The Humble Beginnings
The Catholic Parish here in the Huon Valley had very humble beginnings with the appointment of the first Parish Priest Fr John Murphy to the Huon district in 1855. Fr. Murphy was appointed by Bishop Wilson and although he travelled across the district celebrating Masses in a number of communities resided in Franklin. Large numbers of the Catholic faithful lived across the district with new families arriving to swell the existing population to such an extent that within ten years of Fr Murphy’s arrival two Parishes had been established, one in Franklin and the other in what was called Port Cygnet.
The Franklin Parish was established in 1854 with Cygnet separated and formed as a Parish in 1864. Fr Murphy was entrusted soon after his arrival to arrange the building of a suitable dwelling for the Catholic community to worship in and so St Mary’s Franklin was opened in November 1856 from a design of Henry Hunter an architect inspired by the work of renowned architect Augustus Pugin.
The first Church in Cygnet was a humble wooden structure. First erected in 1865 and opened in 1867 it was designed to meet the needs of a developing Catholic community. The community soon out grew this wooden building and a stone extension was added to the existing structure. The St James’ Church was reported to now hold some 600 people. Photos still exist of the Church with its stone extension. This however was demolished sometime during the 1920s and the current Spanish style Church was blessed and opened in the 1930s. Fr James Holehan was appointed as the first Parish Priest of the Cygnet Parish. He was succeeded Fr John McKernan, then Fr Thomas Kelsh, Fr Michael O’Regan, then Fr Peter O’Reilly, then Fr Holehan and Fr Patrick O’Flynn. All Irish men of great zeal.
The Sisters of St Joseph were invited to the Parish by the then Parish Priest with four sisters duly arriving in 1896 to begin working at St Mary’s School in Cygnet. The sisters over many years worked also in Geeveston (1938), Lymington (1900) and in Franklin (1900) teaching many generations of the Parish young people. Both Franklin and Lymington have since closed but St James’ Catholic College in Cygnet and Sacred Heart Catholic School in Geeveston carry on the tradition and charism of the Sisters of Saint Joseph. We are fortunate that three of the Sisters remain as a pastoral presence in the Parish contributing much to the pastoral and spiritual life of the Community. We were fortunate as a community that Fr Julian Tenison Woods co-founder of the Sisters of St Joseph was a regular visitor to the Parish leading numerous missions and retreats in the Geeveston end of the Parish. You can see evidence of his visits inscribed over the side entrance of St Joseph’s Church. The Christian Brothers were also invited to work in the Parish arriving to begin work on an Agricultural College, the first in Australia, in 1944. St James’ Catholic College has recently become a member college of the National body supporting and promoting the Charism of the brothers. The Brothers withdrew from the Parish in 1976.
In 2001 the two parishes were drawn together to form the Catholic Parish of the Huon Valley. For a number of years the then current Parish Priests Fr Graeme Howard and Fr Peter Nicholls remained in the Parish working together to build the structures necessary to create this one Parish. In 2007 Fr Michael Hickey was appointed to be the Administrator when both Fr Graeme and Fr Peter retired. In 2009 Fr Mark Freeman VG was appointed as the Parish Priest with Fr Greg Barker taking over the role in 2010 when Fr Mark was appointed Dean of the North. Fr Michael Tate commenced as Parish Priest in January 2015 when Fr Greg moved to the Maitland-Newcastle Parish in New South Wales.
Currently we have four churches in the Parish; St Joseph’s in Geeveston, Mary our Hope in Dover, St Mary of the Cross in Ranelagh and St James’ in Cygnet. The Parish decommissioned St Mary's in Franklin in February 2013 and has recently constructed a new Church in Ranelagh. Our new church, St Mary of the Cross Catholic Community Church was officially blessed and opened by Archbishop Porteous on Sunday 10 August 2014, the weekend following the Feast Day of St. Mary MacKillop, after which the Church is named. The new church has much easier access and is more central to the entire Parish. We hope and pray that it will meet the needs of the Catholic community here in the Huon Valley over many decades of worship.