The French Period (1764 – 1767)
When Antoine Louis de Bougainville and his sixty or so companions arrived in the Falkland Islands on 3rd February 1764 they had come to stay. They chose a spot on which to build the very first settlement on these islands and called it Fort Saint Louis. (Later names: Puerto de la Soledad, Port Louis.)
Among those first settlers was Dom Antoine Pernetty, a Benedictine monk. Apart from his priestly duties, he acted as botanist and chronicler. Dom Pernetty and his successors screened off part of the dining room in the main building and used it as a chapel.
The Spanish Period (1767 – 1810)
On 1st April 1767 the French (M. de Nerville) handed the settlement over to Spain, the first Spanish Governor being Don Felipe Ruiz Puente. At the time of the hand-over there were two French priests in Fort Saint Louis and the wish was expressed that, for the time being, the Spanish priests should also know French.
The settlement was re-named Puerto de la Soledad. Within a year the Spaniards had built a small temporary church (2.90 m high from floor to ceiling) named Nuestra Señora de la Soledad after a shrine back home. In 1774 a bell tower was added to call the 80 settlers to prayer. In the 1780s the church was renovated, a pulpit constructed and a baptismal font added.
In 1790 Father Pius de Aguiar wrote to his bishop (in Buenos Aires) that the church was too small as it was holding only half of the 200 people then living in the settlement. As a result, a new, permanent church was built in brick and stone and consecrated on 4th November 1801.
We know the names of 57 Catholic priests who served the Spanish settlers in Port Louis: 16 Franciscan Friars, 18 Mercedarians, 21 secular priests, 1 Augustinian and 1 Dominican monk. The last priest of this period was Father Juan Canosa who signed out on 13th February 1811.
Years of Confusion (1810 – 1833)
In 1810 Spanish jurisdiction in South America, including the Falkland Islands, came to an end. A period of disorder, confusion and lawlessness followed.
On 6th November 1820 the United Provinces of the River Plate (Argentina) took possession of the islands but no lasting order was brought to the land. On 28th December 1831 Port Soledad was ransacked and destroyed by the U.S. corvette Lexington.
British Possession and Administration (1833 / 1843)
On 2nd January 1833 Britain took possession of the islands and tried to bring back law and order. British administration began in 1843. In 1844 the settlers started to move from Port Louis to Stanley, which on 18th July 1845 was declared to be the capital and the seat of Government.
Father Foran and the Irish Chaplains (1856 – 1887)
After the Hebe had arrived from England on 15th January 1842 bringing settlers and stores, the population of Port Louis was 78. About three-quarters of them were Protestants and the rest Catholics. At the next census, taken in 1851, Stanley had 372 inhabitants: 165 were English, 90 Irish, 85 Spanish, 15 Scottish, and there was a sprinkling of Germans, Gibraltarians, Americans, French and one Welshman. Catholics and Protestants were about equal in numbers with slightly more Catholics. (The records of the census are a little vague here and there).
The Protestants had a Colonial Chaplain, but the Catholics, it seems, had not seen a priest since the departure of the Spaniards.
In the 1850s the then Colonial Manager of the Falkland Islands Company, Thomas Havers, a Catholic, rented a house in Stanley, where he held services on Sundays and gave religious instruction on some weekdays. On behalf of the Catholic community, Mr Havers wrote in 1856 to Cardinal Wiseman, Archbishop of Westminster, and to Cardinal Barnabó in Rome, pleading for English speaking Catholic priests. As a result, Rome contacted Archbishop Mariano J. Escalada of Buenos Aires, as there was a strong contingent of Irish immigrants in that country with a number of Irish chaplains. Monsignor Anthony D. Fahy, who was in charge of them, reluctantly sent (in 1856/7) Father Laurence Kirwan to Stanley on a temporary mission. Whilst he was with them, the Catholics tried to get the grant of a plot of land on the front road on which to build a church. As they were unable to fulfil the condition, namely to raise £300 of the £500 needed for the church, the plan had to be put on ice.
Other Irish chaplains who came to the Falkland Islands in this way were Frs Patrick Dillon (1866), William Walsh (1872) and Felix M. Grisar (1887).
