John Cyril Hawes was born September 7th, 1876 in Richmond, England.


In his early life and schooling at King’s School in Canterby John Hawes is described as a quiet but effective student.[1] It was evident he had a flair for visual art and in 1893 upon completing his schooling Hawes commenced an architectural ‘apprenticeship’ in a London commercial architect firm. During this time he also learned several other art forms including sculpture and stained glasswork.   


John Hawes life and work as an architect and within the Christian faiths were always entwined. One of his first commissions was an Anglican Church in Northumberland. It was through this project that Hawes came to study for the priesthood and in 1903 he was ordained as an Anglican Deacon in St Paul’s Cathedral, London.


At the age of thirty two Hawes commenced a short period of missionary work in the Bahamas where, in addition to acting as a minister, he was charged with the task of repairing several hurricane damaged churches.


Struggling with personal conflict over his religious direction, Hawes left the Bahamas after just one year and began his journey with Catholicism. Hawes converted to Catholicism in New York in 1911. Just four years later he was ordained a Catholic Priest in Rome.


The most productive architectural period of his life was spent in the Mid West of Western Australia in the first half of the 20th century. Hawes arrived in Western Australia at the beginning of November 1915. He spent his first summer in the Murchison travelling first to cue in the very hottest part of the year. In a letter home to England he described the climate as far too hot to do anything except “flop around struggling to exist”.   


The following year he was recalled to Geraldton to begin work on St Francis Xavier Cathedral. The first stage of the cathedral was completed in 1918 but following the death of Bishop Kelly work was halted. Work did not recommence until 1926 and it was another twelve years before the magnificent cathedral was completed an officially opened.


During his time in the Mid West, Hawes was responsible for an astounding body of work throughout the region. His creations ranged from basic corrugated iron structures like St Patrick’s church in Wonthella Geraldton, to the unique design of Our Lady of Mt Carmel in Mullewa or the grand structure of Nazareth House Convent perched on the edge of Champion Bay in Geraldton. There is little doubt that Hawes’ work in the region has contributed, and will continue to contribute to the vibrancy of the local build landscape.


He designed a small cottage, the hermitage, adjacent to the new St John of God Hospital in Geraldton. Hawes declared the building, completed in 1936, was to be his retirement home. However, in 1939 Monsignor Hawes left for Cat Island in the Bahamas, never to return. He lived out his life as a hermit, and died on June 26th, 1956 in Miami, Florida aged 79.


About the man:

[1] John J Taylor, Between Devotion and Design, University of Western Australia Press, 2000


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