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The Catholic story in the Colony of Western Australia (founded in 1829) began to take shape in 1841 when layman Robert D’Arcy, a school teacher, on behalf of a handful of Catholics asked Church authorities in Sydney to send them a priest. At the time, Rome had also been studying how to serve the distant colony.
Fr John Brady VG arrived in Fremantle from Sydney in December 1843 together with Fr John Joostens and catechist Patrick O’Reilly. Fr Brady stayed for two months before returning to Europe having been granted land on Victoria Avenue in Perth.
In December 1843 building commenced of a small church that became Perth’s first cathedral, St John the Evangelist, which still stands today. Fr Joostens stayed on and conducted a school in the building.
As a result, two years later, along with 27 missionaries, Fr Brady returned as Bishop of the newly established (6 May 1845) Diocese of Perth which extended from Albany WA to Darwin NT. Arriving with Fr Brady at Fremantle in January 1846 were Spanish Benedictines with a French Novice, Irish Sisters of Mercy, French Holy Heart of Mary priests and brothers, 2 diocesan priests-one Irish and one from the Tyrol, an English Sub Deacon, Irish catechists and an Italian layman.
Bishop Brady left the Diocese in October 1852. Spanish priest, Fr Martin Griver, took on the role of first ever Administrator of the Diocese and then, after seven years of humble service, was created Bishop of Perth in July 1873.
The Mercy Sisters immediately established a school in Perth. The Benedictines were sent north to what became New Norcia to work with Aborigines; a similar Holy Heart of Mary mission near Albany was unsuccessful. The 1855 arrival of the Sisters St Joseph of the Apparition added to Catholic education efforts in Fremantle. An educational foundation by the de La Salle Brothers in 1862 was short lived.
Increasing Benedictine numbers and a new monastery at Subiaco, enabled the building of the present cathedral presbytery (completed 1856).
The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Victoria Square (blessed and opened 1865) was built by laymen under the supervision of Joseph Ascione, an Italian migrant who arrived in Western Australia with the Benedictines.
In 1859, the New Norcia mission was separated from Perth, and in 1867 became the separate jurisdiction of an Abbey Nullius which in 1903 expanded to reach from the coast to Southern Cross. That territory, which included seven wheatbelt parishes, reverted to Perth Archdiocese in stages in 1960, 1971 and 1982.
By 1854, Catholics had expanded to 18 per cent of the population with the arrival of free settlers, a number of Irish amongst the convicts, and young government-sponsored Irish women. But it was the gold discoveries of the 1890s which changed the face of Western Australia and the Catholic Church by bringing an influx of lay Catholics from the eastern states of Australia.
Anticipating the abolition of government aid to religious schools in 1895, Bishop Gibney began to seek the help of overseas Religious Orders to provide Catholic education: Christian Brothers, Oblates of Mary Immaculate, and Sisters from the Presentation, St John of God, Our Lady of the Missions, Loreto and Good Shepherd Orders. For a short time beginning in 1887, Mary MacKillop's Australian Josephite Sisters worked at Northampton.
Meanwhile, the vast territory of the Archdiocese was made more manageable with the establishment of the Kimberley as a Vicariate Apostolic in 1887. It became the Diocese of Broome in 1966 with Pallottine John Jobst its first Bishop. In 1898 Geraldton became a separate Diocese with William Kelly, born in the WA town of York, its first Bishop.
Perth Diocese was elevated to an Archdiocese on 28 August 1913 with Bishop of Perth, Patrick Clune CSsR, becoming the first Archbishop. He commenced the building of a new cathedral, but because of financial restrictions only the sanctuary and transepts were built (opened 1930). They adjoined the nave of the 1865 cathedral awaiting completion.
The Archdiocese, which had become strongly Irish at the turn of 20th century, began to change in the 1920s and 1930s as Italian and Yugoslav migration picked up. After World War II, big waves of migration meant the rapid expansion of parishes and schools, especially in country areas. St Charles' Seminary opened in 1942 to help provide additional priests for those arriving from England, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Hungary, the Ukraine and Malta. In contrast, at the beginning of the 21st century, the Perth Church is characterised by Catholic migrants from Asian countries.
In 1954, the Diocese of Bunbury was formed by Bishop Goody. Mandurah and Pinjarra parishes were added to the diocese in 1980.
Significant developments in recent decades include:
the re-structuring of St Charles' Guildford as a complete local seminary whose founding Rector was Dr L. J. Goody, later appointed Perth’s first auxiliary Bishop to Archbishop Prendiville in 1951 who later became the third Archbishop of Perth,
the founding of the private Catholic University of Notre Dame Australia,
the development of the WA Catholic Education Commission and its Leederville administration,
the establishment of Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary, and
the major conservation and completion projects of St Mary’s Cathedral and the Cathedral Presbytery.
Previous Bishops of Perth
1. John Brady
1st Bishop of Perth 1845 to 1871
2. Jose Maria Benito Serra OSB
Coadjutor Bishop and Temporal Administrator of Perth 1849 to 1851,
Apostolic Administrator 1851 to 1862
3. Martin Griver
2nd Bishop of Perth 1873 to 1886
4. Matthew Gibney
3rd Bishop of Perth 1887 to 1910
5. Patrick Joseph Clune CSsR
4th Bishop of Perth 1911 to 1913;
Metropolitan and 1st Archbishop of Perth 1913 to 1935
6. Redmond Prendiville
Coadjutor Archbishop of Perth 1933 to 1935,
2nd Archbishop of Perth 1935 to 1968
7. Launcelot John Goody
3rd Archbishop of Perth 1968 to 1983
8. William Joseph Foley
4th Archbishop of Perth 1983 to 1991
9. Barry James Hickey
5th Archbishop of Perth 1991 to 2012
Previous Auxiliary Bishops of Perth
1. Bishop Launcelot John Goody - 1951 to 1954
2. Bishop John Joseph Rafferty - 1955 to 1962
3. Bishop Myles McKeon - 1962 to 1969
4. Bishop Peter Quinn - 1969 to 1982
5. Bishop Robert Healy - 1975 to 2000