The original Holy Rosary Church built in the 1870s

The city of Bundaberg, situated at the southern end of the Rockhampton Diocese, began its European history around 1866 when timber getters began their onslaught on the heavily timbered scrub that grew in the area. Although the district was populated by the Taribelang People more permanent European settlement began around a year later.

However, expansion was influenced more in the 1870s by the potential for agricultural exploitation. The people were drawn from a diverse collection of national origins. The same may be said of the twenty-first century.


Fr Constantine Rossolini

In the 1870s, the Catholic population was served by priests travelling from Maryborough. Father Thomas O’Brien celebrated the first Mass in Walter Adams Hotel, the Metropolitan, known then as Adams Hotel. On October 3, 1875, he was present to officiate at the opening of the small wooden church, the Church of St Mary of the Holy Rosary (which came to be known as Holy Rosary Church).

Bundaberg remained attached to the Maryborough Parish until the connecting road between Bundaberg and Mt Perry was constructed around 1873. The region then became a member of the Gayndah-Mt Perry Parish. Father Constantine Rossolini was appointed Parish Priest of Gayndah circa 1873.


Saint Mary MacKillop

In 1876, the Sisters of Saint Joseph (founded by Saint Mary MacKillop) arrived in Bundaberg ahead of Father Rossolini who moved his residence to Bundaberg in December, 1876. The Sisters of Saint Joseph began a fine educational tradition that has extended down to the present day.


St Joseph’s School in the early 1900s

Saint Mary MacKillop is known to have visited Bundaberg on two occasions. It was with much regret that Father Rossolini and the Bundaberg community generally saw the departure of the Sisters of Saint Joseph from the town in 1880. In 1881, Nuns from a breakaway branch of the Sisters of Saint Joseph arrived to teach in the school and they remained until around 1897.


The Sisters of Mercy convent on Bourbong Street

On July 10, 1897, five Sisters of Mercy came to take up teaching duties. They were to remain until lack of numbers forced their withdrawal from schools in the 1980s. The Presentation Sisters also operated a school for a few years in Bundaberg in the 1960s.


Early Christian Brother’s students

The Christian Brothers were invited to open a school for boys; the school opened in 1919 with an enrolment of 90 students. From only one school in 1876, there are today three primary schools and one coeducational secondary school serving both the Catholic and wider communities.


Holy Rosary in the 1890s

By the end of the 1870s, the small wooden church of Saint Mary of the Holy Rosary was proving to be inadequate for the needs of the congregation. A decision was made to replace it. The new church, erected in 1888, was designed by Francis Stanley, the great nineteenth century architect of colonial Queensland.


Its neo classical style is unusual for Australia but it adapts well to Queensland’s warm climate. Another feature of its construction was that it could be extended as the need arose. This need became apparent in the 1920s; the transepts and sanctuary were added in 1925/1926. Father Rossilini died in November 1893 and was buried on the north side of the church.


The orginal St Patrick’s Church on the left before being destroyed by a fire

The Parish continued to expand. Curates were appointed to assist in the duties of the Parish Priest and the parish itself was divided into more manageable portions. Saint Patrick’s Parish, West Bundaberg came into being in 1946 while Saint Mary’s, South Bundaberg, became another parish in 1952.


St Mary’s School students perform for St Patrick’s Day around 1964

With this expansion, Masses were also said in the outlying reaches of Burnett Heads, Bargara, Elliott Heads, and Pine Creek. Many different bodies have been active within the Bundaberg boundaries. The Hibernians (H.A.C.B.S.) were one of the earliest.


The Saint Vincent de Paul Society was established in the 1930s and is still active in today’s society. Within the parishes various sodalities, such as the Holy Name Society and the Children of Mary were features of Catholic life. Catholic Action Groups (such as The National Catholic Rural Movement) were characteristic of parish life in the 1940s and 1950s. All served the needs of the community in their time.


Sister of Mercy in the early 1960s

While the church initially established educational facilities, the needs of the sick and aging were also addressed. The Mater hospital commenced it’s compassionate work in 1946 under the care of the Sisters of Mercy. Kepnock Grove Aged Care Facility was also established in the early 1990s.


Holy Rosary during renovations in 1989

In the early years of the twenty-first century, the Catholic community is again adjusting to change. The number of priests ministering to the needs of the parishioners has diminished to the same number it was in Father Rossilini’s day.


Parishioners carry the World Youth Day Cross in 2007

However, lay people have committed their time and talents to assist the Parish Priest. This support is given in such forms as Education and Formation Teams, Mass Ministry Teams, Prayer Groups, and Ecumenical Groups.


Bishop Brian Heenan launches the Catholic Parish of Bundaberg website the same day the Parishes are united

Today, the story has turned full circle. The three parishes have been united to form The Catholic parish of Bundaberg. It was proclaimed by Bishop Heenan, Bishop of Rockhampton on the 15th June, 2007.