An International Church
St. Patrick’s Church was blessed and opened on November 24, 1872. The priest who formulated, planned and supervised its building was buried behind the altar. He was Dr. Michael McAlroy, Albury’s parish priest from 1868 to his death in 1880, and was known as the “Apostle of the South”.
Dr. McAlroy built the church when Albury had a population of around 2600. The gothic arches he preferred pointed upwards like a pair of hands in prayer, a reminder that the church is a working building dedicated to the worship of God.
The church is truly international, with a strong Irish influence. It honours the patron Saint of Ireland. A chancel window depicting St. Patrick is matched by one showing St. Brigid, to whom the first Albury church and convent were dedicated.
Dr. McAlroy and his builder, James Walsh, were both Irish; the architect, John Gordon, was English; and the original stained glass windows were made by John Falconer, a Scot. As for the rest of the church, the west window has an Aboriginal theme, much of the timber came from North America and the roof tiles were from Wales. The marble altar and the present day organ were from Italy.
St. Patrick’s was Albury’s second Catholic church. The first church, St. Brigid’s, was built in 1858 as a brick schoolroom. It continued as a school after St. Patrick’s was completed and was demolished in 1938.
Origins of the Parish
The founder of Albury, Robert Brown, was a young Catholic migrant that arrived in Albury in 1836 and built a bark store near the Hovell Tree. He went south to the Murray River with his sister’s husband, Aime Huon. The Huon’s had French parents and were also Catholic.
Brown added an inn to his store and it was there that Fr. Charles Lovat, a pioneer priest from Yass, celebrated Albury’s first Catholic mass on November 25, 1843. Fr. Lovat returned again in 1844 to baptise infants and conduct marriages.
The Bishop of Melbourne, Bishop James Goold (1812-86) celebrated mass at Albury in 1848 before crossing the Murray on his way back to Melbourne. He then revisited Albury in 1850 and 1851.
After the Irish, French and English influence came the German influence. In 1853, Fr. Michael Ryan, on a journey from Sydney to Melbourne, estimated there were 100-150 Catholics in the Albury district. Fr. Ryan baptised 14 children and spent four days hearing confessions while he was in Albury.
Archbishop John Bede Polding (1794-1877) approved of the creation of Albury parish in 1854, but, however, it was larger than the present diocese of Wagga Wagga. By this time, Albury’s population grew to 600, as a result of the goldmining activities at Beechworth. Fr. John Maher from Sydney was appointed resident priest on October 1, 1854. He conducted mass, baptisms and weddings in private homes or at his own residence. During Fr. Maher’s time, a Crown grant was obtained for a Catholic church to be built in Olive Street.
Fr. Maher left in June 1857, with the parish still raising funds for the church, when Fr. Cornelius (Con) Twomey arrived in July.
In August, Ashton’s Circus gave a benefit performance for the fundraising. At about the same time, the Anglicans began to construct St. Matthew’s Church and the Presbyterians had a church on the site now occupied by St. Patrick’s Hall.
Albury’s Original Church, St. Brigid’s
In February, 1858, Archbishop Polding, accompanied by Fr. Patrick Bermingham, laid the foundation stone of the new church. It was initially intended to be dedicated St. Joseph and St Boniface, the Apostle of Germany.
In June 1858, Fr. Twomey laid the first brick of the schoolroom that doubled as St. Brigid’s Church. He then embarked on a tour of his parish, which then included Deniliquin, Moulamein and Moama.
On October 24, 1858, Fr. Twomey opened the new building. Thomas Moore was the first teacher at the school.
In 1859, Albury people elected a practicing Jew, Morris Asher to the NSW Parliament. In the same year, James Fallon, a Catholic, became Albury’s first Mayor.
In 1860-61, Fr. Twomey built a stone presbytery next to the church. Among his duties was to say mass at Wagga once a month until a priest was appointed there, and to minister to Catholics in the new Albury hospital and Albury gaol.
Dr. Michael McAlroy
Dr. Michael McAlroy moved to Yass in 1857, and then later moved to Goulburn in 1861. In May 1864, Dr. McAlroy administered the Goulburn diocese until 1867. He then moved to Albury in 1868 and was made an honorary Doctor of Divinity.
Dr. McAlroy’s appointment didn’t take effect until shortly after him and his curate, Fr. William Bermingham brought the first Sisters of Mercy from Goulburn to Albury in July, 1868 to start a girl’s school. The sister’s arrival was a landmark for the Albury parish for they began a tradition that endures to this day. During this time, Peter and Simon Cullen were running the Catholic school in the church, Fr. Twomey and his curate, Fr. Laffan left after Dr. McAlroy, Bishop Lanigan and Bishop Matthew Quinn of Bathurst, laid the convent’s foundation stone.
On August 12, 1868, Dr. McAlroy conducted his first wedding ceremony in Albury, that of Hugo Alpen and Sarah Brown. A year later, he conducted the wedding of James Walsh and Anne Kelly.
In October 1869, he solicited a London-born architect from Goulburn, John Gordon, to come to Albury to design and supervise the building of the convent.
Dr. McAlroy opened Newtown (now Thurgoona) Catholic chapel and schoolroom on November 7, 1869. The building was intended mainly for the German families and the land was donated by John Peter Frauenfelder.
In February 1870, the 3-storey convent of St. Brigid was opened and blessed, and cost around £5000. It was at the opening that Bishop James Murray from Maitland referred to Dr. McAlroy as the “Apostle of the Southern District”, and predicted the district would soon be made a diocese.
With the convent almost paid, Dr. McAlroy was ready to start the new church. In May 1870, he called the first meeting. He produced a plan for a cruciform church with gothic features, which holds up to 600 parishioners. The parish already had £800 in the bank from Fr. Twomey’s proposed church. He estimated St. Patrick’s would cost more than £3000 to build. During the meeting, leading Catholic laymen such as the Mayor, George Day, Kenneth McLennan and Patrick Fallon endorsed the plan.
Building the Church
Despite the granite façade, the church was built mainly from bricks made in South Albury. The granite was quarried on Western Hill (now Monument Hill), with some of the granite coming from Nine Mile Hill, near Ettamogah. The purple-pink sandstone dressings for the windows and the doors came from Table Top Mountain.
The church, however, wasn’t built entirely to John Gordon’s plan. The western end of the nave and the steeple was deferred. As a result, the belltower is at western end of the nave, not halfway as planned. Gordon originally specified the church to be 160 feet long, however, once built the church was only 127 feet from the east wall of the chancel to the nave doors. The transept is 90 feet wide. At each side of the chancel are two chapels. Behind each chapel are square-shaped sacristies. The gallery was built in the south transept to house the choir and organ.
The roof is supported by two rows of octagonal brick pillars, standing on 2-foot granite blocks above a 1-foot concrete base, and connected by gothic arches. The walls are 32 feet high; however the total height from the floor to the roof is 55 feet.
Bishop Lanigan, accompanied by Bishop Quinn, blessed and opened St. Patrick’s on Sunday, November 24, 1872. As well as Dr. McAlroy, the clergy included his immediate successors, Fr. John Dunne and Fr. Patrick Dunne, cousins of Dr. McAlroy.
Within 6 months of finishing the church, Walsh bought land in Guinea Street and built the Builders Arm, which is now the Star Hotel. He died in 1905.
Before Dr. McAlroy died in 1880, he worked on several building projects in the Albury area – extending the convent, building churches at Howlong and Corowa, and his final work was the Sacred Heart Chapel at the Albury convent. All up, he was responsible for 20 building projects from 1861 to 1876.
- Additional information is now available about the organ now in St. Patrick’s Church.