Catherine McAuley Centre


Town of Cambridge

Place Number



18 Barrett St Wembley

Location Details

Includes: Benedictine Stables; Olive Trees; Cemetery; Old Chapel; St rochs; Laundry (fmr); St Vincent's Foundling Home (fmr); Kindergarten; Nursery; St Gerard's Hospital.

Other Name(s)

New Subiaco,Benedictine Monstery,St Vincents
Orphanage & Foundling Home,St Joseph's Orph

Local Government




Construction Date

Constructed from 1990 to 1999, Constructed from 1893, Constructed from 1891 to 1913, Constructed from 1910, Constructed from 1914 to 1918, Constructed from 1970 to 1979, Constructed from 1858, Constructed from 1938, Constructed from 1925 to 1928

Demolition Year


Statutory Heritage Listings

Type Status Date Documents
Heritage List Adopted 27 Nov 2018
State Register Registered 03 Aug 2012 HCWebsite.Listing+ListingDocument, HCWebsite.Listing+ListingDocument

Heritage Council Decisions and Deliberations

Type Status Date Documents
(no listings)

Other Heritage Listings and Surveys

Type Status Date Grading/Management
Register of the National Estate Permanent 28 Sep 1982
Classified by the National Trust Classified
Municipal Inventory Adopted 17 Dec 1996
Municipal Inventory Adopted 27 Nov 2018 Category 1

Child Places

  • 23830 St Vincent's Foundlings Home
  • 23680 Benedictine Stables (fmr)
  • 23830 St Vincent's Foundlings Home
  • 23834 Olive Trees, Barrett Street
  • 23834 Olive Trees, Barrett Street

Statement of Significance

Catherine McAuley Centre, comprising Benedictine Stables (fmr) (c.1858, 1890s, 1990s); Olive Trees (c.1858); Cemetery (1891-1913); Old School(1893); St Rochs (c.1900); former Laundry (c.1910); St Vincent’s Foundling Home (fmr) which includes the Foundling Home (1914, 1918, 1950s, 1994), Kindergarten (1925, 1971, 1994) and Nursery (1928, 1970, 1994); and, St Gerard’s Hospital (fmr) (1938), has cultural heritage significance for the following reasons: the Benedictine Stables (fmr) has rarity value as it is one of few agrarian buildings dating from the 1850s still in existence in the metropolitan area and is the only remaining structure from the early Benedictine occupation of the site; the various elements illustrate the evolution of the site from an agrarian beginning, with stables and olive groves, to a facility dealing with the needs of urban family life, and reflect the rapid development and changing social environment of Perth and Western Australia, since the 1850s; the place contributes to the aesthetic qualities of the landscape particularly through the Old School, which has landmark value when approached from the south entrance of the site and provides a focus for the historic group of buildings at the place. St Vincent’s Foundling Home (fmr) contains decorative timber work, terracotta finials and brick work with render banding; the various elements of the place contribute to the community’s sense of place; the Benedictine Stables (fmr) and Olive Trees are evidence of the Catholic Benedictine Order who occupied the site from 1852 to 1864, and also with Bishop Serra, under whose authority the site was developed. The Old School is a reminder of the ongoing religious associations of the site; St Vincent’s Foundling Home (fmr) and Old Chapel are evidence of the work of the Sisters of Mercy, and the services to children in need which they have provided on the site since 1876; the Benedictine Stables (fmr) and Olive Trees are a reminder of the olive oil industry conducted by the Sisters of Mercy, and which helped provide funds for the ongoing operation of the orphanage and foundling home. The olive oil manufactured at St Joseph’s Orphanage won first prize at several Royal Perth shows; the place is illustrative of the institutional approach to the care and training of children which prevailed in the late 19th century and into the first six decades of the 20th century; and, when opened in 1925, the Kindergarten was one of the first to use the Montessori teaching method and aspects of design in Western Australia. The nursery still displays the ventilated and mosquito proofed verandah, which was considered modern at the time of construction.

