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St Michael's Church


South Australia had only been colonised about eight years when, in 1844, Bishop Murphy was consecrated Bishop of Adelaide and Father Michael Ryan became his vicar general.

The Bishop's activities were mainly centered on Adelaide and Fr Ryan had a "seek and save" mission, hunting for members of his flock scattered over a large area with no very well defined roads to follow. Horses were scare in the Colony and he probably had to hitch-hike on bullock wagons or walk, which was the most common method of travel for most people in those days.

In December 1844 he came to the Clare district and said the first mass in Mr Patrick Butler's house in Armagh.

The first substantial building in the Clare village was St Michael's Catholic Church, the third Catholic Church in the Colony, commenced in 1847 and completed in 1849. Built on Section 39, bought by Bishop Murphy in 1847 for less than two pounds per acre, this church is still part of the school.   It measures 45 feet by 22 feet and six inches.

This showed marvelous enterprise and courage on the part of Fr Ryan and his parishioners who would have numbered about 30 or 40 families.

On January 18, 1847 during the absence of Bishop Murphy in Europe, Fr Ryan, as we learn from a document in his own handwriting, laid the foundation stone at Clare of a "Catholic Church dedicated to St Patrick.  The church will be built in Gothic Style and is intended to accommodate two hundred persons". He did not place the name of the patron saint, or any other inscription on the stone however, and finally St Michael the Archangel, not St Patrick was chosen as patron of the church.

Shortly after Bishop Murphy returned from Europe, in July 1847, he ordained to the priesthood Fr Denis McGuinn - the first priest to be ordained in the colony.  He was then sent to Clare, as resident priest to take charge of the Catholics of the district.

Fr McGuinn set about completing the church.  By May 6, 1849 the church was sufficiently completed to be dedicated by Bishop Murphy, whose chose St Michael of Archangel as patron of the church.

The township of Clare continued to prosper for a time on the trade with the neighbouring Burra copper mines.

For the next decade, the number of parishioners grew steadily and the need for a larger church arose. Plans for a new church were drawn up and tenders called. Excavations went ahead and on June 29th, 1873, Fr Reynolds, administrator of the diocese, laid the foundation stone of the new Catholic Church in Clare.

 The funds needed to build the new church were substantial and the situation was exacerbated by a drift of people out of the Clare area at that time for the newly surveyed wheat areas in the north of the state.

Nevertheless, a concerted fundraising effort was mobilized through regular church collections and holding a town bazaar in February in 1881, which, in itself, raised a very substantial 400 pounds!

After many years of dedicated fundraising, the building committee finally accepted the tender of Mr Munro of Kapunda in January 1882, and work on the new church commenced.

On January 28th, 1883, the new St Michael’s Church was finally opened by the now, Bishop Reynolds of Adelaide, a testimony to the vision and hard work of these pioneering members of our early Church in Clare and the surrounding district.

Over the years St Michael’s Church has had several renovations and together with the original 1847 church, is now to be found in the grounds of St Joseph’s School, Clare.

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