Denmark was originally the name given in December 1829 to the river on which the present town stands. Dr Thomas Braidwood Wilson RN, who explored the area, wished to honour his friend Dr Alexander Denmark RN. Dairy farming, potato and fruit growing and timber formed the main industries in this 46 inch rain belt. The town stands on a large inlet from the sea and has a population of approximately 4,100. It was constituted a parish in 1950. Denmark is 320kms from Bunbury and 447 Ks from Perth.
It would appear that the first priest to have officially visited the present Denmark Parish was Father Bernard Delaney, an alumnus of Maynooth College, who came to this State as chaplain in the convict ship “Hougomont”. He decided upon arrival to remain, and was sent to Albany by the Vicar General of Perth, the then Father Martin Griver, in 1868. Fr Delaney remained in these parts until 1876.
Father F. Mateau, a Spaniard, was the next priest at Albany and early settlers around Torbay and Bornholm recall him visiting the timber men and saying Mass for them. When the new town of Denmark River started in 1895 Fr Mateau occasionally came here and offered Mass in private houses.
During his term, sometime in 1900, the Millar Brothers built a wooden church for their Anglican workers and a few months later also completed a similar church for the Catholics. The church was opened in that same year by Bishop Gibney. When Bishop Gibney was still Father Gibney, he ministered to the Ned Kelly gang in the blazing hotel at Glenrowan, Victoria. Fr Mateau’s assistant (from 1899 on) was Fr Thomas Morris who also said Mass “at the Denmark.”
Fr Michael Reidy was in charge of Albany from 1903 to 1906. In 1905, as the mills started to close down and most of the Catholic population commenced to drift away, Father Reidy took the furnishings and the iron roof off the Denmark church down to Ravensthorpe to complete a church there. The walls were left standing here until the building remains collapsed. Local pioneers still consider this an “act of injustice”. Mass was then said in the local hall or houses from 1906 until 1929.
Fr J. Reidy served the needs of the people about Albany from 1906 to 1910. He was succeeded by Father Briody who remained until 1918. For the year 1915-1916 of Father Briody’s holiday abroad, Fr Sheridan was in charge. Fr Thomas Gilroy (later Dean Gilroy) took charge of Albany in 1918. The Group Settlement Scheme was set up in Denmark during his pastorate and the building of the railway line from Denmark to Nornalup brought a further temporary influx of people into Denmark. Fr Gilroy took the opportunity presented by their presence to build a second church at Denmark.
St. Mary’s Church was opened on 27 October 1929 by Archbishop Clune who was assisted by Frs Gilroy and Prendiville. The builder was Mr George Duckett of Mount Barker and the church was opened free of debt. Mass was said in St. Mary’s monthly – sometimes more often from that time until 1936. In that year Fr Raphael Pace, a Maltese priest, was appointed first priest-in-charge of the parish of Denmark. It is interesting to note that Fr Pace was the priest who received the first Bishop of Bunbury, Dr Goody, into the Catholic Church at Perth and also served his first Mass in Rome. He remained until March 1937.
Mt Barker and Denmark parishes were joined in 1937 and Fr Michael Holohan was made Parish Priest and officially inducted there in November 1937 by Archbishop Prendiville. He resided in the presbytery at Denmark until November 1941 and then transferred to the new presbytery at Mt Barker. Denmark remained part of Mt Barker parish until March 1950, being served by Frs Thomas Kane and John Mahony after Fr Holohan. In that month and year Denmark once more became a separate parish comprising the districts of Bornholm, Denmark, Elleker, Nornalup, Scotsdale, Torbay and Walpole. Fr John Walsh became Parish Priest and lived in Denmark for seven or eight months and then worked the parish while living at Albany. He remained until January 1954. Fr John McGrath took charge of the parish in February 1954 but lived in Albany. He kept a room in the presbytery whilst the rest of the house was let to tenants. He was responsible for the erection of the Church of St. Francis of Assisi in Walpole. St. Francis of Assissi Church was opened in 1957 by the Bishop of Bunbury the Most Reverend LJ goody. Fr McGrath noted that the church cost approximately 1,750 pounds. The Sisters of St. Joseph from Albany at this time were giving the Walpole children religious instruction each month.