Physical Description

The Catherine McCauley Centre is an elevated site in Wembley containing aged care facilities, children’s welfare facilities and disability services. The site contains a mix of purpose built accommodation and facilities as well as the historic buildings that formed part of the early occupation of the site. Together with the more contemporary developments on the site, the Catherine McCauley forms a precinct of structures and landscape elements developed by the Sisters of Mercy for religious and social welfare purposes. The main vehicular access to the services part of the site is from Barrett Street with additional access to the residential component from Ruislip Street. The site is a mix of buildings, hard landscaping/parking and soft landscaping with trees, other plantings and lawned areas. The historic elements of the site comprise: • Former Benedictine stables • Olive Trees • Remnants of Cemetery • Old School building • St Roch's • Former Laundry building • St Vincent’s Foundling Home (fmr) • Kindergarten building • Nursery building • St Gerard’s Hospital


The first Spanish Benedictine priests, Joseph Serra and Rosendo Salvado, arrived in Western Australia in 1846, together with 25 missionaries (including six members of the Order of the Sisters of Mercy). Dr Brady, the newly appointed Bishop of Perth, brought the missionaries to Western Australia following a visit to Rome. Serra and Salvado soon established a mission and school for Aboriginal people at New Norcia and in 1848 Serra travelled to Europe, seeking new missionaries to help with the work in Western Australia. He returned with 39 recruits, including 32 Benedictine monks and an Irish Trappist, Dominic Urquhart. Serra was appointed Bishop c.1850 after Dr Brady left Western Australia. On behalf of the Perth Diocese, Serra purchased all the lands owned by Dr Brady, including Locations Ag and Ah, comprising 300 acres, adjoining Herdsmen Lake and Lake Monger. Serra named the area ‘New Subiaco’, after the original St Benedictine’s monastery in Italy. Bishop Serra established the Benedictine monks beside Herdsman Lake at New Subiaco (in what is now Glendalough), where bush pole and timber chapel and monastery buildings were constructed. The cleared land was planted with olives, grape vines and fruit trees. In 1858, following Serra’s visit to Europe (1853-55), construction of a permanent Benedictine Monastery at New Subiaco commenced. The Monastery building was completed on June 1859. There was ‘a luscious vineyard with sixty thousand vines, and an extensive orchard: olives, oranges, lemons, figs, pears, apples and almonds, etc.’ A smaller olive plantation was planned abutting the southern wall of the monastery, with more olive trees in the adjacent garden. On the 1864 map of New Subiaco, shows the former stable and a burial ground was identified although no records have been located of any burials taking place during the Benedictine occupation of the site. In April 1859, the Vatican separated New Norcia and Perth into two administrations, with Bishop Serra in charge of Perth and Salvado in charge at New Norcia. The monks were given a choice as to whether they lived at New Norcia or in Perth. Following Serra’s resignation in 1862, Father Martin Griver was appointed Apostolic Administrator, with Father Matthew Gibney as his Vicar General. Griver and Gibney were responsible for the administration of the Benedictine Monastery at New Subiaco. However, by 1867, all of the monks had transferred to New Norcia and the New Subiaco Monastery was empty. In the early 1870s, when Perth had one orphanage, a government run institution in Goderich Street referred to as The Home, or the Poor House, Father Gibney requested Governor Hampton that the Catholic children in The Home be housed in Catholic institutions. On 2 February 1872, 12 Catholic boys from The Home moved into the empty Benedictine Monastery. Known as St Vincent’s Orphanage for Boys, as the result of work by the St Vincent de Paul Society, the place was the first non-Government orphanage for boys in Western Australia. In 1876, the Sisters of Mercy assumed control of the institution. They replaced the existing staff with three Sisters, two female assistants and a maintenance man. Catherine McAuley (1778-1841) had founded the Order of the Sisters of Mercy in Dublin in 1831, for the relief of the poor, sick, underprivileged and the dying. In February 1877, there were 39 boys at St Vincent’s. Father Gibney’s 1883 report to the Colonial Secretary stated that as well as schooling, the occupations of the boys included printing the Catholic weekly, The Record, carpentry, gardening and olive oil manufacturing. During the period in which the property had been vacant the vines and fruit trees had died, but the olive trees had survived. The boys worked at producing olive oil from the olives they harvested. In the 1890’s, the Sisters of Mercy established a cemetery on, or near, the site of the burial ground set aside by the Benedictine monks. The Cemetery was a rectangular plot, situated to the left (west) of the Barrett Street entrance to the property. The first burial took place on 21 June 1891, and the last on 20 June 1913. Twenty-one Sisters of Mercy, three nuns of other Orders and six priests are still interred in the Cemetery, but a number of others were exhumed and reburied at Karrakatta when that cemetery opened. The graves in the Cemetery were generally marked with cast-iron crosses. Other markers and mementoes were often moved by the girls at the Orphanage, sometimes being found elsewhere and replaced. In the 1950s, it