Jerome Hawes: Priest, Hermit, Architect

In a previous positing I mentioned Fr Jerome Hawes, “The Hermit of Cat Island”. He is remembered in Australia for his significant work in ecclesiastical architecture (for example, St Francis Xavier Cathedral – Geraldton, Western Australia – illustrated below). Fr Jerome was a somewhat unorthodox, if modern, Hermit: travelling, working, creating for the Glory of God, and ultimately living in remote isolation.

St Francis geraldton
(John Cyril) Hawes was born in Richmond, Surrey to Edward, a solicitor, and Amelia Hawes. He attended school in Brighton and Canterbury. After leaving school he began training as an architect in London in 1893 with architects Edmeston and Gabriel. He also received formal architectural education at the Architectural Association School as well as the Central School of Arts and Craft.

In 1897 he began practicing as an architect, designing houses at Bognor. After winning a design competition, Hawes was commissioned to build his first church in Gunnerton in 1899.
After studying at Lincoln Theological College he was ordained as a Church of England priest in 1903. After stints at Clerkenwell and Caldy Island he was posted to a mission in The Bahamas. In 1910 he designed St Paul’s Church in Clarence Town on Long Island.

In 1911 he left The Bahamas for the United States where he converted to Roman Catholicism. After leading a nomadic existence in Canada and the United States for several years, including working as a labourer and as a railway teamster, he began studying for the priesthood in Rome. He was ordained a Catholic priest in Rome on 27 February 1915, after which he was sent to Geraldton, Western Australia where he worked as a priest, architect and builder.

Fr Jerome Hawes

In May 1939, Hawes sailed from Fremantle, returning to The Bahamas, officially on a pilgrimage. He designed and built the Mount Alvernia Hermitage on Como Hill at Cat Island which became his home. Along with the hermitage, he also designed and built five churches on the island as well as a second church at Clarence Town, St Peter’s.

He died on 26 June 1956 in Miami, Florida, aged 79 and at his own request was buried in a cave located beneath the hermitage at Cat Island


hawes tomb

For Fr Jerome:

“The Conscious Stone. A biography of John C. Hawes” by A.G. Evans (1984)
“Hermit of Cat Island: The Life of Fra Jerome Hawes” by Peter Anson (1957).

hermit of cat island

For his architecture:

“Between Devotion and Design: The Architecture of John Cyril Hawes 1876-1956” by John J. Taylor (2001)
“The Builder Priest. The Buildings of Monsignor John Hawes in Western Australia” by Steve Marshall (2012)


For the Hermitage on Mount Alverna:

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