OUR LADY OF FATIMA CHURCH/SCHOOL AND CONVENT
Due to the significant number of school aged children in the Chapman Valley area in the 1930’s, architect and catholic priest, J C Hawes was asked to draw up plans for a Convent and Church/School to be built in Nanson and operated by the Presentation Sisters . It was officially opened and blessed by Bishop O’Collins in 1939. This was intended to ease the burden on families having to send their children to either Northampton or Geraldton as boarders and to give the local Catholic children a religious as well as a secular education.
Two Presentation Sisters from Northampton established the new foundation in Nanson in 1939.
Monsignor James Irwin travelled from Northampton fortnightly to celebrate Mass in the school building. Approximately 30-40 children attended classes in the Church/School.
The people of the area were mainly farmers or railway personnel and were very generous to the Sisters, supplying them with milk, eggs, meat and vegetables. During the war there were also army personnel stationed nearby and they assisted the Sisters by chopping wood and mowing the lawns.
In the late 1950’s, due to several factors including the closure of the Wokarina Junction to Yuna Railway Line, the decline of the mining industry and the introduction of wheat quotas, the population in the area declined. In 1966 the Presentation Sisters were forced to close the Convent and the School. The Convent is now rented as a private residence and the Church continues to be used for religious services.
John Hawes (1876-1956) was – an Englishman and studied architecture in London. He was ordained to the Anglican priesthood in 1903 and went to work in the Bahamas.
Whilst there he converted to Catholicism and in 1912 travelled to Rome to study for the Catholic Priesthood. During his time in Rome he met the Bishop of Geraldton, Bishop Kelly, who invited him to come to Western Australia after his ordination. He arrived in 1915 and soon after arrival was asked to serve in several outback parishes. During his relatively short time in the Geraldton Diocese (1915-1939), as well as working as a priest, he designed 24 buildings, 16 of which were built. In many cases he was not only the architect but also the builder and craftsman for the buildings. In 1937 he was given the title of Monsignor.
In 1939 he returned to the Bahamas where he lived out his final years as a hermit on Cat Island. Hawes is remembered not only an architect and priest. He was also a talented artist, craftsman, horseman, wood turner, cabinet maker and builder and as well as leaving his mark on the Midwest and Gascoyne regions of Western Australia, he was also responsible for the design and construction of buildings in England and the Bahamas.
THE CONVENT was designed on the Australian homestead with design central passage, parlour, chapel, refectory, kitchen, 3 bedrooms and with a verandah all round.
THE SCHOOL/CHURCH BULDING designed was originally with 2 classrooms. The original design did not include the Sacristy and Sanctuary. These were added in the 1950's Both buildings were constructed using locally stone, quarried brick and galvanized roofing. The total cost of both buildings was £1,350.
The buildings were constructed by a Geraldton builder and monumental mason Enrico (Henry) Boschetti. He had migrated to Australia from Italy as a young man in the early 1930’s and had worked on several of John Hawes projects including St Francis Xavier Cathedral in Geraldton
Bishop James O’Collins was a Victorian who was appointed Bishop of Geraldton in 1930. He was very supportive of Hawes’ work and appointed him Diocesan Architect in 1932. During his time as Bishop, 10 new churches were built.
Monsignor James Irwin was an Irishman who arrived in Western Australia in 1907. He was appointed to the parish of Northampton in 1926 and from there was responsible for the Chapman Valley District. It was at his suggestion that Bishop O' Collins commissioned John Hawes to design Our Lady of Fatima Convent and Church/School.
The Presentation Sisters were founded in Ireland in 1775 and came to Geraldton in 1891. They also set up a House at Northampton and it was from this congregation that Sisters Marie-Therese Murphy and Dominic Lombard came to Nanson.
Our Lady of Fatima Church - Nanson