About St Patrick's

St Patrick's is a vibrant, diverse and cosmopolitan community dedicated to living the fullness of the Catholic Faith here in the university town of Grahamstown.

Established in the mid-1830's, and still showing no signs of ever letting up, the community of Grahamstown welcomes all and sundry who find themselves in this lovely town, whether as permanent or temporary residents or else as students and scholars at the university or one of the many excellent schools.

The parish is very generously served by a wonderful group of Franciscan Friars, who have established on the Church grounds a House of Studies where young postulants can study during their time of discernment.
View of St Patrick's from the south.
View from the south.

Interior of St Patrcik's
Interior of St Patrick's
  A Brief History 

The Catholic Church was established in the Eastern Cape in July 1838 when Bishop Griffiths, first Vicar Apostolic (bishop) of the Cape of Good Hope, made Grahamstown the seat of the Catholic Mission. There was no pastor for the Catholics scattered in the area, in particular, the 27th Regiment (the Inniskillings) - 75% of whom were Catholic - who were doing duty on the frontier.

Fr. Burke, a Franciscan, was left to get on with the job but died in his sleep within a year. Fortunately, a day or two before his death, Fr. Thomas Murphy, a recently ordained priest from St. Peter's College. Wexford, had come to assist him. Fr. Murphy assumed the duties and soon proved an exemplary priest. Astride his black horse he visited the Irish emigrants in their humble cottages, the hospital, and the rugged Irish soldiers at their frontier posts - especially in the wars of I846 and 1851. Fr. Murphy formed a strong bond with the Inniskillings and he capitalised on this relationship to help him build the mother church of the Eastern Cape.

A grant of land was secured and Bp. Griffiths returned to lay the foundation stone on the 30th July, 1839. Plans for the new church were drawn in the office of the Royal Engineers, and it is thought probable that Major Selwyn, their Officer Commanding, was consulted, The building has a distinctly military character and resembles Battle Abbey, Hastings. With its curious crenellations it has an affinity with the gothic "castle" Selwyn built for himself in Grahamstown. The actual construction of the building was undertaken by Fr. Murphy and the officers and men of the Inniskillings. These men laboured and contributed funds to build a sanctuary to God and honour St. Patrick in what had recently been a pagan land.

With obvious pride they witnessed the dedication of the church by Bp. Griffiths on 2Ist July I844. Soon St. Patrick's was raised in status: it became a pro-Cathedral and the seat of the Vicar Apostolic of the Eastern Cape. Bishops Devereux. Moran and Ricards who followed each . . . (oops) ... College, Wexford. Ricards especially has an important place in South African history because it was he, with his friend Dr. Atherstone, who positively identified the first diamond found at the Cape - the Eureka diamond now kept in the Houses of Parliament in Cape Town. The subsequent development of the diamond fields changed the economic structure of southern Africa: Grahamstown declined in importance and the seat of the bishop was transferred to Port Elizabeth. St. Patrick's Church, which gave sanctuary to those who sought shelter within its walls during the wars of 1846 and 1851, nevertheless continued through I70 years to meet the requirements of the Catholic community of Grahamstown. Bp. Moran recognized an event of special significance on 14th February 1857 when he received into the church and baptized an African - a first for him. The congregation of St. Patrick's was never exclusive and has always been open to all Catholics, whatever their race, even in the difficult years of the apartheid era.