was decided to remove all remaining markers, as the sight of the cemetery frightened some of the young girls. The Orders who had members buried in the Cemetery were notified of the removal and many graves were photographed beforehand. Following removal of the grave markers, the Cemetery ground was grassed and a rose bed planted. A monument listing those still buried there was erected at the southern edge of the cemetery in the 1980s. There is no other indication that the site is a burial ground. A school building was constructed for St Vincent’s Orphanage in 1892. Situated in front of the Monastery, the building commonly called the Old Chapel was opened on 22 January 1893 (now the Martin Kelly Centre). The architect was Signor Stombuco, of Perth, and the builder Mr. David Gray. Andrea Giovanni Stombuco was described as architect, builder, sculptor and monumental mason in Melbourne in 1858. He worked as a building contractor in Victoria and Brisbane between 1858 and 1887, and then operated as Stombuco and Son. His work included the first stage of St Peters and Pauls Old Cathedral in Goulburn, NSW (early 1870s), Main Building of All Hallows School, Brisbane (1881-82), and many residences in Brisbane. In 1893 and 1894, the partnership of Stombuco and Moran is recorded as operating in Perth. Circa 1891, Stombuco moved to Western Australia to escape the depressed conditions in the eastern states and take advantage of the buoyant economic situation in Perth brought about by the gold boom. His wife and son remained in Brisbane. In 1896, A. Stombuco called for tenders for several buildings in Perth, including shops in Murray Street for Joseph Parry and several brick houses for E. J. Moran MLA in Hay Street West. He died in Fremantle in 1907 aged 82. The Old School was probably not intended to serve both as school and chapel when it was constructed, as there is certainly no mention of the latter function in the report of the opening. The chapel situated on the upper floor of the Benedictine Monastery probably continued to be used for some time. A brick and tile cottage, known as St Rochs, was possibly built c.1900. In November 1897, a group of Christian Brothers arrived in Western Australia from Sydney, and took over management of St Vincent’s Orphanage for Boys from the Sisters of Mercy. In September 1901, they moved the boys to new buildings at Clontarf, Waterford. On 21 November 1901, St Joseph’s Orphanage for Girls was moved from Victoria Square to take up residence in the Monastery, under the care of six Sisters. At that time there were about 79 girls at the Orphanage listed as wards of the State and 12 privately funded by family and charitable donations. The number of girls at St Joseph’s increased rapidly and, in 1908, a two-storey brick extension was constructed at the eastern end of the Monastery. The extension comprised reception and dining rooms on the ground floor and dormitories on the first floor. In 1909, there were 148 girls and eight Sisters at the Orphanage. As well as attending school the older girls worked in the Laundry or assisted with the production of olive oil. Girls over fourteen were trained for domestic work. This involved cookery, dressmaking, art, needlework and knitting, caring for poultry, vegetable gardening, soap making, and baking. Some girls, who were considered intellectually capable, undertook secondary study at the Orphanage or at Mercedes College. It is not known when the Old School began to be used for religious services, but it is likely that the building was called in to service as a chapel as the numbers at St Joseph’s grew. The Laundry, a substantial brick and iron building situated at the western end of the administration block, may have been constructed c.1910. The Laundry employed twelve older girls and two Sisters, and the mothers in St Margaret’s Hostel. It met the laundry needs of the Orphanage, the Victoria Square convent and, later, St Anne’s Mercy Hospital, Maylands. The Laundry was extended over the years as its workload grew. The Sisters of Mercy established the St Vincent’s Foundling Home in 1914 to provide accommodation and care for deserted or homeless infants. Archbishop Clune laid the foundation stone for St Vincent’s Foundling Home on 10 September 1914. The architect for the project was George McMullen (c1861-1924), and the builder was Frederick Edward Sedgley (c1877-1958). George McMullen trained as an architect in Victoria and was elected a fellow of the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects in 1890. By 1894, Mullen had moved to Western Australia where the Public Works Department (PWD) employed him as a draftsman. He appears to have been in private practice from about 1902, with several houses in Highgate, Perth and West Perth being attributed to him between 1905 and 1909. In 1910, he was responsible for the additions to the Children’s Hospital and, from 1913, lived at Bagot Road, Subiaco. St Vincent’s Foundling Home was opened on 13 December 1914, by the Governor Sir Harry Barron. The opening ceremony was preceded by a procession involving societies from the various parishes including Children of Mary, Catholic Young Men, St Vincent de Paul Society, Hibernians, Foresters, Sacred Heart Sodalities, Oblate Fathers and Redemptorists. The building was blessed by Archbishop Clune. Photographs published at the time of opening show a substantial building, with the east and west wings forming a ‘U’ shape. The west wing appears to have contained the kitchen, and possibly the dining room, while the east wing contained toilet and bathroom facilities. The Foundling Home