The Falkland Islands and South Atlantic


St Mary's Roman Catholic Church is in Ross Road, across the road from the Standard Chartered Bank. Around 10% of the island's population is Roman Catholic.


The Spanish took over Port Louis renaming it Puerto de la Soledad in 1767 and remained there until 1810. While they were there it is known that 57 different Catholic military priests served around 200 settlers there and two churches were built, the first just after their arrival, primitive and of turf but could hold up to 100 people, and the second more substantial and made of stone in 1801.
 In 1833 Britain took over administration and in 1844 began moving the seat of Government and 78 settlers  to Stanley. The 1851 census records a population of 372, roughly half of them being Catholic, these being mainly Irish emigrants or detachment pensioners. Among the new settlers from Britain was a young woman, Mary Ann Fleming, later to become Mrs William Biggs, arriving in the islands in 1849. Finding no church or priest, (weddings and burials were carried out by Colonial Chaplains) she initiated the idea of a Catholic church and a school, volunteering her own home as a meeting place. Weekly gatherings of the Catholic community followed, a Mr Thomas Havers, at the time the Colonial manager of the Falkland Islands Company Ltd, taking over in the 1850’s. He rented a house to hold Sunday meetings and wrote letters to appeal for a Catholic priest for the islands resulting in priests visiting. A Catholic Fund was set up to buy a plot of land to build a church. Unable to raise the £300- £500 for a site on the front road the chapel was erected on Pump Green a quarter acre plot (at the junction of Dean Street and Fitzroy Road) and on 15th June 1873 the chapel was inaugurated by a visiting priest, Father Vincent de Vilas from Buenos Aires. It was large enough for 120 people and had been built with free government labour.
 Father James Foran came to the islands in 1875, the first resident priest. The Sunday School was well attended and he optimistically opened a Day School in a house behind the court house, largely at his own expense, bringing a teacher from England, Samuel Hawkins. A disappointingly low number of pupils attended, children often being  kept at home to help.  Numbers dwindled until it closed.
 In 1886 the Church on Pump Green was removed to a site on the Front Road, the land at Pump Green was given to Mr Dean as a deposit for building the new church which he did in two months. The first Holy Mass took place in February 1886.
 Father Foran left the Islands in 1886, recommending as he left that Salesian Roman Catholic priests take over St Mary’s Mission in the Falklands. Father Diamond quickly established a Mission house and school and by the end of 1889 was teaching a rapidly increasing roll of 41 children. Several children of Protestant parents attended Mr Diamond’s school in which he stated that no religious subjects were taught.
By 1895 an inspection deemed that the apartment within the church being used for a school was too small and unfit for purpose.  In 1899, a third, bigger church was built adjacent and north of the existing church allowing the original building became a school and parish hall.
 A succession of Salesian priests served the Catholic community in the islands well for the next 64 years, the last Father John Kelly, leaving in 1952. In 1913 Father Migone famously installed an electricity plant which enabled him to provide free educational  film shows in the school and film shows for the town, greatly improving social life in Stanley and giving young people somewhere to go other than pubs.
The Salesian Fathers were joined by Salesian Sisters in 1907 and took over the school which had been teaching Catholic and also Protestant children since 1880. Music, dancing, sewing and embroidery were added to the curriculum and must have greatly enhanced education for girls. The Sisters, an international group, worked in the islands until the Second World War when they went to aid in Europe. They left a lasting beneficial influence in the islands.
In 1952 the Salesian Fathers handed the new ecclesiastic jurisdiction to the Mill Hill Mission and Monsignor Ireland became first Prefect Apostolic.



Photographic credits: Robert Maddocks, Terence Mendoza/
Sources: The Falkland Islands and South America- Rev. C. McDonald Dobley 1917, The Falkland Islands- Ian J. Strange, Catholic Education in the Falkland Islands-Monsignor A Agreiter, Falkland Islands Journal.
  • st-marys