The enigmatic architect, priest and hermit

Monsignor John Hawes is best known in Western Australia for his work on the Cathedral of St Francis Xavier in Geraldton, but his achievements in designing and building across the state and in other parts of the world are only now being fully appreciated and Hawes regarded as a world class architect.

Born John Cyril Hawes in 1876 in Richmond, England, Hawes began his architectural education at the age of 17, was a practicing architect at 21 and was commissioned to build his first church, St Christopher’s in Gunnerton, West Sussex, by 23.

Although Hawes died a Catholic in 1956, he started his priesthood as Anglican in 1903 and as a priest for the Church of England he was sent to the Bahamas where he was commissioned to repair churches damaged by a hurricane and where he was to design and build St Paul’s Church in Clarence Town, Long Island.

The Local, The Hermitage, Cat Island, Bahamas
The Hermitage, Cat Island, Bahamas (Credit Shane Togerson)

Disenchanted with his church’s hierarchy, Hawes moved to the New York in 1911 where he converted to Roman Catholicism. He spent time contemplating his future while working as a labourer and teamster for the Canadian Railways before returning to England to his ill mother. In 1913 Hawes went to Rome to study for the Catholic priesthood. He was ordained in 1915, was sent to Geraldton and commissioned to build St Francis Xavier. As a want-to-be hermit and passion for church architecture, outback WA suited Fr. Hawes.

The nave of the cathedral was opened in 1918, though St Francis Xavier was not completed for another twenty years due to funding and some church politics.

By now a Monsignor, John Hawes returned to the Bahamas in 1939. Along with more churches, he designed and built what was to be his home, and hopefully his life as a hermit – Mount Alvernia Hermitage on Cat Island; but the demands for his talent were such, he spent a great deal of time designing and building.

He died on 26 June 1956 aged 79 in Miami, Florida and was buried in a cave beneath the hermitage. 2015 marks a hundred years since his arrival the Mid West.

HAWES’ WEST AUSTRALIAN PROJECTS  (*Designed or part designed  but not built by Hawes)


Francis Xavier Cathedral

St. John of God Convent

The Hermitage

Church of St. Lawrence

Nazareth House

Stella Maria’s Convent Chapel*

St. Patrick’s Christian Brothers College alterations*

St. John of God Convent chapel*

Nazareth House chapel*

Maitland Street school*


Our Lady of Mt. Carmel

School building

New Norcia

Hostel (alterations)

Abbey Church*


Sacred Heart Convent

Church of St. Mary

Sacred Heart Convent chapel*


Christian Brothers Agricultural

Pallottine Monastery

St. Mary’s Convent


Christian Brothers College (Bindoon), Church of St. Andrew (Carnamah), Church of St. Mary Star of the Sea (Carnarvon), St. Michael’s* (Coorow), Chapel of St. Micheal* (Devil’s Creek), Two private dwellings (Geraldton and Melangata Station), St. Peter’s altar design (Greenough), Chapel* (Kockatea), Church of St. James (Kojarena), Church* (Meekatharra), Church of the Holy Cross.  (Morawa), Convent and school church Our Lady of Fatima (Nanson), St. Joseph’s. (Perenjori), St Mary’s Cathedral* (Perth), Church of the Holy Cross* (South Perth), St. Paul’s* (Three Springs), Utakarra cemetery chapel (Utakarra), Church of the Holy Redeemer* (Walkaway), Our Lady of Help Church school (Wiluna), Church* (Wongoondy), St. Patrick’s church hall (Wonthella), St. Hyacinth. (Yalgoo)

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