catered for both boys and girls from birth to six years. Babies were often left on the verandah of the Home, or under the hedge at the Orphanage. It was soon found that some accommodation for expectant mothers was also needed and another wing was added to the Home. Archbishop Clune opened the additions on 17 February 1918. The total cost of the Foundling Home was built for £12000 with much of the costs borne by donations. In 1918, the Foundling Home was extended and appears to have been the building, seen on various site plans, which ran east to west behind the ‘U’ shaped 1914 structure, effectively creating a courtyard between the original wings at the rear of the Home. This addition provided accommodation for mothers following child birth. This addition was removed during the 1994 renovations. St Rochs was refurbished, with verandahs added to match those of the Foundling Home and possibly a tile roof to replace an original iron roof c.1915. By 1925, there were 110 children at St Vincent’s Foundling Home. Further additions were made to cater for the growing numbers. The additions comprised two separate buildings, situated on the eastern side of the Home. They were the Kindergarten (1925) and the Nursery (1928). Local benefactors, Stuart and Eileen Patterson funded both buildings. Thomas Stuart Patterson and Bridget Eileen Coake were married in Albany on 27 September 1898. Patterson, a Presbyterian, was born in Sydney in 1866, and Bridget was an Irish Catholic migrant. The Patterson's had one daughter who died young, a factor that may have influenced their generosity towards young children in need of care. The building plans for the Kindergarten are signed by G.J. Douglas Sanders, while the building application was submitted to Perth City Council by J.W. Sanders. From 1910 into the 1920s, a James D. Sanders is listed in Wise’s Post Office Directories as a contractor, while a James W. Sanders appears in the listing of architects in 1924. As no tender advertisements were located for the Kindergarten, it possible that J.D. Sanders, the contractor, was also responsible for its construction. The Kindergarten was opened by Archbishop Clune on 3 May 1925. Total cost of building and equipment was £2,160. The Kindergarten was equipped with the ‘apparatus of the Montessori method’. Also opened on 3 May 1925, was St Joseph’s Orphanage Chapel (no longer extant). The growth of the Foundling Home, and increases in the number of girls at the Orphanage, severely taxed the accommodation available for the Sisters as well as the capacity of the existing chapel (Old Chapel). St Joseph’s Orphanage Chapel, was a two-storey building with a community room and eight bedrooms on the upper floor, and the chapel below. St Joseph’s Orphanage Chapel was also designed by G.J. Douglas Sanders. The Nursery, also known as the Stuart Patterson Wing, was designed by Cavanagh & Cavanagh, and built by L. Libovich and S. Barker. The partnership of Cavanagh & Cavanagh consisted of brothers Michael Francis and James Charles, sons of John Cavanagh, a builder and supervisor of public works in South Australia. Michael trained in South Australia and in London (1885-88). By 1891 he was working in private practice in Adelaide. He came to Perth in 1895 to establish a branch office under the management of his younger brother, but remained in Perth himself, becoming an active member of the newly formed WA Institute of Architects. James Cavanagh joined his brother in Perth in 1900. The Nursery, comprising a dormitory, infirmary, and a bathroom, kitchenette and nurse’s room, was designed to accommodate infants less than two years of age. The building was opened on 29 April 1928 by Archbishop Clune and cost between £4,500 and £5,000. It featured ‘ultra-modern’ concepts in ventilation and fly and mosquito proofing. From 1938, St Rochs Cottage was used as the night duty residence for staff at St Gerard’s Hospital. The foundation stone for St Gerard’s Hospital, a single-storey red brick and tile building, situated immediately east of the Nursery and north of St Rochs, was laid on 17 October 1938 by Archbishop Prendiville. World War II intervened in its development, however, and it did not take in patients until 1944. The Lotteries Commission provided funds, and Archbishop Prendiville himself paid for a maternity nurse. It was a natural progression from looking after children of unmarried mothers, to looking after the needs of the mothers themselves. Accommodation after child birth was first provided in the 1918 Foundling Home extension. Later, St Margaret’s Hostel was established on the upper floor of the Orphanage kitchen block to accommodate expecting mothers. St Gerard’s Hospital facilitated the next step, which was to provide the women with full medical facilities during childbirth to avoid their having to attend a public hospital where staff and other patients were not always sympathetic to their situation. St Gerard’s could house sixteen mothers and infants and, during its operating life, delivered 845 babies. St Gerard’s operated until 1972, when it was considered no longer needed because of other facilities in the community. In 1940, St Joseph’s Orphanage and St Vincent’s Foundling Home housed 264 children, and there were 25 Sisters living and working on site. About half the children were supported by charity and whatever parents could afford, while the other half were wards of the State. In the 1950s, another extension was made to the Foundling Home in the form of two-storey addition at the northern end of the ablution block. This addition provided accommodation for mothers and their