Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church
In 1861, Archdeacon Patrick Russell, the Parish Priest of North Adelaide, who cared for the Virginia district called a meeting after he had celebrated mass at the home of Michael Hewitt at Penfield. The purpose of the meeting was to decide whether to build a church at Virginia or at Penfield. There was a larger number of Catholics at Virginia and so it was decided to build there. The site was chosen by Bishop Patrick Geoghegan, the second Catholic Bishop of Adelaide. He selected a two acre block of land donated by Daniel Brady. Tenders for the construction of the church were called by the Architect, Michael McMullen and the successful tenderers were the builders Niass and Jones. The tender was for £420 with the parishioners having the responsibility of quarrying and carting the stone, sand and water. The foundation stone was laid by Bishop Geoghegan on the 4th September, 1861. By the time of the opening of the church of the 17th March 1862, the Bishop was on his way to Rome. In his absence it was opened by his Vicar General, Father John Smyth.
By 1865, the congregation had grown so much that the church had to be enlarged at cost of £1,067. All but £300 being paid when the church was re-opened and blessed by Bishop Laurence Shiel, the third Catholic Bishop of Adelaide on 21st October 1866. The walls were raised 2 ½ feet and the room 8 feet. The church is floored with Willunga slate and the roof covered with English slate. The seating was made by William Bundey (at that time Mayor of Adelaide) in cedar. The sanctuary was also enlarged to receive a new marble altar. It had been sculptured in Italy, transported in pieces and re-assembled on arrival. The altar of rare Italian marble was dedicated by the Rev. J. Smyth, V.G on the 20th September 1868. For many years, Virginia was the only Catholic church to boast a marble altar in the State.
Six large silver candelabra were donated in memory of the Very Rev John Smyth, and four by Michael Hewitt in memory of his daughter Mrs Margaret Neagle. The statue of the Virgin was the gift of Mr Hewitt and the statue of Sacred Heart was that of John Ryan. The stations of the cross were made by Siebert of Adelaide, each station presented to John Nash (Virginia), George Hall (Red Banks), John Galaher (Virginia), Edward Hewitt (Walkerville), Martin McGuan (Virginia), Mrs Scales (Two Wells), Bernard McNally (Lower Light), Mrs Edmond Sheedy (Virginia), Owen Nash (Virginia), Peter McEvoy (Virginia), Patrick Hewitt (Parkside), Lawrence Hewitt (now Sydney), Mrs McCormack (Lower Light), John Ryan (Virginia).
On Sunday 21 October 1866 the Church was solemnly opened by the Right Rev. Dr. Shiel, assisted by the Vicar-General, very Rev. J. Smyth, and Rev. C. A. Reynolds, of Morphett Vale. His Lordship left Adelaide on Saturday, and was met at Salisbury by about 40 horsemen, who escorted him as a guard of honour to the new church. The Bishop greatly admired the building, the style of which, is Norman designed, by Messrs. Wright, Woods, and Hamilton, and erected by Messrs. Niass & Loader. The fittings, which are exceedingly chaste and in keeping with the style of the church, were made by Mr. Bundey, of Adelaide.
At 11 a.m. on Sunday the Bishop commenced the solemn dedication of the church according to the ceremonial prescribed by the Roman Ritual. The spacious and handsome edifice was crowded from an early hour. After Mass the Rev. C. A. Reynolds delivered a most edifying and impressive discourse. He spoke of the grandeur of a Catholic church — the ‘house of prayer and of sacrifice ' — God's dwelling-place on earth — the home of the Blessed Sacrament. Immediately after Mass His Lordship administered the Sacrament of Confirmation to 33 males and 37 females, after which he explained the nature of this Sacrament. In the afternoon a number of the Catholic men of the district waited on His Lordship, and presented to him the following address, full of affectionate attachment to his person and dignity :
' The address of the Roman Catholics of Virginia and the surrounding districts to the Right Reverend Dr. Shiel, Lord Archbishop of South Australia. ' My Lord— Animated with feelings of profound respect and veneration for your Lordship's sacred character, and influenced by the highest consideration and esteem for your Lordship's person, we the Roman Catholics of Virginia and the surrounding districts beg to offer your Lordship our warmest and most hearty congratulations on your safe arrival amongst 113. ' We beg to approach your Lordship as affectionate and obedient children their Pastor and Spiritual Father, and in welcoming you amongst us are anxious to testify in your Lordship's sacred person our love and devotion towards our Holy Mother the Church, and towards the Pastor, whom in her motherly and watchful regard for her children, she has placed over us. Thought up to this time your Lordship has been a personal stranger to the majority amongst us, yet the fame of the many virtues and noble qualities which distinguished your Lordship's character has preceded you, and we beg to assure your Lordship of the happiness and of the honest pride we feel in having the diocese of South Australia placed under your Lordship's holy and intelligent rule. We wish also to convey to your Lordship the joy and pleasure which the news of the enthusiastic receptions which have everywhere awaited your Lordship in your progress through the diocese has given us. In conclusion we most ardently pray Almighty God to shower his choicest blessings on you, and to till your Lordship with the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, that your pastoral charge may be overflowing and rich in spiritual fruits to yourself and your flock, and that your Lordship may be long spared to rule over us and guide us, and to feed us with the bread that gives eternal life. We cannot part from your Lordship without again assuring you of our profound respect and affection, and of our entire readiness to give all the assistance and co-operation, in our power when your Lordship may require it in carry out any object which to your Lordship may seem advisable for promoting the welfare and prosperity of our holy religion.
