History of St Joseph’s

Shirley King, 1991

St Joseph’s Church was built in 1841 and opened and blessed by Father Therry early on Christmas morning 1841.

The church is built of local sandstone and was designed by James Thomson, a former convict. Convict labourers were employed to carry out the work. The tower, 60 feet high, was finished in 1843 and the church building has not changed greatly since. In 1856 the sanctuary was improved, small sacristies behind the altar and a choir gallery above were removed and the present sacristies were built on the side of the church. The side chapel was built in 1877 as a choir for the Sisters of Charity, who lived from 1847 to 1957 in what is now the presbytery. During the 1930s the side chapel was replaced by the present red brick chapel, built by Jack Dunne. A small sandstone building, which had been used as a Sunday school for some years, was demolished at this time. Extensive restoration has been carried out during the past thirty five years.

St Joseph’s is the oldest Catholic Church in Hobart and served as a cathedral while St Mary’s was being built. The first Bishop of Hobart, Robert William Willson was installed in St Joseph’s on 12 May 1844. The following year, he confirmed 500 people in the church.

The Church

The old altar reredos is alabaster, delicately carved with scenes of the Annunciation and Nativity, with figures of Our Lady and St Joseph. The pillars are Irish Marble. It was made in London to a design by Douglas Salier of Hobart and installed in 1905 to replace the 1856 altar, which was wood painted blue and gold in medieval style. The present blackwood altar was made by Walter Nicholls in 1983, as was the President’s Chair and other blackwood refurbishments. He also made the large cabinet at the entry to the church in 1981 and the bookstand, both of old cedar from cedar pews dating from 1841, found in the gallery.

The cedar pulpit was made in 1856 by Henry Hunter, architect in charge of the alterations. It was originally mounted on the wall above the sacristy door. It was later moved to a lower base and eventually placed on the far side in the sanctuary during the more recent renovations. The cedar bookstand was added in 1982. The large wooden crucifix also dates from 1856; the figure had been brought from Europe by Bishop Willson. It was supported by a rood screen, which was removed in 1959, except for the top and sides. The sanctuary walls were panelled in 1973 by Walter Nicholls, matching the design of the pulpit and reredos, but including the Passionist Emblem.

The painting above the altar, “The Resurrection”, by Mather Brown, an American artist, was purchased in 1838 for the rented room used as a temporary chapel. In 1856, “Our Lady” and “St Joseph” by William Paul Dowling, an Irish political exile, were hung on either side. These paintings were removed on 4 September 2004 and taken to Melbourne for cleaning and restoration. They were reinstalled in the Church on 19 December 2005. Two large murals on the side walls of the sanctuary, “St Peter’s First Sermon” and “Feed My Sheep” were painted by Benjamin Sheppard. These were painted over in the 1930s but small sections have been rediscovered and hopefully will be restored as expertise and finance become available.

The old sanctuary lamp, given to St Joseph’s in 1971, was used in Sydney by the first bishop, John Bede Polding. The Stations of the Cross in painted terra cotta, were purchased by the parishioners from France and installed and blessed by Father Hilary O’Meara CP on 2 July 1893.

The carved statue of Our Lady of Fatima came from Spain in 1951, replacing the statue which had stood on the old altar of Our Lady beside the High Altar. The statue of St Joseph was donated in 1925. In 1982 a brass canopy was erected over the statues and the wall panelled in blackwood.

The pews are New Zealand kauri pine made in 1891 and the bell in the tower is by Mears of Whitechapel, London, 1859.

The Windows

The stained glass windows were put in between 1856 and 1893 and with the exception of one, were made by Hardman and Scott of Birmingham, UK.

The pair between the chapel and the confessionals are scenes from the life of St Joseph and were installed in 1871. One is in memory of Bishop Willson and his Vicar General, Dr William Hall, who both died in 1866 and includes their portraits. The other is in memory of Archdeacon George Hunter, who was ordained in this church in 1850. He was the brother of the architect Henry Hunter.

Opposite on the Harrington St side, is a window in memory of Fr John Joseph Therry, founder of this church, given by his brother in 1877. It shows St Joseph and St John the Baptist with Fr Therry kneeling and wearing a cope.