newborn babies. By the mid 1960s, St Vincent’s Foundling Home was also acting as a day-care centre for young children on the site. One dormitory was closed, with 30 children between three and five still in residence. By the 1970s, social needs and concepts of social welfare were changing. More emphasis was being placed on social welfare for the family unit. The Sisters of Mercy determined to redevelop the Orphanage and Foundling Home institutions and, in late 1971, the centre was renamed Catherine McAuley Centre. In 1989 the site was renamed Catherine McAuley Family Centre. It was planned to keep the environment of the Centre as close as possible to that of a family in a community setting, and to keep the numbers catered for to 100 children from babies to teenagers. Children were to be sent to local schools instead of being educated on site, and natural brothers and sisters were to be kept together. Short-term crisis care and family support services would also be provided. To accommodate the changes, the buildings underwent some alterations. In 1970, the Nursery had an extension added on the west side comprising a dining room, food preparation area and extra bathroom facilities. The original kitchen and nurse’s room were converted into linen and clothes storerooms. The verandahs were closed in with extensive glazing to form play areas, visitors’ waiting room, solarium, and staff room. The work was designed by Oldham, Boas, Ednie-Brown & Partners, and paid for with a $15,000 State grant. In 1971, the Kindergarten verandahs were closed in with asbestos and glass and the toilet facilities on the back verandah were upgraded. The work on the Kindergarten was carried out by builder Norm Power. A family group of twelve children was established in St Margaret’s Hostel, on the upper floor of the Orphanage kitchen block. St Gerard’s Hospital was remodelled for another group, and the Monastery was divided into a number of ‘fairly autonomous’ units. In October 1977, a new complex for ‘out of home care’ for difficult to place children was opened. Each was staffed by ‘cottage parents’. The group houses were spread over the northern section of the property and were accessed off Ruislip Street. Their construction resulted in the removal of most of the remaining olive grove in this area. Development was restricted to the eighteen acres of the site that had been transferred to the ownership of the Sisters of Mercy around 1910, prior to subdivision of the bulk of the Church’s New Subiaco landholding. This meant that some of the existing buildings had to be demolished, including the Presbytery, the Benedictine Monastery, Orphanage Extension, St Joseph’s Orphanage Chapel, timber stables (not the 1858 structure), some of the outbuildings, and part of the Laundry (the westernmost accretions and extension to the north) were demolished. A new administration block was constructed on the site of the Benedictine Monastery in the early 1980s. At the same time, as the family services were being developed, a nursing home and units for the aged were also under construction. Between 1975 and 1988, day care numbers doubled to 104 full-time, 25 part-time, 40 after-school care, 50 vacation care and 16 nursery places. In 1989, some restoration work was carried out to the Old School including fitting clear acrylic panels over the damaged windows to provide some protection and weatherproofing while allowing light into the building. The original iron roof was replaced with steel decking which resulted in the removal of the dormer ventilators, and some of the timber floors were replaced with concrete. The Old School was renamed the Martin Kelly Centre on 11 July 1989, in recognition of Sister Martin Kelly whose contribution to childcare in Western Australia was significant. Photographs of the former Benedictine Stables taken in the 1970s and 1980s, show a deteriorating building with a rusting iron roof which, when removed, uncovered the original timber shingles, also in a state of deterioration. In 1991, a conservation report was prepared and the work that resulted halted deterioration of the building, while a later conservation report of 1996 continued the restoration work. In 1994, St Vincent’s Foundling Home buildings were upgraded by Santelli Holbrook Architects. The work on the Foundling Home involved general upgrading of facilities, and the removal of the 1918 addition. The original 1914 building, and the two-storey 1950s addition remained. During development of the Catherine McAuley Centre site in the 1970s and 1980s, the olive grove on the south side of the Monastery was reduced to the remaining two dozen or so trees. The larger olive groves that existed to the north gradually succumbed to residential subdivision after 1910, but their existence is noted in the name of one street, The Grove, which angles between Ruislip Street and Lake Monger Drive and which may, together with neighbouring St Columbas Street, indicate the orientation of the rows of the original olive plantation. The centre is constantly being upgraded to provide for the community and in 2003/4 1154 units and a community centre were built on the site. Whilst new works have been implemented conservation works are continued, the most recent in 2016/17. Currently [2018] St Vincent’s Foundling Home is still utilised for Child Day Care, but some of the external playground areas have been changed or been improved as a result of the Retirement Village works completed in the mid 2000s. Child day care programmes have been expanded over the decade and some refurbishments were undertaken to allow this to occur.


