The earliest recorded history of priests living in this area was in February 1846, when five French priests set out from Fremantle to establish a mission for Aborigines at Lake Mollyalup. They left two years later, after great deprivations and the mission a failure. Very few Aborigines were found. 1850-1860: During these years there were periodic visits by traveling priests. Among these were Bishop Sena, Canon Martelli, Father Griver and Garrido, all Benedictine Monks.
1860: The area southwards from Williams was formed into the Albany Parish, with a Benedictine, Fr Coll, as resident Parish Priest. The spiritual needs of Catholics were met by this priest, riding through miles of virgin bushland to bring the consolation of the sacraments to the lonely, isolated settlers. 1870: The Sisters of St Joseph of the Apparition arrived in Albany. Soon after this, Mount Barker children were taken to Albany for religious instruction, often staying several weeks and being confirmed there.
Early 1900s: Around this period, Mass was said in the local hall, the priest traveling from Albany by train, staying overnight, saying Mass the next morning, carrying out various religious duties during the day, and returning to Albany later by train. The children were taught the elements of their religion by their parents and classes of religious instruction were given by Mrs McNamara, Mrs Melkerin and later, by a postal clerk, Michael McEncroe. This Michael McEncroe subsequently became a missionary priest.
1910: Mr Francis Collins donated the land on which the present church is built and he and Constable McNamara, George Enright, an orchardist and Mr Corbett, a schoolmaster, contributed towards the erection of a small church. A subscription list was opened by Francis Collins and the first donor was an Anglican, Mrs R. Wright from “Narpyn”, who gave a gold sovereign.
1914: A small church, the first Sacred Heart Church, was opened in Mount Barker by Archbishop Clune. Fr Gilroy (later Dean) traveled from Albany to celebrate Mass once a month.1920: In the early 1920s Edward Collins made local history by going to Rome to study for the priesthood. Monsignor Edward, as he was known locally with affection, served the church faithfully in various districts of Western Australia until he died in Perth in 1964, mourned not only by his family but by Mount Barker people as their first Mount Barker born priest.1936: Some extensions were made to the church.
1937: the Mount Barker/Denmark Parish was formed with Fr Holohan, the first Parish Priest, resident at Denmark serving both areas.1938: the Cranbrook Catholic Church was built. The land for the church site was donated by the current station master at the time, Mr O’Donnell. Money required to build the church was raised by the parishioners from Cranbrook, Tenterden, Frankland and Pootenup. Fund raising ventures included the Catholic Ball, donations, etc., which continued after the church was built to pay off the debt. Prior to the church being built in 1938, services were held in the Tenterden Hall and Father Gilroy, accompanied by the Sisters, traveled from Albany by horse and buggy on the 5th Sunday of the month, when it occurred during the year, and stayed at “Orchard View”. Following the Mass, the parishioners held a picnic lunch.1941: The Mount Barker Presbytery was opened and Fr Holohan moved to Mount Barker.1943: Four Sisters of St Joseph of the Apparition took up residence in Mount Barker. They lived in a small cottage and taught in the church until the school was opened in 1947 and the Convent in 1951. The Sisters made important contributions to the town. They taught academic subjects, commercial subjects and music, besides giving Christian education. The Sisters also visited outer centres giving religious instructions as well as conducting period courses in Mount Barker for children of outlying districts.1945: Fr Holohan was transferred and Fr O’Mahony was appointed Parish Priest.1946: Fr O’Kane appointed Parish Priest.1947: St Joseph’s school opened.1950: Fr J. J. O’Dwyer was ordained in 1943 in Kilkenny Ireland and was appointed Parish Priest after serving in the Archdiocese of Perth for just seven years.
1951: The Convent was opened and when closed by the Sisters in 1971, it became a home for the Frail Aged and renamed Redman House. The building is currently the student Hostel.1954: Fr P. J. Duffy appointed Parish Priest, Mount Barker became part of the newly formed Bunbury diocese.
1956: Fr Cryan appointed Parish Priest. During his absence on leave in Ireland, we had as relieving priests: Monsignor Byrne, who died suddenly in Mount Barker Hospital, Fr M. K. Duffy and Fr Petrie, an English priest on loan to the church in Western Australia.1958: First Mass for the Catholic community of South Stirling and the surrounding districts, was celebrated in the home of the Easton family by Fr Cryan on 12 July. Home Masses continued to be celebrated monthly until September 1961, when Masses were moved to the newly completed South Stirling Hall with Fr McCarthy as Parish Priest.
