St Laurence's Catholic Church

St Laurence's Catholic Church

St Laurence’s Church was erected at the corner of Hill and Buxton streets in 1867-68, a time when this part of North Adelaide was largely undeveloped. Even at the time of the Smith Survey in 1880, many surrounding town acres lay vacant. The choice of site was criticised because of its distance from the hub of North Adelaide, but it gave improved access to a place of worship for the Catholics of Bowden and Hindmarsh. The building is therefore of historical importance both to the city and surrounding suburbs.

The churches significance was enhanced by the association with the Order of the Dominican Fathers of South Australia, who arrived in 1898.

The building itself is a distinguished if simple design by Wright, Woods and Hamilton. The first section was erected by the builder Michael McMullen, who was responsible for the design and erection of many Catholic buildings.

The foundation stone of the church of St Laurence Martyr was laid on March 10, 1867, by Bishop Shiel.

The plan was to build a cathedral-like structure. Financial difficulties curtailed the original £12,000 scheme and contributed to the lengthy construction period. The church dedication was performed on January 10, 1869, again by Bishop Shiel.

The South Australian Register of January 11, 1869, commented upon the reduced scale of construction, observing that “the nave only is finished, the portions which remain to be added being the transepts, chancel or sanctuary, tower, and sacristy. When entirely completed the church will be a good specimen of the early Gothic Order of architecture”. The cruciform included a tower that would contain a complete belfry. The walls were of rubble Glen Osmond stone with Tea Tree Gully stone dressings. The new building occupied about a third of the area of the originally designed building. A temporary gallery was constructed for the choir. “The windows are alternately plain and coloured. The latter, we understand, being the gift of the clergy and others who have interested themselves in the undertaking.” The altar, designed by the architects, was of polished cedar. The roof principals were supported by stone caps, “which, when funds permit, will be carved for the purposes of embellishment”.

Despite this rather kindly description of the church as it might have become, it remained unfinished for several years. The Dominican Fathers next erected the priory and then completed the church, although not in the form originally intended. In 1909 plans consisted of a double porch with a large arch in the centre, six confessionals thrust out between buttresses on the eastern and western elevations, and from the north wall a completely new complex of sanctuary, side chapels and sacristies. Electric light was installed and the pipe organ was built below the large south-facing window. The completed church was blessed in February 1910. Edward John Woods was the architect and the contractors were Ligertwood and Park.

The present altar was erected in 1926, and to mark the Golden Jubilee of the order in Australia two side alters were set up in 1948. In 1948-49 the church was consecrated and renovated.

The building is an excellent example of a parish church consistently detailed and constructed, and although lacking the grandiose scale of the original design, its impact is impressive. The rock-faced sandstone dressings provide a pleasing foil to the bluestone walling. The building, divided into buttressed bays, is dominated by the substantial and steeply pitched roof. The interior is spacious, the high hammer beam roof and diagonal matchboard ceiling being a notable feature. The nave is impressive, but the stone truss supports remain uncarved.


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The church represents the increased importance and stature of the Catholic community in South Australia at a time when independent and non-conformist congregations were still in the ascendant. St Laurence’s and its priory on the west are landmarks with major streetscape importance. Their scale in relation to surrounding development guarantees that their dominance and impressive character in this residential setting will continue.

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Images of St Laurence's Catholic Church

Edmund Wright, Edward Woods, Edward Hamilton
Michael McMullen
Building materials
Render, Stucco, Stone, Bluestone, Sandstone
Architectural styles
2 Victorian Period (c. 1840–c. 1890), 2.12 Free Gothic
1867 - 1868 

Additional Works

Additions including sanctuary, side chapels and sicresty

Designed by Edward Woods, built by Ligertwood and Park
Construction commenced
Construction completed
Architecture and design features
quoins, buttresses
Engineering features
Upper North Adelaide
Council Ward
Alternative Addresses
Town Acre
Planning Zone or Policy Area
Original owners
Catholic Church
Original occupant
Later occupant/s
Purposes and use
Religious, Church
AS2482 classification
15500 - Religious Building
Public Access
Opening hours only
State Heritage ID
ACC Reference No.
DPTI Heritage No.
Certificate of Title No.
CT 5811/436 T106101 T894
NTSA file exists
Heritage Status
State Heritage listed
State heritage listing
State Heritage listed
Date of State heritage listing
Local heritage listing
Date of Local heritage listing
NTSA listing
Date of NTSA listing
Section 23 (4) crtiteria
Risk status
Historic Themes
3.1 Economic Cycles
3.1.5 Farming Boom
6.3 Worshipping
6.3.1 Places of worship/Churches
Catholic Order of the Dominican Fathers of South Australia
Australian Curriculum references
Year 5: The Australian Colonies


  • ACA, Assessments, Digest of Proceedings, 18 May 1908, 10 May 1909, 13 October 1919,
  • 23 May 1921, Smith Survey 1880; Byrne, E, History of the Catholic Church in South
  • Australia, 1914; St Laurence's Priory, 1893-1973, pp. 6-7; South Australian Register,
  • 11 March 1867, 11 January 1869; Woods Bagot, Ledger of Commissions.

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