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Marking 175 years of faith in Kapunda


The people of Kapunda and surrounding districts will celebrate a significant milestone this year as they mark 175 years since the establishment of a Catholic parish in the area.

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The people of Kapunda and surrounding districts will celebrate a significant milestone this year as they mark 175 years since the establishment of a Catholic parish in the area.

Kapunda has a rich history in South Australia and is one of the state’s earliest Catholic parishes, established in 1849.

The early years of the area have made a substantial contribution to the launch of Catholicism in the state and country: Fr T J Maloney (parish priest from 1932) called Baker’s Flat (an early settlement on the edge of Kapunda), ‘the nursery of the Church in many parts of Australia’ (The Southern Cross, November 6 1936). This was largely due to the many Irish immigrants arriving, living and dispersing from there.

In 1844, South Australia was a relatively new colony and espoused a principle of religious freedom for its settlers. Bishop Murphy and
Fr Michael Ryan arrived in Adelaide from Sydney to establish a diocese in South Australia. Fr Ryan, a notable horse rider, soon travelled the districts north of Adelaide preaching across this new frontier. He later celebrated the first Masses at the newly opened Kapunda mines on February 24 and 25 1845.

White settlement began in the area of Koonunga / Belvidere with many Irish Catholics migrants employed in the early agricultural pursuits, particularly the local sheep stations on the Bagot and Dutton properties. Some with families settled the land nearby at a site to become known as Johnstown (later as St John’s).

After the discovery of rich copper deposits nearby in 1843, the Kapunda Mine would soon be established, with the success of this venture requiring many labourers. The first mine manager Captain Bagot sought to attract even more settlers to the area to fill the growing labour needs, drawing those from his native Ireland home.

By April 1849, a group of local Catholics became the foundation of the future Catholic community under the guidance of Fr Ryan.

In 1850 a foundation stone was laid for a new church, however, due to the exodus of many South Australians to the Victorian goldfields, it was not completed until after many had returned to the area and was opened in 1854 and dedicated to St John the Evangelist. Fr John Fallon worked hard as the first resident priest of the area and would go on to establish churches at Marrabel and Navan over the next 10 years before his early death in 1860.

Very Rev Michael Ryan was his replacement while he was the Vicar General, and with the rapid growth of Irish Catholics drawn to the booming Kapunda Mines, he set about having a larger church built in the new Kapunda township. In February 1863 a new church opened, dedicated to St Rose of Lima, inspired by the patron saint of Lima, also a copper mining town, in Peru. Afterwards a petition was presented for the Sisters of St Joseph to begin teaching Catholic children in the district, and at least five schools were run in locations near Kapunda, including in St Rose’s Church.

This was the beginning of a long association with the Josephites serving in this area, which necessitated the purchase of a convent house. In 1897 the disused St John’s church and presbytery were modified for use as a reformatory for girls in State care and was run successfully by the Sisters of St Joseph until its closing in 1909.

In 1892 a Dominican convent and school was opened in Kapunda which housed the Dominican Sisters who faithfully served the many needs of the local and wider northern community until its closure in December 1968.

In 1909 the St Rose’s church hall opened, and in October 1938 a large congregation witnessed the opening of a new and larger St Rose’s Church, on the hilltop next to the presbytery. This current church was built to accommodate the large Catholic population of the district. The legacy of the pioneering faithful, priests and religious, were acknowledged in the building of this modern church by the inclusion of some features of the former St John’s and St Rose’s churches. These items include the previous church’s installation stones, leadlight windows, icons, and the original St Rose’s church bell, as well as many dedicated items from contributing parishioners and families over the years.

Many Australian families can trace their Irish Catholic ancestral connections back to Kapunda and surrounding areas including Northern Light parish priest Fr Mark Sexton. St John’s cemetery is the resting place for many of them. The quiet spot, surrounded by beautiful farmland is also the burial site for many dedicated priests and religious who served the parish through its 175 years of growth and trials of both the Church and the State.

While the original St John’s church and presbytery buildings and the original St Rose’s church have been long demolished, and other land and buildings having been sold for private use, the beautiful St Rose of Lima Church and nearby presbytery in Kapunda, and the cemetery at St John’s, continue to serve the community.

Now in 2024, the former parish of St Rose’s based at Kapunda has evolved and is now part of the St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, Northern Light parish. The parish spans from the Barossa to Port Wakefield and is serviced by Fr Sexton and a retired priest.

The 175-year legacy beginning in the area surrounding Kapunda, stands as a testament to the unwavering faith and hard work of many past and present parishioners, priests, and religious.

In what can often be uncertain and challenging times, the community of the faithful is continuing to build on what has been firmly established. It is seeking new ways, of reaching out; spreading the gospel; and strengthening the faith of its members. ‘For nothing will be impossible with God’. (Luke 1:37).

Parishioners acknowledge and pray with gratitude for the many individuals who have contributed to our continuing journey of faith.

Various events celebrating 175 years of faith and community will be held throughout 2024 including: the revival of the St Patrick’s Day Picnic, the marking of significant dates of patron saints; and a special All Souls Day Mass at St John’s cemetery.

An anniversary Mass will be celebrated with Archbishop Patrick O’Regan at St Rose of Lima, Kapunda, on Sunday April 14 at 10.30am. This will be followed by a light lunch at the Kapunda Bowls Club, $20 per person. Lunch bookings essential – contact the parish office 8566 2064 or email Site tours will also be available.

– John and Kylie Hayes

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