Bicentenary of the Catholic Church in Tasmania

As we settle into the new year, we naturally consider what may lie ahead for us in 2021. We anticipate that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will still affect aspects of our life. We have been most blessed here in Tasmania, but we must still be vigilant. As the year unfolds we hold out the hope that we will be able to live with a degree of freedom and normalcy.

We hope that the life of our parishes will be able to function much as before, though with the expectations that we are compliant in sanitisation and social distancing. We look forward to being able to properly engage in Lent and the Easter Triduum this year, having been denied the opportunity last year. As Archbishop I am looking forward to visiting many parishes in the course of the year to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation.

One event that will be significant for the Catholic community is that this year marks the two hundredth anniversary of the stable establishment of the Catholic Church here in Tasmania.

On April 14, 1821, Fr Philip Conolly arrived in Hobart Town. He came as the official Catholic chaplain. Fr Conolly had been ordained in Ireland and volunteered for service in the British colony in the antipodes. He came out with Fr John Joseph Therry. The two priests arrived in Sydney and then Fr Conolly offered to go to Hobart. His first Mass was celebrated in Edward Curr’s store and had nine free settlers in attendance. Thus, the Catholic Church in Tasmania officially began.

Fr Conolly served the Catholic community as far as Launceston and Stanley, and for most of the time was the only Catholic priest in Van Diemen’s Land. He died in 1839 and was buried in the Catholic cemetery in Barrack St which is now Guilford Young College Hobart campus. He was reburied in the transept of the cathedral in 1916.

This event deserves commemorating and there will be a Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral on Sunday, April 18, to mark the occasion.

In thinking about the very humble beginnings of the Church here we can also consider the extraordinary growth that has occurred over the past two hundred years. We have parish communities scattered across the island with many fine churches that have been constructed. We rightly acknowledge the extraordinary contribution of religious sisters and brothers who have bequeathed an impressive number of schools and colleges. We recognise also the faithful service to the Tasmanian community through our various health, aged care and social services, and many Catholic organisations. The Church contributes considerably to the wellbeing of the broader Tasmanian community by an array of voluntary services.

As we settle in to the new year we look to the future with hope. Recalling our past two hundred years we thank God for all the blessings that have come upon the Church here in Tasmania over the two hundred years since its beginning.

Archbishop Julian Porteous

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