The house that Father Finton built

11 Feb 2009

By The Record

Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Doubleview will celebrate its 50th anniversary over the weekend of February 21 – 22. Parish stalwart Brian Peachey recalls some of the history and pioneering figures who laid its foundations, while well-known Perth ABC identity Peter Kennedy recalls shifting the furniture so he could serve Mass in his parent’s home…


A Dominican Sister at work in the classroom with students of Holy Rosary Primary School in its early years.






























The leafy Perth suburbs of Doubleview and Woodlands, sited on a ridge between the ocean at Scarborough beach and the broad wetlands of Herdsman Lake, mainly formed the Dominican Parish of Our Lady of the Rosary.
To do justice to the many Dominican priests and nuns and the hundreds of parishioners who pioneered and sustained the parish for more than fifty years is not possible in the space available. It is always a risk to name some and not others. I will, however take the risk and name two of more than forty Dominican priests, who with various admirable charisms, made the parish what it is today.
The first is the late Father Fintan Campbell OP, a determined, dedicated, evangelical priest from Ireland. In 1954 he was appointed the first parish priest of what was to become St Dominic’s Parish in the sparsely populated bushland in Innaloo. He resided with the parish priest at Scarborough and his only means of transport then was an old bicycle.
I first met Father Campbell in 1957. Although he was then living in a caravan, he had established a very active parish and had overseen the building of a school with all amenities and four classrooms, where he celebrated daily Mass.

Pioneer Priest
The children at St Dominic’s school were taught by dedicated Dominican Sisters who lived in Santa Sabina Convent at Scarborough. They travelled daily by bus and walked from Scarborough Beach Road to the school. And not only was Father Campbell a doer who got things done, he was a seer who saw and planned for the future.
He was also a leader able to inspire dedication and loyalty from his parishioners, even though he could only promise that they would do hard physical work and build a parish for the honour and glory of God. His parishioners were mainly low-income earners with growing families; they generously gave their time and money, walked the streets, carried bricks, participated in late night meetings and dug a deep well to provide water for the school.
Father Campbell was also a tough negotiator with civil authorities and the Perth Archdiocese administration. He could see the future and what would one day be a flourishing Dominican parish in the sandy virgin scrub-land south of St Dominic’s.
I believe it was he who in 1957 persuaded the Archdiocese to purchase a parcel of ill-defined bush land, 6.87 hectares in area, from the State Government for 4,250 Pounds.
There were few made roads then; the lot would later sit on the corner of Williamstown Road and what was to be Angelico Street. Father Campbell had it earmarked firstly for a school to be named Holy Rosary to be run by the Dominican Sisters; portions would be acquired by the Sisters for a convent, to replace the ageing convent damaged by floods in Dongara, and a large secondary school for girls. The most southern portion would be for the church and a Dominican Priory. It all seemed like a dream.
Soon after the purchase of the land and despite celebrating two Masses every Sunday at St Dominic’s, Father Campbell commenced Sunday Mass in homes in Doubleview. (See separate story on Vista 3) A short time later he had plans drawn for a three-classroom school. Although there were no hard-surfaced roads, scheme water or electricity, the building of the school commenced in September 1958, with organised volunteer help from the dedicated band of parishioners.
Holy Rosary School was completed in February 1959 with a grand opening and a blessing by Bishop Rafferty. The school year commenced with 47 students, although there was still no reticulated water or electricity. The three pioneer Dominican Sisters would travel each day from Santa Sabina in Scarborough by bus and walk a mile in blistering heat or cold and rain through the sand track which was to become Huntriss Road. It was not until 1965 that the Sisters built a four bedroom house close to the school at 394 Huntriss Road.
During the energy-sapping tasks of fundraising, building, equipping and staffing Holy Rosary School, Fr Campbell had a Priory built for the Dominican priests who joined him in Phillips Grove, Innaloo.
An illustration of Father Campbell’s persuasive negotiating skill and determination was that he had the nomenclature committee change the proposed name of the area from Hale, for the early colonial Anglican Bishop, to Woodlands.
When it was made known that the Perth Roads Board planned to put a scheme over much of Woodlands, bringing together several privately owned lots in a new subdivision, Father Campbell was quick to act.
He wanted streets named after Dominicans or places of note in the Order’s history and lodged an ambit claim of many names. Ten  were successful (see box below).
This was a remarkable achievement. Nowhere in Australia has the Dominican Order been given such a permanent public acknowledgement of its history by a civic authority.
This was Father Campbell’s last accomplishment in Western Australia. After seven years he was relieved of his post and returned for a holiday to Ireland on the Iberia, on November 9, 1961. There was a large and enthusiastic send-off party on the Fremantle wharf, but he had laid the foundations of the parish.
Throughout 1962 building and the work of hundreds of generous, dedicated parishioners went according to plan. In December 1961 the foundations were laid for the building of the Dominican Sisters’ high school on the higher land west of Holy Rosary school. At about the same time the parish decided to extend Holy Rosary school by adding three more class rooms. Working in shifts, a group of 33 men in the parish commenced the digging of a well to provide water to reticulate the school grounds. The arduous work of blasting through limestone and sinking concrete well liners was not completed until the water flowed in January 1963.
By May 1962 the large two-storey high school was completed. It was named Siena and opened and blessed by Archbishop Prendiville on May 20. The first intake of students was 140, but it could eventually accommodate 300. The Archbishop was to return again on September 20 to bless the new southern extension to Holy Rosary school. While creating new class rooms it also provided a larger and more suitable area for the celebration of Mass with provision for a sacristy.
During 1963 and 1964 a large number of lots came on the market in the Woodlands subdivisions, substantially increasing the population, many of whom were Catholics attracted by the existing schools and the announcement that the Marist Brothers intended to build a new secondary school in Empire Avenue.
The Dominican Fathers purchased a lot in Angelico Street opposite the school with the intention of building a Priory. The building was completed and four Dominican priests and a lay brother moved from Phillips Grove in Innaloo to take up residence on March 2, 1964. The move was a milestone in the parish history because it formally created two separate parishes. St Dominic’s in Innaloo was to be administered by the Archdiocese of Perth and the parish in Doubleview, Woodlands and Churchlands, variously named Holy Rosary and Our Lady of the Rosary was to be administered by the Dominican Order.
The vitality and spirituality of Holy Rosary parish were obvious. Sunday Masses were celebrated at 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11am. In July 1966 a 7.30pm Mass was added. Fifty-five children made their first Communion. The annual retreat of the Holy Name Society on October 18, 1964 was attended by 45 men and at the Annual High Tea there were 65. There was a very active Conference of the St Vincent De Paul Society; the School Parents and Friends were effective, raising funds and providing valuable support and the ladies’ Rosary Confraternity met prayerfully; there were 84 ladies at the 1964 Annual Dinner. A YCW dance was held at the school.

