01-01-1867: The Infant Jesus Catholic Church, Koroit, Victoria.

The township of Koroit lies 275 kilometres west of Melbourne and is located on the northern slopes of the dormant Tower Hill Volcano.

The Catholic Church of the Infant Jesus was built in two stages; the first stage was erected in the Gothic style by architect William Wardell, between 1867-70. In 1914 the second stage began and the architect Augustus Andrew Fritsch (1864-1933) advertised for tenders for the extensions and the erection of a tower[1].

The church contains many stained glass windows by the North Melbourne firm Ferguson & Urie. The triple light chancel window is the largest window in the church. It is at the east end behind the altar and the designs for the figurative emblems in each compartment were from the ideas of the Rev James Parle, who instigated the erection of the church in 1867:

“…the subject for each compartment for the glass-stainers was the conception of his fertile brain…”[2]

Photos taken 7th January 2011.

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The Rev James Parle (1811-1870) arrived in Victoria aboard the “Avalanche”[3] from Liverpool on the 13th June 1862[4], under recommendation from the Rev Thomas Furlong, Bishop of Fern, County Wexford, Ireland[5].

Empire Sydney, NSW, Saturday 9th July 1864, page 2.

To all whom it may concern, we testify and declare that JAMES PARLE, a secular priest of this diocese, who is about to proceed to foreign countries, for religious and laudable purpose, approved of by us, is in the highest sense to be commended for his zeal and piety and unwearied labour in the Church of God. Hence, we recommend him with all our soul, in God to all ecclesiastical superiors, earnestly requesting that they receive him kindly and hospitably, and that they permit him to celebrate the Divine Sacrifice of the Mass. Given at Wexford, Ireland, on the second of February, 1862. ┼ THOMAS FURLONG”.

The Rev Parle immediately began his campaign of collecting funds for his home diocese of Ferns in Ireland, much to the annoyance of the Bishop Goold of Victoria. In 1863 in the face of increasing criticism Parle decided to try his efforts in New Zealand but within six months he had returned to Australia and went to New South Wales where he clashed with Archbishop Polding and the church authorities. On his return to Victoria he again clashed with Bishop Goold for the same reasons. The Sydney ‘Empire’ tabloid wrote:

“The Rev. James Parle, a Catholic priest, who has come to Australia to raise funds for industrial schools in the diocese of Ferns, Ireland, and is aserecied [?] by the Right Reverend Dr. Furlong Bishop of Ferns, is now at Goulburn. The ecclesiastical authorities of Victoria and New South Wales have opposed his mission.” [6]

As tensions cooled in the following years, Bishop Goold appointed the Rev Parle to the parish of Richmond in Melbourne and shortly after in 1866, to Port Fairy (then known as Belfast). It’s here that Parle began to exert his efforts for the completion of St Patricks Church in Port Fairy. Another church was also needed at nearby Koroit and with the approval of the church authorities he put his collecting skills to work by establishing fund raising committees for the construction of the Koroit Catholic Church which was estimated to cost £12,000.

The Argus, Melbourne, Vic, Saturday 30th March 1867, page 5.

“According to the local paper, the township of Koroit is making rapid progress, the fertility of the soil having stimulated settlement, and produced general prosperity. Buildings of a substantial character are being erected, and changes in the aspect of the place are continually noticeable. The Roman Catholic Church, of which the foundation-stone was laid on New Year’s Day, will be a large, handsome building, the estimated cost of its completion being £12,000. The town is also beautifully situated and surrounded – the scenery is romantic and picturesque; and with its lake, its botanic gardens, the remarkable old crater of Tower-hill, and the view thence obtained across the bay of Belfast to Moon-light Heads, and even to Cape Otway, when the weather is clear, forms a landscape which, for interest and loveliness, is unsurpassed.”

The foundation stone of the “Infant Jesus” Catholic Church at Koroit was laid on New Years Day 1867[7] by the Bishop of Victoria, the Rev James Alipius Goold, assisted by the Rev’s Hayes, Slattery, and Parle[8].

The Rev Parle was said to have “very high standards” when it came to church building and in the following two and a half years he meticulously oversaw the construction of his Koroit church to ensure that it was to going to be the most admired in the district. In August 1869 Parle became seriously ill and never truly recovered and eight months before his church was to be consecrated he died at the Belfast (Port Fairy) presbytery on the 29th March 1870 aged 58.

The Argus, Melbourne, Vic, Thursday 31st March 1870, page 5.

“BELFAST, Wednesday.
The Rev. Father Parle, who has been long seriously ill, died last night. His remains will be interred on Friday in the Tower-hill cemetery”.