When Fr Walsh was in Stanley the Catholics got, for a while, the loan of a government building (later known as the Central Store) in which to hold their services. Then they bought a quarter acre of land, then known as the Pump Green, on which St Mary’s Church was built with free government labour. Father Vincent de Vilas who, although not Irish, had also come to Stanley (via Monsignor Fahy) inaugurated this church on 15th June 1873. From Stanley he proceeded to Brazil.
Special mention must be made of Father James Foran. When he was parish priest in Blackhill in the diocese of Hexham & Newcastle he heard of Mr Havers’ letter to Cardinal Wiseman and as a result volunteered to go the Falkland Islands. His bishop agreed.
Fr Foran stayed on the islands from 1875 to 1881, and during the summer months of the subsequent years until 1886. During the winter months he worked in Rosario and in San Nicholas (Argentina).
On 16th August 1880 he started a school in Barry’s old house, behind the court house with, initially, six pupils. In 1885 the people decided to build a new church on the site they had secured in 1857 on the front road. Mr Charles M. Dean built it in two months, using as much of the materials as could be salvaged from the old church. The land (Pump Green) was handed over to Mr Dean as part-payment for building the new church. The first Holy Mass was celebrated on 28th February 1886. Then in 1899, a third and larger church was built adjacent to it. The old Church building was used, for a time, as a school and as a parish hall.
The Salesian Fathers (1888 – 1952)
Fr James Foran had repeatedly suggested that Patagonia south of the Rio Negro, Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands should be made into a separate Apostolic Prefecture and entrusted to the Salesians of Don Bosco. This was actually approved on 16th November 1883. But as the Salesian Fathers were slow in coming to the islands, Fr Foran decided to go to Rome to expedite matters.
The first Salesian priest, Fr Patrick J. Diamond SDB, arrived in Stanley on 19th April 1888, and members of his Order continued to serve the Catholic community for 64 years. The last one was Fr John Kelly who left the islands early in 1952.
The Salesian priests that stand out were Frs Patrick O’Grady (1890-1902), Hugh Drumm (1934 and 1937-1947) and especially the unforgettable Fr Mario Luis Migone. He was assistant priest during the years 1889-1891 and 1895 and parish priest from 1905 until his death on 1st November 1937.
On 2nd August 1913 Fr Migone installed a new electricity plant. This allowed him to provide a film show in the school, as there was nowhere to go for young people except the pubs. The cinema was a welcome addition to the social life of Stanley. Most of the proceeds were sent to charitable institutions abroad. The weekly educational films were free.
In 1907 the Salesian Sisters (Daughters of Mary Auxiliatrix) agreed to come to the Falkland Islands. On 31st January they took over the school, which had been run by St Mary?s since 1880, for Protestants and Catholics alike. The curriculum included music, dancing, sewing and embroidery. The sisters were an international group and, due to the war situation in Europe, had to leave the colony on 3rd January 1942. The beneficial influence of the sisters on the community is felt to this day.
The Mill Hill Missionaries (1952 – 2002)
On 27th January 1947 the Apostolic Vicariat of Magellanes, which included the Falkland Islands, was raised to the status of diocese and named Punta Arenas. The Falkland Islands were explicitly excluded from the new diocese. On 10th January 1952, the Church in the Falkland Islands was erected as an Apostolic Prefecture. It was agreed that the Salesian Fathers hand over the new ecclesiastic jurisdiction to the Mill Hill Missionaries. Monsignor James Ireland was named as the first Prefect Apostolic. He arrived on 7th September 1952 and retired in 1973. His successor, Msgr Daniel Spraggon, served, as the second Prefect, from 1973 until his sudden death in 1985. Fr Augustine Monaghan took temporary charge of the jurisdiction until the third Prefect, Dr Anton Agreiter, arrived in December 1986. He served until his retirement in 2002.
Early in 2002, the Bishops Conference of England and Wales agreed to take over the pastoral responsibility for the Church in the South Atlantic from the Mill Hill Missionaries. Mgr Michael Bernard McPartland SMA, was named the fourth Prefect Apostolic of the Falkland Islands and assumed his responsibilities from Sunday, 27th October 2002, the day of his installation.