St Patrick’s Fremantle was established around 1850, as the third Catholic community in Western Australia after St Mary’s Parish in Perth, and the Benedictine community in New Norcia. Until 1894, the Parish was mainly served by Diocesan Priests, with the exception of the 1850s, when it was served by a number of Benedictines for a short time. Since 1894, the Parish has been entrusted to the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate as their first foundation in Australia.
As Fremantle has grown from a fledging penal colony to a thriving and vibrant cultural hub, St Patrick’s Parish has played an essential role in the growth and pastoral care of the community, particularly because of its proximity to the town’s port. While many of St Patrick’s first parishioners were Irish, World War II drove a new wave of European migrants, including from Italy, Portugal and Croatia, who brought new multiculturalism to the community with their religious festivals, which have become an integral part of the life of the City of Fremantle.
Bringing the Gospel to the poor
Oblate Priests and Brothers give their lives to God by giving lifelong service to the human family. To become servants of the poor is to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, and to build up His Kingdom.
In 1789, the Church in France suffered greatly as a consequence of the Revolution. Over 34,000 priests were either exiled or executed, and a majority of parishes were left without priests to say Mass or administer the sacraments.
It was in response to these conditions that Eugene de Mazenod was called by Jesus to preach the Gospel. He became a Priest in 1811 and began working among the poorest villages in the south of France, were some other zealous priests joined in his work. In 1816 he established the group as a small religious community, and only a decade later they were approved by the Pope and given the title Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
The pressing need for Priests around the world meant the community grew quickly, now with more than 5,500 Priests and Brothers around the world, serving those on the margins in 60 countries.
The Oblates first ventured to Australia in 1894, arriving from Ireland to establish their first community here in Fremantle. Now, 125 years later, the Australian Province of the Oblates now covers all of mainland Australia, as well as a Mission to China based in Hong Kong, with members also working in the Missions of Kenya and Zimbabwe.
In 1971, the Australian Province founded an overseas Mission in Java, which in May 1993 became the independent Oblate Province of Indonesia.
In 1990, the Province took over responsibility for the China Mission, based in Hong Kong.
In 1994, the Oblates celebrated a century of ministry to the Church in Australia, which included the commissioning of the Icon in the Basilica of St Patrick.
Oblate missionaries work in eleven parishes across every Australian state, are teaching in three boys’ colleges and exercise a special ministry of outreach to youth in Victoria and Queensland. As well as organising direct welfare assistance for the poor, they also provide university, hospital and prison chaplains to help those who are faced with special difficulties.
From humble beginnings, the face of the Oblate Province has changed dramatically, both in the diversity of its works and its personnel. Originally staffed primarily by Irish and English Oblates, today they work proudly alongside Italian, French, Indonesian, Chinese, Polish and Indian Priests and Brothers.