The window of the Annunciation and Nativity is the oldest in the church. It was installed in the Sanctuary wall by Bishop Willson in 1856 in memory of the English architect, A W Pugin, who had given the Bishop designs for churches. It was moved in 1877 when the chapel was built.

The window over the sacristy door in memory of Fr Joseph Aloysius Sheehy, shows St Joseph, the Sacred Heart and St Aloysius and was made in 1893 by Lyon, Wells and Cottier of Sydney. The Sheehy family had been connected with St Joseph’s from the beginning.

In 2018 Gavin Merrington completed the restoration of the stained glass windows.

St Joseph’s restoration efforts bring light to faith

(by Fr Peter Addicoat CP  – as published by the Archdiocese of Hobart, 2019)

Restoration works at one of Tasmania’s oldest churches has helped to not only preserve history, but to recognise that the faith of current Catholics is built on the faith of those who have come before, says parish priest and Passionist Fr Peter Addicoat CP.

Holding Masses since Christmas 1841, the history of St Joseph’s Church in Hobart, the former pro-Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Hobart, reveals some of the unfolding of the Catholic faith in Tasmania.

Now after years of work, the restoration of some of the major features of the interior of the historic church is complete.

The current parish priest Fr Peter, was serving in Tasmania in 2004 when a conservation plan for the whole St Joseph’s complex – including the monastery – was created.

The first action was to clean and restore the large paintings of Mary with the child Jesus and St Joseph which involved removing them from the wall and sending them to Melbourne.

Fr Peter says removing the paintings was a risk, but one that had to be taken.

“When the paintings were put in, they were just canvas nailed onto the wall with gold beading, and that’s all it was. So we didn’t know when we took the beading away whether the canvas would collapse and disintegrate. It didn’t, fortunately.”

He said that the cleaning revealed previously concealed details.

“If you look at Mary’s sandal, it’s got a heart on it. Now no-one would ever have seen that because it was so dirty and dark.”

The painting of the Resurrection above the altar was also removed for cleaning and work was done to uncover small examples of the many different layers of colour the interior of the church has seen over the years.

As part of the restoration work, a special cabinet was acquired to preserve and display vestments belonging to the church which were designed by the Gothic Revival architect Augustus Pugin.

A large part of the restoration work involved the church’s stained glass windows – one of them being Pugin-designed, with others detailing the life of St Joseph, as well as images of St John the Baptist and the Sacred Heart.

Several of the windows were removed and sent to Brisbane for cleaning, others were taken to the workshop of eminent stained glass conservator Gavin Merrington in South Hobart while the final windows in the process were cleaned in situ.

Protective glass has now replaced wire mesh on the outside of the windows, allowing more light through the windows, which Fr Peter says is noticeable in the mornings.

“We notice the sun and the colour go across the sanctuary. The sunlight catches the windows and you can almost see the characters on the floor.”

The stained glass windows – particularly the St Joseph windows which tell the story of St Joseph, Mary and Jesus – have an important catechetical role in forming people’s faith and Fr Peter says he occasionally sees parents pointing out the story to their children.

“People come, they appreciate it, [and it] gives them a new insight into their faith. A lot of visitors come through and they take their time looking,” he said, noting that the Stations of the Cross are often reverently observed by overseas visitors who aren’t Christian but walk around and look.

“It’s the preservation not just of history, but it’s recognising that our faith is built on others’ faith.”

The Garden and Cullen House

The garden beside the church and the building next door (161 Macquarie Street, bought in 1978) both commemorate Monsignor J H Cullen, who served the parish from 1910 to 1956.

Parish Priests

John Therry V G 1838-1844; William Hall V G 1844-1866; William Dunne V G 1866-1879; Charles Woods 1879-1896 (assistant from 1853, Dean 1882); Phillip Hennebry 1896-1921 (assistant from 1868 but with responsibility for New Town until 1888, Archpriest 1912); Bernard Murphy 1922-1933; John Cullen 1934- 1956 (assistant from 1910, V G 1944, Monsignor 1946, died 1970).

