April 1st, 1855,- 85 years ago. The record of service of the first and pioneer pastor, Father Murphy, is probably without comparison in southern Tasmania, for that first priest, gave no less than 43- years of his life to the service of the Roman Catholic Church in the Huon, and when he was called to rest in August, 1898, the Huon lost one,whose place was, indeed difficult to fill.

The Rev. John Murphy was a native of Kerry, in Ireland, and after his ordination at All Hallows’ College, in 1851, he came out, to Tasmania. For a brief period- he was stationed at Launceston, and was then appointed by the first Bishop of Hobart, Dr. R. W. Wilson, as one of. the Chaplains to the convict station on Norfolk Island. He remained there for some years, and returned to- Hobart in March, 1855. His work in the cause of the faith had been such that the Bishop felt that he could entrust to him the great task of establishing the Roman Catholic Church in the Huon. On March 30, 1855, Father Murphy landed at Cygnet, then a small but flourishing township. One; of the first persons to’receive him on his arrival was Mr J. D, Balfe, who later ‘became one of the members of Parliament for the Huon. The latter made him. welcome, and he stayed, with him in his home for some days. On April 1st, Father Murphy said Mass in the partially completed public school, and on April 3rd, left for Franklin, where he decided to settle. For the next eight years he visited Cygnet regularly, and on every alternate Sunday conducted Mass in a house, rented for £10 a year from a Mrs Wall. Mr Matthew Fitzpatrick, one of the noted pioneers of the district, then came forward and purchased the house and land, which he gave to the church, so that the first church building should be erected where the first services had been held. Such was the beginning of the parish history.

The existing Catholic Church of St. James’s was opened and dedicated in February, 1867 – exactly 36 years ago. It was built by the Rev. J. Holehan, then pastor of Port Cygnet, but now in charge of Kingston. It is a wooden church, picturesque in design; but, as may be supposed, the congregation have outgrown the accommodation afforded. The Mass at the dedication of the present church was celebrated by the Very Rev. P. R. Hennebry, now pastor of St. Joseph’s, Hobart, and the sermon was preached by the Very Rev. Dean Hayes, of the Order of St. Augustine, then in charge of St. Kilian’s. Bendigo, Victoria. Soon afterwards, Dean Hayes was appointed Bishop of Armidale, Now South Wales, but he died in Dublin before consecration. The present pastor of Port Cygnet has been in charge for the lost nine years, having boon sent thither from the Cathedral staff. The first contract for the erection of the new church is for the building of the chancel, the walls of which will embrace a portion of the present church. In fact, the new church will be built outside the old one, and the latter used as long as it does not stand in the way of the builder’s operations. When it does, of course , it will be pulled down.
The Mercury, 16 February 1903

It was in the early sixties of the last century that the first church was built on the land, and it stood near the left hand corner of the entrance to the grounds. The year 1863 saw the creation of Cygnet as a separate parish under the Rev. J. Holehan, and it was under his guidance that the first Church of St. James’ was established in 1867.It was designed by Mr Henry Hunter a well known Hobart architect of the last century, and during the administration of the Rev. P. O’Flynn a stone section was added to the building. Father. Holehan was transferred to Swansea in 1868, and he was succeeded at Cygnet by Rev. T. McKenna, who was followed in 1869 by Father T. Kelsh. The following have been the successive pastors, of the parish : Revs. T. Kelsh (1869-72), Michel O’Regan (1872-79), P.O’Reilly (1879-88), J. Holehan (1888-94), P. O’Flynn (1894-1926), A. Cullen (1926-39), and Rev. F. Kent, the present priest.
Huon & Derwent Times, 3 October 1940

On Sunday, February 18, his Grace Dr. Simonds, Archbishop of Hobart, blessed the foundations of a new church at Cygnet, where the Catholic people are strong in numbers as well as in faith. Father John Murphy built the first church — a humble weatherboard structure — eighty-four years ago. Then in, 1867 Father Holehan was a little more ambitious, building the church of St, James, portion of which formed the nave of the building recently demolished. It has fallen to the lot of Father Kent, the present parish priest, to erect a permanent place of worship.
Catholic Freeman’s Journal (Sydney), 22 February 1940

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