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The Story of St Mary’s is now more accessible than ever before


Guests at the opening of the new museum under the Cathedral admire the permanent displays. Photo: Ron Tan.

By Eric Martin

St Mary’s Cathedral Dean the Rev Dr Sean Fernandez has last week hosted the launch of a new Museum and a Learning and Development Programme.

The launch marked the completion of three years’ work by the project committee, including Tony Meyrick, Cathedral Supervisor, and Odhran O’Brien, Archdiocesan Archivist, with contributions from Heritage Perth, Creative Spaces and Catholic Education Western Australia.

The aim of the committee was to tell the story of Western Australia’s Catholic community from its foundation in 1843 to the present day using the Cathedral as the focus of that narrative.

The permanent exhibitions in the Cathedral’s Museum are titled: ‘An Ancient Land’, ‘A New Faith Arrives’, ‘Let’s Build a Cathedral’, ‘Settlers, Convicts and Migrants’, ‘Schools and Learning’, ‘Our Community’, and ‘Celebrating and Remembering’.


Archbishop Timothy Costelloe opens the doors to the new exhibition in the undercroft at St Mary’s Cathedral. Photo: Ron Tan.

The staff of Creative Spaces and the Archdiocesan Archives curated a display in the temporarily display area of the museum entitled Curiosities from the Archives, which includes artefacts from Archdiocese’s museum collection.

“What we want to focus on (with the temporary displays) is those less known Catholics,” explained Mr O’Brien.

The Learning and Development Programme provides a range of activities for Catholic primary school students to help them engage with the history of the Cathedral and Archdiocese.

The activities have been designed to prepare students for their visit to the Cathedral, to help them engage with their tour while at St Mary’s and finally to explore what they have learnt in greater detail on their return to school.

The programme can be downloaded from the following link:


Archdiocesan Archivist Odhran O’Brien, Dean of St Mary’s Cathedral Fr Sean Fernandez, Monsignor Michael Keating, Major Sponsor Mr Tony Lennon and Archbishop of Perth Timothy Costelloe, gather in the new museum space. Photo: Ron Tan.

The programme is based on the Western Australian State Curriculum and Catholic Education Western Australia’s Faith Story and Witness Module and can also be used to assist those preparing for the sacrament of Confirmation.

The launch was opened by Rev Dr Fernandez who said that the history of the Church in Perth has its beginnings with people who came here with few resources but great faith.

“Most of them did not think of themselves as making history, but rather simply of doing the tasks in front of them. They laid the foundations upon which successive generations have built. We are heirs to their work and this project celebrates their achievements,”

According to Mr O’Brien the aim of the exhibition is: “Telling people the story of Catholics in WA in a format that can be easily digested and understood – [previously] the permanent displays didn’t really tell a narrative and similarly, artefacts being stored at the archives office weren’t really helping to tell that story.”


Archdiocesan Archivist Odhran O’Brien, who has been instrumental in organizing the exhibition, addresses the gathered guests at the opening of the exhibition. Photo: Ron Tan.

Archbishop Timothy Costelloe officially launched the project by quoting Pope Francis.

Special guests included Mr Tony Lennon, major sponsor of the exhibition; Ms Anne Arnold the Chair of the Heritage Council of WA; Professor Selma Alex, Pro-Vice Chancellor and head of the Fremantle Campus of Notre Dame University Australia; Mr Greg Russo, CEO of the Archdiocese of Perth Administration WA; Mr Peter Yensch, Deputy Executive Director of Catholic Education WA; Sister Moira Truelson, Congregational Leader of the Sisters of Mercy and; Monsignor Michael Keating.

There is a rich story associated with each item on display and many of the items speak of the personal faith and commitment of individuals who have been part of the Cathedral Parish or the Archdiocese of Perth.

Each curiosity has been collected over time by the past custodians of the Archdiocesan Archives, which was originally located in the Cathedral precinct in Chapel Hall of Cathedral House, formerly the Bishop’s Palace. For example, amongst the relics of St Colloquili Abbatis and St Emily de Vialar, sits the ceremonial (though wickedly sharp) sword of the Honorable Timothy Francis Quinlan MLA, alongside his medals and golden chain of office.


Archbishop Tony Costelloe, major sponsor Tony Lennon and Monsignor Michael Keating enjoy a moment at the opening of the new exhibition. Photo: Ron Tan.

Timothy Quinlan was the Senior Knight in WA of the Order of Saint Sylvester (a papal order originally part of the better known Order of the Golden Spur) and was awarded his regalia in 1899 for services to the colony.

“He supported the nuns who came to Western Australia until they found their feet. Bishop Gibney was wonderful of course but there was just no money. He gave money to everyone and supported the Nuns till they got established. He was a member of Parliament and the top Catholic in Western Australia,” explained local historian, Geraldine Byrne.

“It is also interesting to note that as one of the Knights of St Sylvester you’re allowed to ride a white charger inside St Peter's in Rome,” noted Professor Michael Quinlan LLD, MB BS, MD, FRACP, former Foundation Dean of Health at the University of Notre Dame Australia, Foundation medalist and grandson of Sir Quinlan.

“He was very close to Bishop Gibney, and Gibney rescued him from the poor house when he was just four years old and Gibney was still a priest,” Anthony Quinlan, the other grandson present explained.

“And when he became bishop, (Timothy Quinlan had) grown up, done very well and spent a lot of time helping the church - he lived just down here in Adelaide Terrace.”


The exhibition was opened on Wednesday 11 September at 6pm with special guests from the local and Catholic community invited to attend the event. Photo: Ron Tan.

The plans for the renovation of St Mary’s Cathedral had always included a museum space, yet due to budgetary considerations the idea was postponed as temporarily unviable.

“Sadly, this meant that at the reopening of the Cathedral in 2009, the vision for one area, the exhibition space, could not be realized,” Mr O’Brien explained.

“So, after 10 years, we are grateful that tonight Archbishop Costelloe will launch the museum and bring this space to life.”

Mr Tony Lennon, the major sponsor of the exhibition, is the Non-Executive Chairman of the land development company Peet and has been engaged in numerous public roles, such as Chairman of the Curtin Aged Persons Foundation and Chairman of the Perth Inner City Living Taskforce.

“Our family is strongly connected to the Cathedral, and it is our great privilege to have supported the Building Program, Chancel Organ refurbishment, and most recently the History Project,” Mr Lennon said.

“Our ancestor, Richard Gallop, arrived in the colony in 1829 and was very active in the local community; the Catholic Church; and the establishment of the church on the site that is now St Mary’s Cathedral.

“Other relatives linked to the cathedral include the first Archbishop of Perth, Patrick Joseph Clune, and retired Dean of St Mary’s (and a first cousin), Monsignor Michael Keating,” he said.

“But family reasons aside, we also see great merit in the restoration and preservation of such a significant part of the State’s religious and historical heritage.”