The Parish of Mount Barker was established in 1848 with the appointment of
Fr. James Watkins as the Parish Priest. It was a vast area that he was asked to care for, from Victor Harbor and Meningie in the south, to Pinnaroo in the east, to Mount Pleasant in the north and Glen Osmond in the west.
Churches were gradually built; Mount Barker in 1851, Macclesfield in 1857, Kanmantoo in 1860 and in Blumberg (now Birdwood) in 1861. Mount Barker’s first church was built near the present Catholic Cemetery and named after St. Francis de Sales. Catholic Schools were opened by the Sisters of St. Joseph in Macclesfield in 1868 and in Mount Barker in 1869.
In 1881 an Anglican School in Strathalbyn was bought by the Diocese and reopened as St. Barnabas Catholic Church. The Church of Our Lady of the Rosary was opened in Stirling East in 1882. The Sisters of Mercy came to Mount Barker from Broken Hill in 1902 and in time established St. Scholastica’s College.
A new church was built in Mount Barker closer to the heart of the town in 1912 under the title of Our Lady of Mercy. By this time Strathalbyn had become a parish in its own right and work was soon underway for a new church there under the title of the Good Shepherd. Macclesfield was cared for from Strathalbyn.
In more recent years Strathalbyn and Macclesfield have once again become part of the one parish of Mount Barker/Strathalbyn. The district continues to grow beyond what could have been imagined when the parish was established. St. Francis de Sales College is growing with it and providing a Catholic education for over 1,000 young people who are drawn from an area as large as the area given to Fr. James Watkins to care for in 1848 when the Parish of Mount Barker was established.
(Courtesy of Father Richard Morris October 2013)