Signed on behalf of the Roman Catholics of Virginia and surrounding districts. ' J. S. O'Carroll, M.D. ' Patrick Hewitt. Owen Nash. Wm. Doudy. Wm. Fetherstonhaugh. ' James O'Dea. ' Martin Spain. ' Patrick Supple, Edmund Sheedy, Michael O'Dea, Connor O'Loughlin.
The Bishop replied in the following words :
Gentlemen — I am very gratefully sensible of the honour you have done me in the manner in which you have received me as your Bishop. As I am personally unknown to you, I am fully warranted in ascribing your reverential demonstration to the sacredness of my office and the truly Catholic sentiments which animate you. I hail with delight your tender of earnest co-operation with, me in all that may appertain to the requirements of our holy religion in your district. That your promised cooperation will be realised I have ample guarantee in this beautiful church, which will long stand forth as a practical proof of your Catholic zeal. So long as Bishop, clergy, and laity co-operate, all difficulties will be easily surmounted. Accept my most heartfelt thanks for the honour you have done me. I wish you every blessing, and remain yours faithfully in Christ, L. B. Shiel, Bishop of Adelaide.'
South Australian Weekly Chronicle Sat 27th Oct 1866 p. 3
In 1861 a school was opened in the church by Mrs Lower from India. She was followed by Miss Healy, followed by Miss C. Laffan. The school came under the charge of the sisters of St Joseph in 1871. The school was really a cottage the men of the parish built as a convent, lessons were taught in the church. You can still see where students sharpened their slate pencils on the outside walls. The nun’s left when it was decided that the number of children was too small to justify a convent.
In the late 1800’s the church procured a large metal bell. After much debating on how to erect it, it was finally placed only to have it come crashing down. Over the next 78 years they were erect on and off, until the bell was mounted outside.
The congregation at Virginia dwindled in the 1870’s when many Catholic families such as the Kains of Warnertow left for the newly opened northern agricultural areas. Catholic families who remained in the district included the Sheedy’s, Ryan’s, Maloney’s and McEvoy’s.
The district around Virginia was originally cared for by Archdeacon Patrick Russell of North Adelaide for 1861. In 1867 it was in the charge of Father (later Bishop) C.A Reynolds, Parish Priest of Gawler. By 1869, Monsignor F. Byrne of Salisbury was looking after Virginia. From 1877 to 1880, the Benedictine Fathers of Gawler cared for the district. Their place was taken from 1881 to 1902 by the Carmelite Fathers, Gawler. In 1915, Virginia once again part of the parish of Salisbury.
A new organ purchased early 1898 from the proceeds of the New Year’s Day sports.
Peter John Kavanagh was the first member of the Virginia Parish to be ordained a Priest.
During the 1930 – 1940’s the congregation dwindled to a mere 40 people. The 1980’s saw a resurgence with a congregation of 1500, 95% of whom where Italians or of Italian decent. In 2016, the church comprised of 400 families with a growing number of Vietnamese born or Vietnamese families.
The Franciscan priests arrived in 1962 and Virginia became a parish in its own right, incorporating Two Wells, Angle Vale and Waterloo Corner).
A presbytery was built in the church grounds in 1967 and for the first time Virginia had a resident priest.
The slate roof has been replaced with corrugated iron as the slate tiles would slip off. The small addition to the rear of the church still retains the slate tiles.
Eight stained glass memorial windows have been installed.
- James McEvoy died Jan 10, 1896
Annie McEvoy died June 24th, 1921
Michael McEvoy died June 24th 1916
- Gift of F. Hall in memory of his wife, Mary Hall, died 30 Dec 1931
- In memory of John Ryan, Annie Mary Ryan, Catherine Mary Ryan, George John Ryan
- Laurence O’Laughlin, died 25 Dec 1931
- Gift of D.J.J & P.E Sheedy in memory of their father and mother, Patrick Sheedy, Honorah Sheedy
- M. Sheedy in memory of his brother, John Edmund, Died 14 August 1930
- In memory of Jeremiah A Ryan, died 5 Jan 1936
- E.A & J.M Sheedy in memory of their mother Bridget Mary Sheedy, Nov 4th 1922
During the churches 140th anniversary, Emeritus Archbishop Leonard Faulkner visited the church, his last pastoral visitation before retirement. To mark the anniversary the parish placed various items, including a 1911 description of the church, copies of the Southern Cross and a letter from Fr Michael Doherty in a time capsule which will be opened in 2026.
 Southern Cross, 11 Sept 1980