The Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, Stirling East

Text & Images: Elisabeth Anderson

The Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, at 135 Old Mount Barker Road in Stirling East, was built in 1881-1882, one of several places of worship established by the Catholic Parish of Mount Barker in the 19th Century. It has Local Heritage status.

The architect was Michael McMullen, an Irishman from Cork who had been practising his profession in South Australia for at least two decades, and the name of the builder was Maloney.

“The Adelaide Observer” reported that when Bishop Christopher Reynolds had travelled to the Hills from Adelaide to bless and lay the foundation stone on 23rd October 1881 he was met and welcomed in Crafers by a number of horsemen and people in traps, who accompanied him to Stirling East. Seven months later the church was ready for use. It was officially opened on 21st May 1882, with two celebrants from Mt Barker presiding and splendid music from the Choir of St Patrick’s Chapel in Adelaide. The press of the time described the church upon its completion as one of the handsomest in South Australia.

It now made regular Sunday worship accessible for local Catholics. Some families walked considerable distances to attend whilst a reminder that horses were the alternative mode of transport is a mounting stone which still sits by the entrance gate today.

Thirteen stained glass windows with pointed arches were the work of Adelaide glazier William Brooks, son of the owner of the first regular studio of coloured glass windows in the colony of South Australia, Edward Brooks. Motifs and symbols in their design represent a richness of Catholic devotion, history and tradition and the inscriptions echo the time when Stirling East belonged to an expansive parish area, with the people of Mt Barker, Macclesfield and Blumberg (now known as Birdwood) named among the donors.

One window in colours of royal blue, amber and red was a gift from farmer and gardener John O’Reilly, an early Irish settler who lived next door and had provided the land on which the church was built. South Australia’s early clergy  commemorated in the windows includes the highly regarded first Bishop of Adelaide Francis Murphy (1844 to 1856), whose resting place is St Francis Xavier Cathedral in Wakefield Street, and the Rev John Smyth D.D. (Doctorate in Divinity) V.G. (Vicar General), who is commemorated in the historic Smyth Chapel at the West Terrace Cemetery.

Names of local families are also recorded on some windows and on plaques suspended from Stations of the Cross on the church’s interior walls.

Bishop Reynolds returned one year and eight months after the opening to preside over a solemn dedication of the church on 20th January 1884. By this time a railway service had been operating from Adelaide to Aldgate for about nine months and in an advance notice of the ceremony the January issue of the “Catholic Monthly” listed train times for those wishing to travel up for the occasion.

Pastoral arrangements have changed over time and earthquake damage also forced the closure of the church for some years in the 1950s but the chapel-like building remains in use today, with periodic restoration work always in keeping with its original character.   The church came under the administration of the Stirling Catholic Parish in 1957 and became part of a new and larger Adelaide Hills Parish in November 1996.

References: Sourced mainly from the book “On Fertile Soil, 1987” and with special mention of the late Barbara Hanafin of the MLDHS who put a great deal of effort into her research about this church at the time.

Do you have memories of this church and the community it served? Contact us at or drop into the History Centre at the Coventry Library, 63 Mount Barker Road, Stirling.