Immaculate Conception Parish


History of the Parish

The history of  of East Fremantle Parish set out below was taken from a booklet," Memories" - A story of East Fremantle Parish, written by Mr. Jack Williams.

In his introduction to the booklet  the parish priest at the time Fr. Delahunty (RIP) wrote: Mr Jack Williams is to be highly commended. He has been tireless in researching the annals of our parish. This involved many interviews, collection of photos and memorabilia, much travel and much reading...

Because of the nature of the Internet, content  of a very personal nature has been omitted.


The Beginning 1904 - 1919

Immaculate Conception Parish was officially established early in 1939 when Rome approved excision from St Patrick's Fremantle. However, the real beginning was much earlier in 1904 when Oblate Superior, Fr Cox designed and built a school/church in King St.

Fr. Cox designed and built well.  His simple solid construction functioned effectively as a Sunday Church until 1939 and weekday school until 1970.

Fr. John Smyth (1872-1919) was the first Oblate to take charge of the East Fremantle section of St Patrick's Parish. Under his merry, energetic guidance, his parishioners quickly established that strong sense of caring in the community that remained one of its distinguishing characteristics.

Members of the sodalities, Sacred Heart and Children of Mary, went to St. Pat's once a month on their designated Sunday and often returned for evening devotions. Baptisms, weddings, Christmas and Easter Ceremonies were also held at St Patrick's, however, First Confession and Communion were made at King St.

The Sisters of St Joseph of the Apparition took charge of the King St School from its inception. Among the earlier sisters were Sisters Berchmans, Ursula, Emilie, Dorothea and Alacoque. Sr. Alphonsis taught music and there was a young lay teacher , Miss Smith. The fees were sixpence a week. Most days three or four sisters travelled to the school from St Joseph's Convent in  Fremantle, however, sometimes they stayed in the school overnight. Each Friday, Sisters were also responsible for transforming the School into a weekend church. The enormous wooden folding doors were folded back, the desks moved and the floor swept. On Saturday the sisters were assisted by some senior girls in preparing the altar, vestments, polishing candle sticks setting up the communion rail and so on. The wooden altar came from St Kevin's Industrial School for Boys run by the Oblates at Glendalough from 1900 to 1921. The altar now stands in the present church under the Sacred Heart statue. The six brass candle sticks are still stored in the Sacristy

The Building at King Street

The sturdy construction of limestone and corrugated roof consisted of one large room, divided in two by wooden folding doors. Standards 4-6 occupied the Sewell St. side while the "bubs" in Standards 1-3 the Kings St side. At the Sewell St end of the room, a sanctuary  with raised platform was curtained off and there was a tiny sacristy on the right while there was a statue of Our Lady on the left. The children sang during Mass on a stage consisting of four steps on the side at the other end of the building. An L-shaped weatherboard extension projected the North from the stage to forma music room and two rooms for the sisters. An open paved verandah ran all along the north side of the School, inside the L. Brick toilets were situated across the playground. There was no heating.

The school property extended through from King to Sewell St.  on a high limestone hill with an abrupt 30 ft drop overlooking the adjoining block where a Seventh Day Adventist Church was later built. The playground was rough and stony and remained so until a busy bee levelled it off for a basket ball court in 1932.

Next to the school in King St was Mrs Mary O'Grady's (Anne McFall's mother) house which was owned by the Oblates. She acted as a sort of caretaker and general factotum for the church and the sisters. Her daughter, Jinny, played the organ on Sundays and was also a lay teacher for some years. Con Reagan's bakery, renowned for its pies and buns, served as a tuckshop.

Other prominent families in the King St pioneering days were: the Gallaghers, Gaynors (one of one of whom became Sr. Mechtilde), Millers, James, Cusack and Hills.

In those days early in the century, the area of East Fremantle near the Royal George Hotel was a separate, busy little township which developed rapidly around a flourishing group of small shops. There were kids galore.

As with other parishes, World War I affected East Fremantle  with both excitement and sorrow. The one constant throughout its first 15 years was Fr. Smyth's 8:30 Mass on Sunday morning. He died in 1919 aged 47. A year later in November 1920, "a huge concourse of people" met in the Fremantle Cemetery for the blessing of a public monument to the" holy Oblate"  which is prominent in the centre of the cemetery.

Second Generation 1920-1939

Memories of parishioners who grew up in the 1920's reflect the relatively prosperous decade which followed WW I. Families were faced with problems of post war adjustment but the decade was generally carefree and secure.

