The Builder Priest

The Builder Priest  is Steve's photographic book depicting the buildings designed by Monsignor John Hawes, a Catholic priest and architect who lived in the midwest region of Western Australia in the early part of the 20th century. Steve continues the story...

This whole project came about by chance, when I saw a small pamphlet about Hawes at the Perenjori visitors centre way back in late 2004. It described the priest who had designed the church in that town as well as many others, and how there was international interest in him. I thought there may be a potential for a photographic project in it, and after discovering several other books about the man, I decided that there was room for a book which simply presented the buildings in photographic form. I am neither Catholic nor particularly religious, but the more I found out about him, the more fascinated I became with this quite extraordinary character.

Born in England in 1876, Hawes was a qualified and talented architect before entering the priesthood, initially as an Anglican, then later as a Catholic.

He lived and worked as both priest and architect in the midwest region of Western Australia from 1915 to 1939, designing and building many churches and other buildings. Several are in the city of Geraldton, the most significant being the Cathedral of St Francis Xavier. But they range widely, from Carnarvon in the north to Bindoon in the south and Yalgoo in the east. He was parish priest in the town of Mullewa for several years, and the church there is one of his most distinctive and personal.

After leaving Western Australia in 1939, Hawes spent the rest of his life in The Bahamas, and there are many churches and other buildings there which he designed, renovated or worked on in some way.  There are also a few buildings in the UK, and it is hoped that a future edition of the book might be able to include all of those overseas buildings as well.

There are other books about John Hawes, including two biographies and a detailed study of his architectural work. This book is a simple photographic appreciation of his remarkable legacy.  It has been produced using the online print-on-demand service called Blurb, and is available either as a large-format hardback book, or an e-book for Apple iPad.  These can both be previewed and/or purchased at the following link:

The Builder Priest

We usually have a few hardback copies on hand and can sell them for a bit less than the Blurb single-copy price. If you are in Western Australia, especially Perth, you are welcome to contact us to view or purchase a printed copy.

There is an organisation in Geraldton called Monsignor Hawes Heritage Inc, dedicated to promoting the John Hawes heritage and the preservation of the buildings. Their website is at

In late 2012, the Geraldton Diocese initiated a project to do a significant renovation of the cathedral, and build a heritage centre in the area to the west of the main entrance, to display historic material about the cathedral and the life and work of John Hawes.  The first actual work started in early 2015 with the removal of the old asbestos roofing: the nave, transepts and sanctuary were re-roofed in terracotta tiles and the dome in zinc.  This was the start of nearly 3 years of work, and the expenditure of nearly $9 million.  It was initially hoped that this very significant project would be completed by 2016, the centenary of the original opening of the first stage of the cathedral. This target turned out to be optimistic, as often happens with such large projects, and the cathedral finally re-opened in November 2017 with only a few details remaining to be tidied up.

The renovation has transformed the cathedral into something truly magnificent.  It is a reason to visit Geraldton, if it was not that already.  The project website is at