Integrity: Moderate Authenticity: Moderate




Name Type Year From Year To
Andrea Stombuco Architect 1893 -


Ref ID No Ref Name Ref Source Ref Date
Wise's Post Office Directories Online Document 1894-1949
A McLay;"Women Out of their Sphere: A History of the Sisters of Mercy in Western Australia". Vanguard Press 1992
Aerial photographs, Landgate. Online Reference 1953-2016
Heritage Trail: A journey through the history of Mercy Care Brochure 2007

State Heritage Office library entries

Library Id Title Medium Year Of Publication
9579 Catherine McAuley Centre, Wembley: conservation plan. Heritage Study {Cons'n Plan} 2009
3817 The Benedictine building Catherine McAuley Centre : conservation report. Heritage Study {Other} 1996
9578 Heritage trail: a journey through the history of MercyCare. Book 2008
9466 Signposts: a guide for children and young people in care in WA from 1920. Electronic 2010
67 Stables and chapel, Catherine McAuley Centre : conservation report. Report 1993
5122 The Benedictine building Catherine McAuley Centre : conservation report. Updated 16/6/1998. Heritage Study {Other} 1997
4124 The conservation of a monastry farmbuilding and chapel at Wembley: Catherine McAuley Centre. Heritage Study {Other} 1990

Place Type

Individual Building or Group


Epoch General Specific
Present Use HEALTH Housing or Quarters
Original Use RELIGIOUS Church, Cathedral or Chapel
Original Use HEALTH Hospital
Original Use RELIGIOUS Housing or Quarters
Other Use EDUCATIONAL Combined School
Present Use RELIGIOUS Church, Cathedral or Chapel
Original Use EDUCATIONAL Pre-primary Centre

Architectural Styles

Inter-War California Bungalow
Federation Queen Anne
Victorian Rustic Gothic
Inter-War Functionalist

Construction Materials

Type General Specific
Wall RENDER Other Render
Wall BRICK Common Brick
Roof METAL Corrugated Iron
Wall TILE Terracotta Tile

Historic Themes

General Specific

Creation Date

30 May 1989

Publish place record online (inHerit):


Last Update

24 Nov 2020


This information is provided voluntarily as a public service. The information provided is made available in good faith and is derived from sources believed to be reliable and accurate. However, the information is provided solely on the basis that readers will be responsible for making their own assessment of the matters discussed herein and are advised to verify all relevant representations, statements and information.