Star of the Sea

For many years, I have been fascinated by a beautiful red brick church perched on a hill at one of the main intersections on the highway here in Burnie. Beside it are other similarly constructed edifices, one of which appears to be a school with the year 1912 above the doorway. To satisfy my curiosity, I recently took a closer look. The Catholic Church of St. Mary’s Star of the Sea opened in January 1891.

Designed by respected architect Alexander North, whose work includes Holy Trinity in Launceston, the church is an excellent example of the High Victorian Gothic style. There is no door at the front of the church, the entrance is via a porch on the eastern side wall above which is an elaborately carved white cross imported from New Zealand.

The red bricks were manufactured locally in Burnie while specially moulded bricks and terracotta tiles with a stylised flower design came from Launceston. The finest quality sandstone from Ross quarry in Tasmania’s midlands was used for the window frames.

The use of black bricks amongst the red ones to create geometric patterns, known as structural polychromy, was one of the features of High Victorian Gothic buildings.

The Welsh slates on the pitched roof have stood the test of time.

The interior is welcoming and warm with red brick walls and a pine lined roof.

I made my way to the chancel

where a trinity of colourful stained glass windows depict the Annunciation, the Sacred Heart appearing to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque and the Nativity.

All the windows are of stained glass, the bold geometric patterns throughout the nave were designed by North himself.

A small side chapel in the east transept beatifically captured the morning sun

while the votive candles in the west transept awaited the congregation for Holy Thursday.

The ceiling is a work of art, the spiky elaborate roof trusses are another example of High Victorian Gothic style.

The porch is adorned with memorials of many people associated with the church. St. Mary’s by the Sea was originally a small wooden church on the corner of Cattley Street and Marine Terrace in town. When Irishman Father Matthew O’Callaghan became parish priest, he was instrumental in selling that property and purchasing the land on which the new church was built. He was transferred to Queenstown in 1897 and died two years later. His remains were returned to Burnie for burial in the parish he had served for twenty five years.

The memorials to the Dunphy and Cooney families have piqued my interest. I have found they are buried in the Wivenhoe cemetery a short drive from our house, I shall investigate further.

Another Irishman, Father Patrick Hayes, was appointed to the parish in 1889 and was responsible for building a Catholic school in 1912 and adding a presbytery in 1928. He retired in 1947 and, passing away in 1954, was also buried at Wivenhoe.

A historic plaque was discovered by current parish priest, Father John Girdauskas, beneath the Star of the Sea church, commemorating the opening of St. Anne’s Catholic church and primary school in 1961.

The gardens on the two acre site have been established and are tended by volunteers.

A tidy section by the steps from the car park is dedicated to Father Terry McCosker, whose arrival in 1988 was sadly cut short due to illness.

The steeply sloping land behind the church has been landscaped with care and many hours of hard work have resulted in some very impressive retaining walls.

The path continues from the more formal gardens to a natural reserve, dedicated to the Fraser family.

St. Mary’s Star of the Sea has escaped the threat of removal twice. Firstly with the relocation of the Burnie Highway in 1979 and again just before Fr Girdauskas took over when the Marist priests intended building a replacement church near Marist College. The church is now heritage listed, as it should be.

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