ST JAMES HOMESTEAD - DUIGNAM SUITE
± 60M2 - TOP FLOOR
Of all the personalities who left an impression on St James, no one was more prominent than Father Duignam who gave the community 51 years of service as the Catholic Parish priest. His appointment on 1 June 1874 at the age of 28 for a six-month trial period (on the strength of his ability to speak Spanish) to handle the religious needs of the Filipino fishing community lasted for more than 50 years.
He set about his work with unbridled energy building a presbytery for himself and the St James Mission School where he taught from 1884 to 1906. Stories are still told today of his education of the poor fisherfolk children, his teaching of the religious doctrine and his great strength and resolve during the great flu epidemic where he was instrumental in turning the St James Mission school into a hospital with the nuns acting as nurses.
Fr. Duignam was present at the sale of the old church to the Cape Government Railways in 1900 and was involved in building the new church, construction of which began shortly after the sale. A sum of £2000 was allocated to the building of the church and Fr. Duignam commenced with his usual enthusiasm and vigour. His ideas and those of architect Ransome blended into the beautiful building we have today. Fr. Duignam was the main contractor, the clerk of works and the quantity surveyor, such was his zest. He followed this success with the building of the Star of the Sea Convent in 1906 (opened 1908) where once again he assumed full responsibility for the construction.
He served as a Councillor in the first Kalk Bay-Muizenberg Municipality and his work in finding a suitable cemetery for all religions is well recorded. He would officiate over burials at the Margate Road Cemetery in Muizenberg travelling there by trap, drawn by his horse Larry (all his horses were named Larry).
He was loved and revered by all his parishioners and was held in utmost respect by the sisters of the Star of the Sea. In June 1924 a magnificent stained-glass window in the church behind the high alter commemorated his 50 years of great service to the community. He was their religious leader, teacher, comforter, guardian, architect, master builder, craftsman and instructor — a legend in his own lifetime. On 1 December 1925 he retired from St James at the age of 79 and was assigned to a small Dominican Convent in Bonnievale. Here he died in 1931 aged 85.