A masterpiece in stone
In October 1968 Father Bonaventure Leahy OP arrived from Adelaide and was to ultimately give the parish a unique place of worship and a monument to honour the Mother of God.
Father Leahy was a trained architect before he entered the Dominicans 30 years earlier in Ireland. Sent to Perth to build urgently needed classrooms at Holy Rosary school, he was also directed to draw plans and be sub-contractor for four classrooms, a staff-room and a new toilet block.
It was no simple task for someone not familiar with the bureaucracies in the State and Local Governments. Although there were tradesmen in the parish who assisted, he had no contacts with suppliers or contractors and had no suitable office and workshop. Soon after his arrival he was asked to also prepare plans for a church to be built south of the school.
One can only speculate as to how and where Fr Leahy did his creative work. Unlike other architects he did not have an assistant draftsman, nor did he have a secretary. He did, however, install a band saw and other equipment in the garage at the Priory, where he made the first model of the church and cut the templates for the footings of the elegant curved walls, which he insisted on setting himself.
His plan of the church, symbolic of the chalice, and a model were completed in April 1970 and enthusiastically approved by Archbishop Goody. It was the work of a brilliant creative artist and architect, who was also a dedicated, holy priest. He personally chose the durable quartzite Toodyay Stone to be used after assessing all that was available in Western Australia.
The foundations of the church were laid on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, October 7, 1970. The following month the steel structure, was erected.
Next came the cladding with carefully selected Toodyay Stone. It was important that the symmetry, line and form of the magnificent curved walls be scrupulously maintained. This task was reserved by Father Leahy exclusively to himself. He set every line and meticulously preserved all corners with wooden patterns made by a parishioner. This was especially complex when laying the graceful curves of the 25-metre-high central portico.
By the beginning of 1972 the stonework was complete, the external scaffolding was removed and the majestic profile of what was to become the most elegant parish church in Western Australia was revealed. The 33-metre-high stainless steel cross, which was to become a landmark, was yet to be raised and mounted.
Sadly Father Leahy was not to see the finish of his masterpiece, but he had drafted the concept and painted it with an incredible palette of Toodyay Stone. After Mass on Sunday morning, May 7, 1972 he was near collapsing and said “All I could see is the plans of the church.” He was taken to hospital that morning and never returned to the site. And so it came to be that the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary was blessed by Archbishop Goody before a seated congregation of 800 on Sunday May 13, 1973. Among the clergy who were present was Father Campbell. The completion of the church is not the end of the history of the parish, but it is the pinnacle. There was progress in other directions. A new Priory was built adjacent to the church and Holy Rosary School was extended and improved.
The great flooding of the Irwin River in 1972 did major damage to St Dominic’s Convent, the Provincial House of the Dominican Sisters in Dongara. This meant the building of St Catherine’s Convent on the land south of Siena High School. It became the administrative centre for the Dominican Sisters in WA. The beautiful chapel with the magnificent marble altar and tabernacle from Dongara was completed in 1978. But nothing built in the parish or in any of the surrounding suburbs could compare with the noble structure and the impact of Church of Our Lady of the Rosary.