The South Australian Heritage Council recently placed the church on the State Heritage List on the basis it demonstrated two important aspects of the State’s history, namely post-war regional development and post-war migration.
St Alphonsus’ is one of the largest churches built in regional South Australia after the Second World War, reflecting the rapid growth and prosperity of Millicent as it emerged as a regional service centre for forestry and nearby associated industries during the post-war boom.
In its ‘Summary of State Heritage Place’, the Council said industrialisation drew an influx of workers and their families to Millicent. Many were migrants and those who attended Mass at St Alphonsus’ Church swelled the size of the Catholic congregation, leading directly to the construction of the new church in 1965-1966.
The Council referred to the church as a “pivotal example of a post-war church”, being the first to respond directly to the Instruction on the Liturgy, a key document arising from Vatican II.
The design achieved this by fanning the pews around the sanctuary by nearly 180 degrees, the first time this was done in a South Australian post-war church.
“Thus, it demonstrates a key stage in the development of the ‘post-war church’ class of place,” the summary stated.
“The church is also an outstanding, critically recognised example of late 20th century ecclesiastical modern movement architecture in South Australia.”
The first Catholic Masses in the Millicent area were celebrated in private residences until a Gothic Revival style church was built and dedicated on March 1 1884. Previously part of the Mount Gambier parish, Millicent was declared a parish in its own right on September 20 1898.
The original church was gutted in a fire on January 7 1935 and after being rebuilt was reopened on May 26 1935. New stained-glass windows were donated by parishioners.
After the war the expansion of forestry and associated industrial development in the South East drew a “steady stream” of Italian, Dutch, Scottish and English migrants.
By 1965 the church was “bursting at the seams” each Sunday with no standing room available and parish priest Fr James MacSweeney recognised that the new liturgy emerging from Vatican II made the church “obsolete”. Despite opposition from some parishioners, who argued the church should be completed along the lines of the original design with a transept, the Church Council led by Fr MacSweeney chose to replace the original church with a new building.
Six stained-glass windows salvaged from the first church were re-used in the baptistry at the front of the new church.
In March 1966 The Southern Cross hailed the new St Alphonsus’ as ‘one of the most striking churches in South Australia’.Jump to next article