A new Catholic girls high school in Tuckfield St could be accessed by East Fremantle girls. More of the King St. congregation  came from housing developments in "Moore's paddock", and land back towards Petra St and North of Canning Highway.

Fr. John Smyth was succeeded by other Oblates who continued to service the King St church from 1919 -1926. Among those remembered were Fr. Casey, Fr. Hayes, Fr. Ahearne, and Fr. Haugh. Fr. J Neville served Fremantle parish along with East Fremantle parish for 28 years.

Sisters who taught at the School at this time were recalled by past pupils as: Sisters Mary John, Agatha, Patricia and Brigid. They also remember a lay teacher, Irene Hill, who became Sr. Rita and her school friend Sr. Lucy Troy.

The liturgical pattern established by Fr. Smyth in 1905 still persisted i.e. first confession and Communion at King St while major Feast days, confessions, weddings, funerals, sodality meetings etc. were always at Fremantle.


It was extremely hard during these years trying to live off sustenance money of 28 shillings per week. However, the situation gradually improved during the 1930's but it was still a struggle even as late as 1938. Nevertheless the King St School carried on and Mass at 8:30. Incredibly most families found the 6 pence/week for schooling and 6 pence for the block collection which was taken up regularly by several parishioners. It involved much inter-house visiting which contributed to the wonderful solidarity still evident at East Fremantle.

Fr E. Kenny was a zealous de facto parish priest at King St who spent hours visiting all parishioners regularly

Notable Events in 1930's

St Patrick's Day 1931 was abandoned due to financial stringency but the Schools picnic went ahead at Pt Walter. A very large tram the children called "Big Ben" was charted for the day.

July 20, 1932, St Joseph's ex-pupils which included students from East Fremantle had their first Annual Ball and were presented to the Lady Mayoress. The following night was the children's ball for all the parish schools.

The St. Joseph's Sisters celebrated the centenary of their order in 1932. The King St Pupils joined in the Missa Cantata at a Pontifical High Mass at St. Pat's.

In 1933 all schools were marshalled to welcome the Archbishop Bernadini, Apostolic Delegate from the wharf. He was cheered as he arrived on the "Orontes" on October 17. When he granted them a holiday to mark the occasion he was cheered again by the students.

By 1937, there were 890 Catholics in East Fremantle, 660 of these were practising. King St School had 88 pupils and Tuckfield street 97. In that year the OLM Sisters took over the School from the St Joseph Order "owing to a shortage of teachers". The School was always known as "King St" although a photo of the 1922 classes shows St Joseph's School, East Fremantle. The new OLM Sisters dedicated the School to Mary Immaculate, foreshadowing the new parish to some.

End of an era

On November 29, 1936, Fr. Kenny read out a letter from the Archbishop at Mass advising that a block of land had been purchased in East Fremantle and that from now on second collections and block collections were to be put towards the funds for a new church to be erected on the corner of Canning Highway and Preston Pt. Road. The announcement caused quite a stir as the King St people were quite settled in their ways and had a real attachment to the Oblates at  St. Pat's, Fremantle. The situation was also complicated by a 1925 agreement with the then archbishop that Oblates territory would extend to Carrington St in perpetuity. Discussions over this went on for 2 years.

During this period, Fr. Kenny left Fremantle with a great send off. Fr. Conway took his place for the last few months and quickly became very popular and respected. All who knew him were very saddened to learn of his death in 1949 in a fire in the Philippines.

On December 12, 1938, word came from Rome that East Fremantle was to be separated from St Patrick's and become a new parish.Early in 1939, Fr. Gerald O'Callaghan was appointed first parish priest of Immaculate Conception, East Fremantle. The new parish began with a bang: World War II!

Immaculate Conception Parish 1939 - 1936

Fr O'Callaghan was a very zealous priest and active church builder at Beverley, Corrigin, Quairading and Pingelly. He was also been an army chaplain and by 1939 a senior chaplain. With the War impending he had many additional responsibilities and was not always available for Sunday Mass. He made a temporary presbytery out of the two rooms used previously by the Sisters and had his meals at Alec Connell's Plympton Hotel. In September 1939 war was declared and Fr O'Callaghan became a full time chaplain and went overseas.

Fr J J O'Mahony

It fell to Fr. John J O'Mahony, a vigorous young priest, to set up the new parish. He took over the Parish at a difficult time "His devotion to duty, his self-sacrificing zeal, and his concern for the sick deserves to be put on record". He acted as parish priest from late 1939 until 1944. In 1940 he introduced daily Mass a King St and started up the three sodalities immediately. He opened the baptismal registry with the first entry: John Regan, son of Cornelius J. Regan and Catherine Miller baptised on January 27, 1940.