Passionist Parish Priests

The Passionist Fathers were asked to care for the parish in 1956. They lived in the old presbytery until the Sisters of Charity moved to Mount Carmel in Sandy Bay. The Congregation of the Passion was founded in Italy in 1720 by St Paul of the Cross. The Australian Province was established in 1887 and Passionist Fathers first visited St Joseph’s in 1891 to give a mission. They had a house in New Town from 1893 to 1895.

Paschal Sweeney CP 1956-1957; John Cummins CP 1957-1959; Xavier Bates CP 1959-1968; Alphonsus Foley CP 1968-1970; Brian Gleeson CP 1970-1974; Joseph Furst CP 1974-1980; Allan Havelock CP 1980-1989; Christopher Mithen CP 1989-1992; Kevin Connelly CP 1992-1995; Peter Addicoat CP 1995-2004, Michael Hickey CP 2004-2005, Gerard Glynn CP 2006-2008, Aidan Kay CP 2008-2013, Peter Addicoat CP 2013 – .

St Joseph’s Conservation Management Plan – (Jan 2006)

Volume 1 (PDF – 78MB)
Volume 2  (PDF – 65MB)

St Joseph’s Musical History

Music has always been integral to the prayer life and celebration at St Joseph’s church. Fr John Joseph Therry was the first Parish Priest of St Joseph’s and celebrated its inaugural Mass at midnight on Christmas Eve, 1841. The band master of H.M. 40th Regiment, Mr Joseph Reichenberg, conducted the choir at this Mass and remained St Joseph’s first choirmaster and organist until his death in 1851. His successors included the accomplished musician, Mr Charles Packer, Mr Edmund Roper, and the prolific and acclaimed architect, Mr Henry Hunter, who also constructed the cedar pulpit and erected a rood screen at St Joseph’s. The screen was removed in 1959, however the cross still remains.

Jane Reichenberg (1848-1932) was the organist at St Joseph’s for 55 years. In 1866, Miss Reichenberg and her sister, Angela, both of Hobart, joined the choir as vocalists. Two years later, Jane was appointed organist in succession to Mr Edmund Roper, who later took up a similar position at St Patricks in Sydney. Under the conductorship of Mr Henry Hunter, choirmaster of St Joseph’s for 40 years, Miss Reichenberg had an excellent training in sacred music. Together with the small but efficient choir at St Joseph’s church, they earned accolades well beyond Tasmania, and the young organist developed a repertoire inclusive of the choral music of Mozart, Haydn, Gounod, and other masters. Her career is an integral part of Hobart’s musical history. Jane Reichenberg remained the organist until September, 1923. She died on July 8, 1932.

The St Joseph’s choir is currently accompanied by Shea Henderson (née Garnham). Shea began playing at Sunday Mass in 1955 and at the weekday 12pm Mass in 1959. Shea continues to accompany the choir at the 9.30 Mass, Holy Week, Easter, Christmas and other liturgical celebrations. Shea’s accompaniment is always poignant and perfectly timed, and the music at the 9.30 Mass is held in high regard. 

Over the years many people have given their time to provide music for St Joseph’s. At the 9.30 Mass, Megg Steele accompanies Shea on the violin, and she, Denise Hennessy, and other pianists play when Shea is unavailable. Furthermore, there have been countless musicians accompanying cantors at the Saturday Vigil and the 11am Mass or assisting with flute and guitar, gifts for which St Joseph’s has been very grateful.

The choir at the 9.30 Mass is run for and by families as a way of encouraging children to both attend Mass and play an instrument. In the early 1990’s, the 9.30 Mass became the Children’s Mass. Heather Hooper led the choir for many years, and continues to assist the current choir leader, Angela Marquis.

Many of St Joseph’s long standing choristers continue to participate today, providing guidance and welcome for new members. Their regular attendance and generosity of spirit make the choir what it is today – a dedicated group of people who have a passion for singing beautiful music in praise of God. St Joseph’s choir welcomes anyone who is called to sing or play, continuing a tradition of 175 years.