The emergence of the Order of the Knights of the Southern Cross lay in the discrimination, prejudice and sectarianism confronting Catholics in Australia, in the early years of the 20th century. Religious bigotry was so strong that young Catholic men and women were finding it impossible to gain employment. Newspaper advertisements openly stated "No Catholic need apply". Application forms for many jobs contained the question, "Where were you educated"?
The Order in Tasmania was established on 29 August 1923 by a number of Catholic laymen to support families in need of assistance and to assist the Church in what-ever way possible. At the initial meeting, it was proposed by those present to establish two Branches of the Order in Tasmania: No. 1 Branch Hobart and No. 2 Branch Launceston. By the end of 1923, these two Branches comprised 66 members in total.
On 30 August 1923, a Grand Council was elected:
Grand Knight William Hill
Deputy Grand Knight Vesey Fitzgerald
Junior Deputy Grand Knight J. J. Bond
Grand Secretary Tom O-Shea
Grand Chaplain Reverend Father Denis Murphy
Members played an active part in matters of public interest, including trade unions, professional organisations, politics, education, youth associations, sporting bodies and social clubs.
In these affluent times, it is difficult to capture the cold and clammy dread of the Depression years. However, the fear and uncertainty of the times only served as a great spur to the members of the Order who redoubled their efforts to gain economic assistance, and to secure justice for the Catholic community. The members themselves, of course, were affected by the depression, resulting in the Annual Subscription of 2 pound 2 shillings (the original amount in 1923) being reduced to 10/6 in 1930. In the later years of the Depression, the subscription was restored to 2 pounds 2 shillings.
The Catholic Library in Hobart was established from a collection of books given by a Hobart member of the Order, Captain Hood. This formed the nucleus of what subsequently emerged as an important resource for the Catholic community in Tasmania.
From its formation in 1923 in Tasmania, through the Depression years and right through to the end of the Second World War in 1945, the growth of the Order in numbers was very slow but by the same token very strong in quality and character. With a total of less than 200 members throughout the State in 1945, these men had built a sound and secure foundation of charity and service, a foundation which was to be the launching pad for the spectacular growth and vigour which sprang forth during the post-war era.
As the work of the Order expanded, there was a need for the Order to acquire a building to be used as its State Office. A member of the Order paid the deposit on the block of land for the Order's proposed building. The proposed building program commenced in 1958. It was completed two years later and opened on 8 October 1960 by Joseph Mitchell, the Supreme Knight of the Order. His Grace Archbishop Young blessed the building in the presence of 200 members before it was officially opened.
The Order in Tasmania is identified with the progress made with St John Fisher Residential University College, through its work on the Appeal for Funds Committee, which raised $48 000. The success of the Project enabled the College to increase the accommodation from 30 to 70 students.
Members responded positively to the appeals for assistance during the 1967 bush fires, and more than 300 workers participated in 80 work parties organised by the Order.
Through its various service activities, the Order in Tasmania contributed enormously to the wider community during the ensuing decades.