Short History of St Mary’s

Corowa, which means “Rocky River”, is situated in southern N.S.W. on the Murray River in the original homelands of the Kwat Kwat people and the Wiradjuri nation. It was established as a town in 1859, but  the area had already seen a long history in the care of the original inhabitants. For news and views about Corowa town, check out these websites:

Corowa Shire Council has its own attractive website and there you can click on the link ‘History fact sheet’. It gives a short history of the town:

A great website containing information about Australia’s most important river and information on Corowa is called “Discover Murray“. It has many interesting links:

St Mary’s Catholic Parish

[Click on photos to enlarge; use ‘back’ arrow to return.]

1st Ch & Presby

Early Photo of Corowa’s first Catholic Church

St Mary’s Catholic Parish, Corowa, was established in 1878. Today the parish comprises parishioners from Corowa, Balldale, Coreen, Ringwood and the surrounding districts. In the photo left to right: bell tower, old hall, first church and first presbytery which became the convent when the sisters arrived. Two people: the enlarged photo seems to show a woman chatting to a priest – in top hat; his left elbow is leaning on the picket fence as he chats, hence his hand is at chest height.

The long journey to the parish of today began nearly 200 years ago when, in 1821, Sydney was proclaimed a Catholic parish. Then the mission to greater New South Wales began with further parishes established in Parramatta, followed by Yass in 1838 and Albury in 1854.

Mass was first celebrated in Corowa as early as 1845. The first church was built in 1875 and in 1878 Fr Michael Slattery was appointed the first Parish priest.

There is an interesting account of Corowa assistant priest Father Richard Kiely’s encounter with the Kelly gang at Jerilderie in the longer 1978 history of the parish. You can find it at the 1978 History page.

In 1893 the local Catholic community pooled their resources and built a Catholic school and added extensions in 1910. Between 1878 and 1893 the children were being taught in the church itself.

Sisters of Mercy

Celtic Cross

An Irish Celtic Cross in St Mary’s

Faraway in Dublin, Ireland, in 1831, Sister Catherine McAuley founded a new congregation of religious sisters with the express mission of bringing the Gospel and education to poor families and their children wherever they were to be found. This website gives a short history of the foundation of the Sisters and a link to the Australian Mercy Sisters:

The famine years in Ireland between 1847 and 1849, saw many families perish and many others leave the Emerald Isle for America, Canada and Australia. In addition, rich alluvial deposits of gold had been discovered in California, Canada and Australia. Clearly, the Sisters of Mercy were sorely need outside of Ireland as well as at home.

Within just 28 years, in 1859, the Sisters  established a foundation in Goulburn and Corowa was soon to benefit from their dedication. The first sisters arrived by train at Wahgunyah and then were transported to the old presbytery in a “buggy and pair”. They became responsible for the parish school and remained a most important element in the establishment and development of faith among the Catholic families in the parish. It was with great sadness that the last of the Sisters to serve in the parish were farewelled in 2008. God alone can estimate their profound impact on Catholic life and the wider community in Corowa.



Corowa Court House

As the parish grew in the latter decades of the 19th century, so did the movement for federation in Australia. The consensus among the population for a government for the whole of Australia was thrust most strongly into public awareness by the “People’s Convention” meeting held in Corowa in 1893. Although eight full years before federation, the meeting earned the town the moniker, “Birthplace of Federation”, which it proudly embraces until today.  Visitors to Corowa can easily locate street-side signs highlighting the historical buildings and sites, among them the original Court House less than a stone’s throw from the front of St Mary’s church.

[As a distraction from our parish history, check out this interesting summary of Federation; it is in a website from the National Archives: ]

St Mary’s Today

Dedication stone

Foundation Stone of the ‘new’ St Mary’s – 1920

The beautiful Spanish-gothic style church, which is situated most significantly on one of the highest points within the town, was begun in 1920 and completed in 1922. It was blessed that year by no less a personage than Archbishop Daniel Mannix of Melbourne.

West window 1

High altar stained glass: Crucifixion scene

“Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother…and the disciple whom he loved.” (Jn 19.25-26)

A new convent for the sisters was built in 1929 and a new presbytery in 1953. In 1959 a new school replaced what has now become the parish hall and continues faithfully hosting parish activities more than a hundred years after its opening. Many senior parishioners have amusing tales to tell of their schooldays in the old hall – including memories of steel-nib pens lodged in the ceiling by badly distracted boys plying carefully aimed rubber bands!

The parish centenary was celebrated in 1978. St Mary’s church and St Mary’s school both received major refurbishment between 2003 and 2010. The church is open 7 days a week 9.00am to 5.00pm and visitors are most welcome to drop in for a prayer and admire what is one of the most significant architectural buildings in Corowa.


 ‘Fleur de lys’ – traditional symbol for Mary