Shortly after his death the ‘Banner of Belfast’ reported:

“…From the greatest architectural outline to the minutest detail everything was conceived and arranged by him; not only the sculpture of the chancel windows but the subject for each compartment for the glass-stainers was the conception of his fertile brain”.[9]

On Sunday the 13th of November 1870 the Koroit Church was officially opened and consecrated by the Vicar-General, James Fitzpatrick (1810-1890), assisted by the Rev George Vincent Barry.

The Argus, Melbourne, Vic, Thursday 17th November 1870, page 1s.

“A fine new Roman Catholic Church at Koroit was opened on Sunday last by Dr. Fitzpatrick, vicar-general, assisted by the Rev. G. V. Barry.”

During the opening and consecration ceremony it was suggested that the remains of Rev Parle should be interred inside the Koroit church. This never occurred and he and his monument remain at the Tower Hill Cemetery, but the church did act upon erecting a befitting memorial to him and commissioned Ferguson & Urie to create a set of three stained glass windows in his memory which were erected in the nave.

On the 15th of November 1870, The Warrnambool Examiner mentioned the chancel window:

“…The large stained glass triple lancet window above its altar, furnished by Fergusson [sic] and Urie of Melbourne, is harmonious in colour…”[10]

Apart from the chancel window, and the memorial windows to Rev Parle, there is another set of Ferguson & Urie windows in the nave as well as a remarkable cycle of twelve pairs of small windows high up in the clerestory. The detail in these windows is difficult to see with the naked eye, but high quality digital images reveal the consistent attention to detail employed by the company which aptly earned them the title of being known as “…famous throughout the colonies for skill and designs in this particular art…”[11]

 The three light chancel window: [View]

The three light chancel window is the centrepiece of the church and is possibly more than twenty feet in height. The left lancet contains images of the Tabernacle, the Crucifixion, and the Pelican feeding its blood to its young. The centre light depicts the Holly Dove, the Magi and the Lamb sleeping upon the Book of the Seven Seals. The right window depicts an angel offering communion, the Ascension of Christ, and the Phoenix in flames.

Reverend James Parle memorial windows: [View]

There are three single light windows together in the nave that were erected in memory of the Reverend James Parle. The windows each depict St. Patrick, St. Mary Magdalene and St. Mary. The memorial text across the foot of the windows reads:


Tabernacle window: [View]

Behind the tabernacle is a two light window with round window above. The round window contains a crimson cross with purple background of oak leaves and is surrounded by a crimson border with eight blue stars. The two windows below depict the Mother and Child and the other is possible St Anthony? (Holding a Lily).

Clerestory windows:

Each window in the clerestory has the names of sixteen saints and Latin terms related to the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

3. “S. PHILLIP” – “S. PETER” [View]
4. “S. JAMES YE GREAT” – “S. JOHN” [View]
5. “S. JUDE” – “St. ANDREW” [View]
6. “St. PATRICK” – “St. BRENDAN” [View]
7. “St. MALACHY” – “St. COLUMBANUS” [View]
8. “St. BARTHOLOMEW” – “St. THOMAS” [View]
9. “St. MATTHEW” – “S. JAMES YE LESS” [View]
10. “S. SIMON” – “S. PAUL” [View]

Some very detailed history of the stained glass at the church was written in 1991 by the Rev. Michael Linehan; “Stories in Glass, The Stained Glass Windows in the Church of the Infant Jesus Koroit, M. J. Linehan, 1991.”

In the Rev Linehan’s accounts of all the historic windows there is some very detailed information about the history of the Ferguson & Urie glass;

“…the Clerestory windows. There are 24 of them, arranged in pairs, 6 pairs in each wall…”
“…In the 1990 storm, 10 of the 12 western clerestory  windows were damaged. One had been damaged before. The only original one is the window which displays the word “Intellectus” (understanding) which is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The central circular panes in all the others were made in Koroit in December 1990 or January-February 1991. They are copies of the panes that were originally placed in the church, except for the window of St Jude which was both designed and manufactured following the storm of November 1990. Some years before that, the original pane had been replaced with a piece of red fibreglass and there is no record of what the original looked like. Of the eastern clerestory windows, the only new one is the one commemorating St Paul. In all the “new” clerestory windows, it is the central circular pane that really is new as well as some 30% to 60% of the other pieces of glass. All the lead which holds the pieces of glass together is also new.”

There is no indication as to who the artisan was who re-fabricated the clerestory pieces!


[1] The Argus, Melbourne, Vic, Wednesday 4th March 1914, page 3.

[3] Index to Unassisted Inward Passenger Lists to Victoria: Parle, Jas Rev, age 50, Jun 1862, “Avalanche”, Fiche 203, page 001.

[8] Warrnambool Examiner, Vic, Tuesday 4th January 1867.

[10] Warrnambool Examiner, Vic, Tuesday 15th November 1870.

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