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We welcome you to visit our beautiful seaside church. You can learn all about our history by reading along with the information provided on this page. If you do not wish to use your device, you can find a printed brochure in the Church or Parish Office.


When opened in 1915, the new Sacred Heart Church was a stunning addition to the Catholic Church’s buildings in Adelaide. Perhaps it outshone even the Cathedral! Original sketches included a tower, but this was never built.

The land was purchased in 1912, putting the parish £500 in debt. The church was begun in 1914 and completed in 1915. Woods, Bagot is now a global firm of architects, and at the time of building the firm was known as Woods, Bagot and Jory. Their design of the Sacred Heart Church was one of the last works of the firm’s founder, as Edward Woods died in 1916. The Builder was Mr C Warland, and the total cost was £5,500. The parish priest was Fr (later Monsignor) James Hanrahan.

The church was formally opened on Sunday 25th July 1915 by Archbishop Robert Spence OP, with the celebration of High Mass. In the afternoon the Stations of the Cross were canonically installed. Then in the evening Vespers and Benediction completed the day. All were attended by large congregations.


The walls of the church are built of Tapleys Hill bluestone, and fine cement rendering surrounds the doorways and window frames. The yellow/brown and black colours of the Tapleys Hill bluestone are naturally coated with iron oxides giving the stone its character and hue. Oxen would have brought the blocks on drays from the quarry near Brighton in a partly hewn state. The blocks were then cut into the fine building blocks which we see today.

At the front of the church is the foundation stone. This was laid on 1st November 1914, just eight months before the official opening on Sunday 25th July 1915. There is a rose window at the eastern end (on Military Road) and the triple framed art window on the western end.

In old pictures of the church, a picket fence is evident: a charming feature removed many years ago for greater access. There were eight vents on each side of the main roof, but when the roof was replaced in February 2009, these vents were covered over. At the same time the church exterior was painted to match the new adjacent community and office building. Solar panels were added in 2013.

Of necessity, a stone building of the age of Sacred Heart Church has required timely renovation and repair. At his death on 31st January 1965, the first parish priest, Fr Hanrahan, left his estate to the parish, which funded a renovation of the church. Other renovations have followed. Located on the sandhills close to the sea, the church is under constant pressure from the elements. In 2021, repair and repointing of the stonework (especially at the western end of the church) is being accomplished.


When opened, the interior of the church included an altar, apparently of marble, but actually of skilfully painted wood. Stained Oregon planking formed the lofty ceiling, while furniture and joinery were of solid blackwood. The Stations of the Cross had varnished blackwood frames. Later photographs show two large pictures, four statues, and two decorative angels holding lights.

A major renovation of the interior of Sacred Heart Church took place in 2012, with much community consultation and using the expertise of painters who specialise in the restoration of heritage buildings. Everything from the paint colours, the frieze design, and the choice of carpet flowed from these consultations. A generous bequest from parishioner Patrick Critchley enabled this work.

One feature was the renewal of the inscription on the arch above the altar. Unexpectedly, the painters uncovered the original lettering while removing layers of old paint. This allowed a complete restoration of the original gold leaf lettering. Interestingly, the red ‘ox-blood’ outline of the uncovered letters exactly matched the dado which had been painted.

The arched leadlight windows, located at the western end of the church, were extensively renovated and lead replaced early in this century. The impact of the weather means that further renovation is necessary.

In order to bring the building programme to completion, and within budget, some concessions had to be made. The leadlight windows appear to be stainless glass, but are actually painted. Other savings were made by using wood for the altar, painted to look like marble. The organ has a set of organ pipes, but these are decorative additions to what is only a reed organ. You can still see the organ and pipes in the organ loft. Not far away is an old music cupboard.

The iron work of the spiral staircase and supporting pillars below the loft are the work of A.C. Harley & Co of the “Sun” foundry in Hindley Street, Adelaide. Look for their foundry mark on the base of the pillars.

The Crucifix which hangs above the sanctuary was originally located at the east end of the church, and was donated in memory of George Quinn, from the parish, a Great War soldier who fell in France aged 18. His was only the second burial in the newly opened British Military Cemetery at Contay in Picardy, France.

The two doors on either side of the sanctuary indicate the original floor level and provide access to the two sacristies. The northern double arch (since walled in and the door added) originally had a communion rail between the pillars. This was a chapel for the Dominican nuns to attend Mass in private. The adjacent sacrarium remains, for the disposal of blessed liquids.

The two side entrances are adjacent to the confessional and the original baptismal alcove. Above the internal doors are four indented rendered frames: these formerly contained pictures. The series of pictures comprising the Stations of the Cross which can now be seen have replaced the earlier series with their ornated frames.

The wooden statue of the Sacred Heart in the western entrance to the church was donated in memory of Monsignor Brendan Bowler, parish priest from 1971 to 1998.


The Semaphore Parish is renowned for the record of having only five parish priests in its first 100 years. Fr James Hanrahan was installed in 1907 aged 30 and remained in residence for 58 years until his death in 1965.

Before the completion of Sacred Heart Church in 1915, this faith community, distinguished by its maritime roots, had worshipped together for seven years in a long wooden church-school building, which served on Sundays as a church and weekdays as classrooms.

To enable the purchase of land and the building of the church, Fr Hanrahan led parishioners in fundraising fairs and bazaars. One fundraiser in 1912 came close to disaster when, after all the effort put in by the nuns and parish women, many children were poisoned by tainted ice cream: fortunately, there were no fatalities.


We sincerely hope that you enjoyed your visit to our beautiful seaside church.

The information set out above was largely compiled from a brochure prepared for the centenary in 2015, and from the valuable book by local author Heather Hartshorne Faith of Our Fathers in Semaphore, Seaview Press 2007. This book is now out of print, but is available at the City of Port Adelaide Enfield public libraries.

If you or your family have additional information about Sacred Heart Church and its features, or you can correct some of this information, kindly contact our parish office, or email us at

A printed brochure of this Self-Guided Tour is available in the Church and the Parish Office.

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