History of St. Patrick’s Church, Wangaratta
St Patrick’s Church was listed as a heritage building in the 1960s. Victoria’s first bishop blessed the first stone laid in April 1866. A local team dug the foundations and builder, Lewis Griffin of Beechworth, began construction in February 1867. The roof was closed in May 1870 and readied for furnishings when Bishop Goold was in Rome. He finally dedicated it on 10 March 1871; it was the fourth church built on the busy Port Phillip Track and the third named for St Patrick. Like many on the Track it was preceded by a school-chapel built in 1854.
The inspiration to build something special came from Donegal-born Rev George Devitt Galen. He was interred below the central aisle in November 1869 before the church was complete. A plaque, sited beside the Lady altar and funded by non-Catholic citizens, recognises his courageous effort. Next to it is another, commemorating Rev Maurice Byrne’s long service during which he doubled the length of the nave.
On the right wall is a third plaque in memory of 28-year-old Rev Francis McCarthy, the first priest buried in the town, who was cared for in his dying days by fellow TB sufferer, Fr Galen; one died aged 28 years, the other 32 years.
Fr Galen was a particularly persuasive young priest who was able to raise quickly £3,000 for his church and secure William Wadell to be its architect. Wadell, trained by the renowned Augustine Pugin, was then designing St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne.
Features of Wadell’s design are the ceiling structure; his willingness to allow in the bright Australian light; the triple lancet windows above the altar; the High altar; the external grey granite stonework and the erect pews.
Wadell originally trained as an engineer; his skill is shown in the roof structures. The windows, often mistaken as the work of Hardimans of Birmingham, UK, have been praised as ‘superb’ and ‘…one of the best seen in Australia’. In fact, they were made by Ferguson, Urie & Lyon of Melbourne.
The pedestal of the altars is Tasmanian freestone with tables of Caen limestone, a creamy, lustrous stone from Caen, west of Paris; it is easily sawn initially as it is quarried wet. It was used in the Tower of London and in Buckingham Palace. How large slabs came to Australia is unknown. The High altar was the first able to be consecrated in a Victorian Catholic church and just the second in Australia.