He started quickly on  work to build the church on the block purchased 4 years earlier by Archbishop Prendiville who laid the foundation stone on August 11, 1940. The architects were William Tracey and his partner Howard Bonner and the builder, A. C Porter of Wembley. The church was completed  and opened by the Archbishop on December, 8 1940, the feast of Immaculate Conception.

Christmas for the first time in December 1940 and Easter in 1941 were special events for the parish and great efforts were made to decorate the altar. Because of their teaching another duties, the Sisters OLM were unable to carry out the duties of sacristan. So a young working girl who used to help the Sisters, Anna Murphy, cleaned up the Easter debris and prepared the altar and vestments for the Tuesday Mass and every Mass after that for the next 47 years. More recently i.e. in the last 25 years she was assisted by Mrs Anne Dwyer.

Father O'Mahony had great devotion to Our Lady and made much of  the months of May and October. She was crowned Queen of the May with decorations,  honoured in processions and by the rosary said every night in October. Every Wednesday there was exposition of the Blessed Sacrament from morning Mass to evening Benediction. A Redemptorist Mission was held in 1941 and a novena of Masses.


The sisters were still going strong at King St. In 1942, at a week's notice, Tuckfield St Convent had to be evacuated for  military hospital. The eight sister left behind to teach at King St and Palmyra schools made a frantic search for accommodation and at the last minute were able to rent a three bedroom house at 224 Canning Highway (it is still there). For four years they had to crowd in, three sisters to a room -"we had no room to complain." One room became a little chapel with the Blessed Sacrament.. The hallway was the music room - music lessons were a vital supplement  school fees, now up to two shilling a week for those who could afford it.

Sisters John, Annunciata, Salome, Bernadette and Magdala were among the OLM sisters there. They kept up the tradition of visiting their pupils' homes.  After ordinary school hours Sr Magdala taught commercial subjects in the little cottage-convent to senior girls from both Palmyra and Kings St. sister had six brothers away at the war, one of them on Crete with Fr O'Callaghan.

Pupils remembered by Sr. Magdala include Con Regan ("always late for school after his early morning baker's round"), Johnny Finnegan, Terry McMahon, the O'Connor twins ("one became a priest"), various Gabbedy's, Maureen Hall, all eight Pratts, the Hughes girls, Eileen and Maureen (cousins?), who came for commercial lessons. She particularly remembers Johnny Hughes )"The Mitsubishi Man of TV"). At one school concert he pleaded and pleaded for the part of the devil. Sister at last agreed, reluctantly because he did not look the part. She dressed him in black and the devil's cap and "with his little white face he was the most angelic Satan you ever saw."

One memorable rainy day, June 10,1942, "we had our first (false) air raid warning. The children were quickly dispatched to the trenches till the all-clear came, them they were sent home thoroughly drenched." All school had to have trenches dug,  and the sirens sounded several times for practice or false alarms. In Perth they were more fun than fright. More frightening were the gun practices at Buckland Hill which could be heard for miles. The American Army occupied East Fremantle oval and "we used to pass many soldiers with their guns as we walked along Canning Highway.

Fr. Cal Returns

In January 1944 Fr. O'Mahony moved to Merredin and Fr. Gerald O'Callaghan resumed control at Immaculate Conception Parish. His first entry in the baptismal Register was March 25 1944. He was to stay in East Fremantle for 25 years, as "Father Cal", loved and respected by everyone who knew him, parishioners and non-parishioners alike.

As chaplain, Father had shared in all the horrors of war. With all that behind him, he now concentrated his enormous energy on his parish. The Church architecture was not what he had in mind before he went to war but he came home to flourishing sodalities and well-established devotions to the Blessed Sacrament and to Our Lady. Father became noted for his own personal devotion to Mary: "I remember he used to lift his biretta and bow as he passed Our Lady's statue going on to the altar."

In the post war years under Fr. O'Callaghan, East Fremantle took part in the rapid religious development in the Diocese. The various sodalities and St Vincent de Paul grew grew.  Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament on Wednesdays, Annual Crowning of Our Lady, October Rosary, Forty Hour Devotion and Sunday evening Benediction were all encouraged and developed. Fr. Cal was especially concerned with sick parishioners to whom he took Communion. He also said Mass once a week for the sisters still crowned in their little house at this time.


Fordham Cottage



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