Fr James Petry took over the parish of Denmark in February 1958 and also lived at Albany. He helped put the parish finances on a sound footing by introducing a Combined Fund Raising plan into Denmark and Walpole. He was succeed as priest-in-charge by Fr Noel FitzSimons who was also assistant at Albany and was responsible for a strong new fence being erected along the whole frontage of the church and presbytery.
In November 1960 Fr Philip Tuohy started the third life of Denmark parish when he was appointed priest-in-charge of the Denmark parish and took up residence in Denmark. During a dynamic few months, he had the Sanctuary added to St. Mary’s, organized a much needed painting of the church and presbytery and the second Combined Funds Campaign. A very successful Mission was conducted in March 1961 by Fr Middleton CSsR.
On 13 April 1961 Fr Martin Newbold took up residence as priest-in-charge of Denmark. During his tenure he organized the third Planned Giving Program. The first Parish Council was formed in 1988. Now meetings are held monthly in the parish house.
Terence Quinn was ordained a Deacon on 26 January 1991 by Bishop Myles McKeon. He was subsequently appointed Parish Administrator. The church as re-roofed in September 1991 and painted externally in May 1993. The parish house was re-stumped and internally remodeled in May 1998.
The parish purchased a parcel of land (1.6390 ha) Lot 321 Buckley Street, in June 1993 as a future church site. The Bishop of Bunbury purchased an adjoining block of 1.4293 ha in South Coast Highway, making a total area of 3.0683 ha.After many years of working in the parish on an ad hoc basis, a formal agreement was entered into with the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition on 10 February 1998 with the appointment of Sr Bernadette as Pastoral Associate.A Conference of St. Vincent de Paul was formed in the parish in December 1998. The parish priests of Mt Barker, Fr Tom McGree and Fr Michael Dziedzic, served the parish sacramentally since the death of Fr Edmund McSweeney in December 1987. Parish Property: The church was built on Denmark Town block 102 which is the block on which the first church was built in the timber mill days. Ada Hards bought the block on which the presbytery now stands fr 70 pounds and her title signed by Governor Strickland is dated 19 June 1912. Fr Pace later bought this block and the title to it was transferred to the Archbishop of Perth on 15 April 1926, then to the Bishop of Bunbury on 28 May 1956. The presbytery block is Denmark Town block 103 of 1 rood 3.5 perches (1,099 sq metres) and was bought by Fr Pace for 50 pounds. In a letter to the National Bank, Denmark, of 25 May 1936, Fr Pace mentions that he proposed to erect a remodeled Group Settlement house on the block and estimated the cost of purchase and alterations to the house at 300 pounds. The parish holds a grant of block numbers 248,249 and 250 in Millar Street as a possible school site.
In the early days at Walpole and surrounding areas the priest said Mass in various homes in the district and had to travel many miles over rough roads to do so. Confession was heard before Mass and everyone had to fast from midnight the night before until after Mass which was usually lunch time. Then Mass said in the Hall at Walpole with the copper being boiled for a cuppa and finger lunch afterwards. Mass was also said at Parker Hall at Kent River. For a short time after this Mass was said at the school. During this time the planning of the Walpole church took place under the guidance of Fr John McGrath, Parish Priest at the time.
Construction of the church was conducted by Phil Dawson, his son Pat and son-in-law Geoff Moss. Timber was supplied by Swarbrick’s Mill, with workers cutting the timber in their own time and also helping with the fittings inside the church and the painting. Most of the pews including the altar came from Loreto’s Convent in Nedlands. The owner of Heron’s Store in Perth, who came to Walpole for his holidays, donated the Vestments. The two statues were donated by Catherine Collis. Parishioners donated money from stock sold, days wages and many other gifts to help pay for the cost of the church. The remaining cost of the church was 1750 pounds which was paid off over a number of years. The first Mass in the church was held on Sunday 28 July 1957. Prior to the Mass the Bishop of Bunbury the Most Rev. L. J. Goody performed the Solemn Rite of blessing the new church, preceded by four local boys, Edward and Keith Harken, Donald Dawson and Joe Steel (all very aware and proud of their part in the ceremony and wearing the traditional surplice and soutane.) Bishop Goody blessed first the exterior of the church, followed by his priest and a procession of the congregation. During the litany, the congregation entered and filled the church, after which the interior was blessed also. In his address to the gathering, “The House of God and the Gate of Heaven” as the text of his sermon. He applied these words to the new church. The Church of St. Francis Assisi would be for the people of Walpole.