Mary and John Fennescey, “the greatest benefactors the Archdiocese of Adelaide has ever known”, donated £20,000 to fund the building of Fennescey House. The Fennescey family settled on Yorke Peninsula before the end of the 19th century, successfully working the land. John and Mary Fennescey became associated with the church in Adelaide only when they retired to Glenelg during the 1920s.
The Catholic Church had long wanted to buy the properties adjoining St Francis Xavier cathedral. This donation made it possible to buy the land and build a centre for Catholic education. The plans provided for Catholic teachers’ conferences, a chapter room for clergy conferences, and offices for Catholic action works.
Catholic education became a priority in the early 1860s, when Mother Mary MacKillop and Father Julian Tenison Woods did much to bring their shared vision of religious education to fruition. However, it wasn’t until the Catholic Education Congress of 1836 and the construction of this education centre in Wakefield Street in 1940 that central organisation and implementation of a uniform religious education occurred.
Fennescey House was built by F. Fricker Ltd to the design of H. Jory. It is built of tuck-pointed dimensioned bluestone, with dressed limestone to string courses, parapets and surrounds to openings. The high-quality building is a late example of the mason’s craft and recalls the parish ecclesiastical Gothic Revival style. Its symmetry, emphasised by the central gablet and the high parapet, is distinctive and suggests a much earlier construction date. In style and materials it relates well to the neighbouring cathedral and the office accommodation to the east.