For the first four-and-a-half years of European settlement there was no Catholic priest assigned to the colony. The first resident priest, Father William Benson, arrived in 1841. He used temporary places of worship such as John Bentham Neales’ large store and a brewery in Pirie Street.
The first bishop of Adelaide, Dr Francis Murphy, was consecrated in 1844. He is considered the founder and apostle of the Catholic Church in South Australia.
Bishop Murphy arrived in Adelaide in November 1844. Five weeks later he laid the foundation of St Patrick’s School Church, on the corner of Grote Street and West Terrace.
This small church, which was opened on October 5, 1845, was the main centre of Catholic worship in South Australia until the Cathedral Church of St Francis Xavier opened in July 1858. The cathedral then provided for the Catholics of east Adelaide, while those living in the western half of the city continued to worship at St Patrick’s.
By the turn of the century St Patrick’s School Church had become too small for its congregation. Architects Woods and Bagot prepared plans for the new church, a tender of £13,425 was accepted, and the foundation stone was laid on November 10, 1912. An estimated 10,000 people attended the ceremony.
The Catholic newspaper Southern Cross of March 13,1914, described the building as basilican and indicated that the section built was only part of a much larger work. St Patrick’s was dedicated on March 15, 1914.
The Southern Cross said the new church was “probably the most artistic ecclesiastical structure in the State and is in accordance with the best traditions of ecclesiastical architecture. Based on the Church of the Holy Spirit in Florence by Brunelleschi (1428) . . . the design of the front is Italian from a British point of view”. As the church was incomplete, the architects had to improvise, but they could not “ignore the traditions of Sir Christopher Wren and the British School of Renaissance architects”.
The original design included a sacristy and an impressive dome above a section that would have made the church half as long again. This was not carried through as church funds were limited and construction coincided with unsettled times before the outbreak of World War I late in 1914.