Prior to the 1960s parish finances had been somewhat haphazard, much work and fund raising by priest and laity, but it was felt that a more business like approach to parish finances should be adopted. Fr Petrie gave sound advice on proposed methods and the theory behind them. When Fr McCarthy was appointed Parish Priest he introduced our “Direct Giving” Campaign, its immediate object being to build a badly needed larger church.
1960: 28 March Fr N. FitzSimons and Fr B. Dwyer rediscovered the original mission site at Lake Mollyalup which the Spiritan Fathers had named Sancta Maria.Fr FitzSimons during his research had interested a local farmer, Mr Roger Sounness, then owner of an adjacent property to the mission site, and he in turn, enquired of many old inhabitants in the area. One, the late Mr Bob Parsons, then in his 70s, recalled that as a child playing with native children, they were forbidden by the older natives to play on the little knoll because “the holy men had lived there”. On that site on 18 March 1960, Fr FitzSimons, Fr Dwyer and Mr Sounness, found two small mounds of stones and one, when excavated turned out to be an old fireplace. Digging out the ashes, they found two sets of breads, one a rosary of the Seven Dolours and the other, a conventional rosary, on the metal Crucifix of which was stamped the figure of Our Lady and the words: Mere de Dieu Priez Pour Nous” (Mother of God Pray for Us). The beads and the inscription gave ample proof they had found the site of “Sancta Maria”.In October, during the centenary celebrations of the Albany church, a Pilgrimage was made to the old mission site. The Diocesan Bishop Rev. L. J. Goody, Abbot Gomez of New Norcia, followed by a large crowd composed of Sisters, Brothers, clergy, parishioners of Albany, Mount Barker, Cranbrook and surrounding areas, as well as local settlers and members of local historical societies, made their way on foot (for about half a mile) to this hill top where an open air service in memory of the missioners was held. At this date (1960) the State Government offered a portion of this land (about 500 acres) to the church, with the stipulation that it should be used within 5 to 6 years. It was hoped to establish a church Agricultural school there, but as church authorities were unsuccessful in this aim, the land was reverted to the crown.
1961: In March, Fr McCarthy replaced Fr Cryan as Parish Priest. He introduced the Planned Giving campaign with its hope of building a much needed larger church for the rapidly growing community. During his absence overseas we had as relieving priests, Fr Casey, Fr R. Kelly and Monsignor Giles.
1962/3: The Frankland church was built and opened.1962: South Stirlings became part of the Gnowangerup Parish until 1982 when they returned to the Mount Barker Parish with Fr Galloway as Parish Priest at the time. Mass was, and still is, celebrated twice monthly on Sunday evenings in the Anglican Church through the generosity of the Anglican community.
1965: Extensions were made to the Presbytery.
1966: Rebuilding of church began. In the early 1960’s there were many Catholics living in this area and the church was far too small. The decision was taken to build a new church. This was commenced in 1966 and completed in 1967, with Mass being held in the Plantagenet Hall for the period of construction.
1967: On 17 June 1967 the new church was blessed and opened by Bishop Goody. As much as possible of the old church was incorporated in this new church. The sanctuary wall of the old church became part of the north wall. Mt Barker stone was used for a feature wall, this stone providing a contrast to the almost stark appearance of the church. The Stations of the Cross were a gift from a young man who offered to paint them. The frames also were made and donated by another young man. (Both of these young men were from Pardelup Prison Farm and their work and gifts were appreciated by the parish.)
1997: On 6 April, a Diocesan Pilgrimage to “Sancta Maria” at Lake Mollyalup to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the mission was led by Bishop Peter Quinn. He offered an “open air” Mass at the original site. Also present for the historic ceremony was the Superior General of the Holy Spirit Fathers from Rome and the Provincial Superior from Ireland together with a number of Spiritan priests. A large crowd of parishioners attended from different parishes.
1999: Fr Michael Dziedzic decided to return to his homeland (Poland) after giving almost eleven years of his Priestly Ministry to the people of the Diocese of Bunbury. In July, Fr Wally Kevis was appointed to replace him as minister to the people of the Mount Barker Parish, together with the Sacramental Care of the Parish of Denmark.
Priests of the Parish over the years:
1937 Fr Holohan, 1945 – Fr O’Mahony, 1946 – Fr O’Kane,
1950 – Fr J. J. O’Dwyer, 1954 – Fr P.J. Duffy, 1956 – Fr P. Cryan, 1961 – Fr J. McCarthy,
1981 – Fr H. Galloway, 1986 – Fr T. McGree, 1992 – Fr M. Dziedzic, 1999 – Fr Wally Kevis.