In the early days of the Colony of Western Australia, the Catholic Church grew through the enterprise and adventure of the bold. The Parish in Northam was part of the “Newcastle” Parish covering Toodyay-Northam-York.
It was not until May 1889 when the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Apparition founded an establishment in Northam to cater for the education of the children and adults, the Parish actually established separately. The Sisters chosen for the foundation in Northam were, Sr Columbia Jordan, in charge who came from Malta, and two companions, Sr Gertrude Campbell and Sr Joseph Collins, with two young laywomen Miss Smith and Miss Moran. The first residence was a shop front opposite the current Convent- administration building in Wellington Street. The church was used as classrooms. An initial class of 9 students enrolled opened the school. By 1904 the enrolment had grown to 124.
Fr Walsh was recorded as the P.P. of Northam, Fr Hallinan at Toodyay and Fr Lynch at York, at that time. With Northam gathering importance as a railway centre post 1892, the town population increased and the sisters opened a second school in West Northam in 1904 responding to a growing demand. Fr Walsh the Inspector of Schools examined the Catholic school in 1904. The event is mentioned in “The Record” of 23rd March 1904. Plans to build a Boarding school to cater for children from surrounding rural towns were shelved in 1931, on advice from Archbishop Clune, due to the depression.
In 1948 the Sisters welcomed the Marist Brothers to Northam for schooling of boys from Year 4 to Year 10. By 1967 the conditions at St Anthony’s West Northam School, made it difficult to maintain and thus it was closed at the end of the year. This contributed to crowding at the St Joseph’s Primary school in Wellington Street. The Parents & Friends Association was founded in May of 1968 to assist the sisters with various activities.
In 1969 Co-education came to Catholic Schools in Northam with the amalgamation of both campuses and creating a School Board. At the time Northam hosted 5 Religious Sisters and 3 Brothers, the remaining staff being Laity. The Brothers departed in 1982. In 1979 the Parish celebrated the centenary of the first church opened in Northam. The Sisters celebrated the centenary of the Order in Northam at a civic function on Saturday, 7th May 1989, followed by a Parish celebration in the Town Hall. Sadly only 13 years elapsed from that event to the Sisters departing Northam. Their objectives were altered: no longer teaching children, they were involved in apostolates; pastoral work, with Sister Jacqueline Jones also a practicing Psychologist. Archbishop Hickey presided at the Mass to farewell Sisters Anne Marie Hughes, Amelia Whitely and Jacqueline Jones on May 1, 2002, an inspirational, sad but happy conclusion.
The current Church was built in stages, the original building erected in 1902 by J Millington, an Anglican. He has descendants who are Catholic. The new Parish Hall was built in consequence of Catenian action, members attending a Parish Community meeting to determine the use of the land for non-church purposes, moved a motion the land be retained for Parish and community purposes. Patrick Kirby a Catenian also seconded the motion and was elected to Chair a committee to consider the issue. Sadly Patrick Barry Kirby died twelve months after that date, but in his will bequeathed $200,000 as a deposit for the new Hall. Thus the Hall bears the name Kirby Parish Hall. Renovations and expanding the Presbytery commenced in 2008 through to 2011, with the work being undertaken by (qualified) volunteer labour. A loan from the Archdiocese to support the alterations, has been re paid. (2016