About the Torres Strait Islands


The Torres Strait Islands are a group of at least 274 small islands which lie in Torres Strait, the waterway separating far northern continental Australia's Cape York Peninsula and the island of New Guinea.


The islands are mostly part of Queensland, a constituent State of the Commonwealth of Australia, with a special status fitting the native (Melanesian) land rights, administered by the Torres Strait Regional Authority. A few islands very close to the coast of mainland New Guinea belong to the Western Province of Papua New Guinea, most importantly Daru Island with the provincial capital, Daru.


Only 14 of the islands are inhabited, with many of the islands threatened by rising sea levels.


Catholicism and the  Torres Strait Islands


The Roman Catholic Church began its ministeries in the Torres Strait when Pope Leo XIII requested that the Sacred Heart Fathers establish a Mission in New Guinea. It was decided among the Fathers that the setting up and servicing of such a Mission would be better faciliated if a site was chosen in the Torres Strait. Such a site would serve as a stopover station and a permanent link between Australia's mainland and New Guinea. It was then that Thursday Island was selected for this purpose.


On October 24th 1884, Father Andrew Navarre, Father Ferdinand Hartzer and Brother Guiseppe de Santis arrived on Thursday Island to establish the Sacred Heart Mission. The historic church, which still stands today, was built only a few years after their arrival. The M.S.C brothers ran the Mission until January 21st 1886, when the first Sisters were welcomed to the Island. They were Sister Paul Perdrix, Sister Madeleine Masselin and Sister Claire Dessailly of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, all of who had french origins.


The sacred Heart Mission had also begun a tiny Catholic School on the closed-in verandah of the Convent. Sister Margaret Sweeny, the first Australian daughter of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, taught the children - a handful of European, Filipino and Manila students.  The Parish has always been noted for its diversity of parishioners, which can be traced back to its earliest beginnings. The M.S.C Brothers had also built an orphanage on church grounds.


The orphanage continued to be in use until evacuation procedures was in place during World War II in 1942, but was re-opened for a short period of time in 1948. From 1961-1962, the orphange was converted into a school by volunteer labourers from the local community. Bishop O'Loughlin blessed and opened the school in February 1962.


Today the church has a number of achievements, which included the establishment of the "Star of the Sea", a home to serve the elderly people of the Torres Strait. The Hon. Charles Porter opened the home on February 14th 1980, and appointed Sister Mary Garnier to be the first Sister-in-Charge. Four years later, the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church celebrated its first centenary in 1984.


If you would like further information, there are a number of books dedicated to the history of the church, one of which is "Our First One Hundred Years - Sacred Heart Mission, Thursday Island 1884-1984." , which was the primary source for the information contained in this page.

Article courtesy Torres Shire

Churches and Contact details


Sacred Heart - Thursday Island

Holy Family, Horn island

St Joseph the Worker's Church, Hammond Island

St Stephen's, Bamaga


Main Contact (Thursday island):

PO Box 142, Thursday Island 4875   |   Douglas St Thursday Island
Phone: 07 4069 2205   |   Fax: 07 4069 2334   |   tiparish@cairns.catholic.org.au




Upcoming Events


The Coming of the Light - July 1


The Coming of the Light is a holiday celebrated by Torres Strait Islanders on 1 July each year. It recognises the adoption of Christianity through island communities during the late nineteenth century.


Torres Strait Resources



An Online guide to the Torres Strait Islander Collection held at the National Library of Australia.



National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council

'The peak Indigenous advisory body to the Catholic Church'

80C Payneham Rd.

Stepney SA 5069

www.natsicc.org.au   |   craig@natsicc.org.au   | 08 8363 2963


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