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St Joseph's Church on St Jude Street,
Willunga was established in 1850.
It was the third Catholic Church
in South Australia and is the oldest
still in continuous use.

The early days of settlement in the Willunga area were difficult for newcomers. The diversity of people was evident in their religious affiliation. In 1844 Anglicans predominated, followed by Roman Catholics and Methodists. However, by 1855 the number of Weslyan Methodists had increased significantly and Catholics were a minority (only 9.6%).

In April 1845 Bishop Murphy celebrated the First Mass in Willunga (probably in a private home) and returned in 1847 to help organise the building of a Church. A collection was taken up which realised £72/10/- and the decision was made to build a church.

Fr Michael O'Brien was appointed, but never resided in the parish. When visiting he stayed with a Mr Martin and Mass was celebrated in the Martin house. An architect, Mr Weir, was engaged and plans were drawn up for the Church.

The total cost of building was estimated at £350 - for a skeleton building only. The proposed dimensions were 48' x 28' x 12'. Preparations began and the foundation stone laid on March 16, 1846. On the same day, foundations were laid for the cottage presbytery.

Further donations were received, but the people were not affluent.The Bishop claimed £50 from the Government towards the Priest's stipend and £150 for the building. He stated that he had already paid £109/11/9 towards the building of the Church and cottage and £19/5/- to Mr Weir the architect. A credit of £100 was held in the bank.

By 1850 the skeleton building was erected and on May 5, 1850 it was consecrated and opened. On 31 May, Bishop Murphy received money for various churches. The Willunga allocation was for only £50 - rather less than the requested sum!

A grant of twenty acres of glebe land was received in October 1850. Glebe land grants were provided by the colonial government for interment of the dead and as a site for a dwelling and garden for ministers of religion. Provision of glebe land grants for the various denominations was seen as a way of creating cohesive communities and orderly townships.

State Aid for Religion ceased in South Australian about 1851, after elections for Legislative Council were fought on this issue. Luckily Fr Caldwell (the first resident priest) and a parishioner (Mr Logan) had chosen a further piece of suitable land just prior to Government legislation allowing no more glebe land.