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Restoration of iconic church nearing completion


Restoration work on one of Perth’s most iconic churches, St Columba’s in South Perth, is nearing completion as work on the roof and tower is set to bring back the church to its original beauty. Photo: Supplied

By Marco Ceccarelli

Restoration work on one of Perth’s most iconic churches, St Columba’s in South Perth, is nearing completion as work on the roof and tower is set to bring back the Church to its original beauty.

The Spanish mission-style church, a rare and unique example of its kind in Australia, has suffered damage to its roof tiles and has needed work on the lightning conductor and leadlight windows of its tower.

Parish Priest of St Columba, Monsignor Brian O’Loughlin, is delighted to see the works progressing and is looking forward to seeing restorations completed before the students of St Columba’s Primary return to school.

“The work has moved ahead well on the church, and the workers have been very respectful because the church has been open for visits and for Masses. They even built a protective covering for the statue of St Bernadette in the Lourdes grotto to ensure that it wouldn’t be damaged,” Mgr O’Loughlin said.

“Seventy-nine years of exposure to the elements has caused the tiles on the roof of the church to show wear and tear since the nails rusted and caused tiles to shift. When engineers examined the roof, they decided work also needed to be done on the tower, particularly its leadlight windows and the lighting conductor which was damaged in the 1960s.

“New stainless steel frames are being made for the windows and will be installed once the tiling has been completed,” he added.

As well as fulfilling his role as parish priest of St Columba’s since 2011, Mgr O’Loughlin is Chairman of the Archdiocesan Historical Commission and well versed in the rich history of St Columba’s.

Speaking about the church’s past, he laid emphasis on its “iconic” status, drawing attention to its very particular Spanish mission-style architecture – an exceptional and stand-out feature which can be attributed to the determination of the third parish priest of St Columba’s, Mgr John McMahon (1932-1979).

“While on a study trip to Washington, Mgr McMahon met a fellow priest who had built a Spanish mission-style church in Hollywood, California. He obtained the plans of the church and returned to WA to set up his Spanish mission-style church. St Columba’s was blessed and opened in April 1937 by Archbishop Prendiville.,” Mgr O’Loughlin said.


The rose window of the church is also a remarkable feature to which Mgr O’Loughlin drew attention. Designed and executed by renowned Irish stained glass artist Harry Clarke, the window features three icons depicting Sts Patrick, Columba and Brigid.

“I believe this to be the most outstanding rose window in Western Australia,” Mgr O’Loughlin said.

“It encapsulates the artistic glory of the church with its rich and vibrant colours and unique figures.”

The costs for the replacement of the roof tiles and work on the tower have amounted to $500,000.

The funds have been sourced, firstly, through what Mgr O’Loughlin has labelled the “overwhelming generosity of the parishioners” who contributed to the “donate a tile” appeal of $10 per tile, which he launched in 2011 and which has raised $40,000.

Former parish priest (1979-2011) Fr Michael Casey’s ability to accumulate $125,000 of funds in his time, together with donations from wedding celebrations at St Columba’s and a recently established tax-deductible appeal, have seen the parish community gradually alleviate these costs.

St Columba’s position on the peak of a hill in South Perth overlooking the Swan River and the city skyline makes it a recognisable landmark of Perth.

Mgr O’Loughlin’s floodlit illumination of the church at night adds an element of character to the building and is, in his own words, “an evangelization statement that the Church is here in all its beauty”.