In June 1952, Cardinal Norman Gilroy, Archbishop of Sydney, visited Mount Saint Joseph Abbey, Roscrea in Ireland and formally requested its abbot, Dom Camillus Claffey that he make a foundation in the Archdiocese of Sydney, Australia. Father Eugene Boylan went to investigate the possibilities of acquiring a suitable property in September 1953.
After eight months searching for a suitable property in the various dioceses of New South Wales, Fr Eugene came south to Victoria. Several decades previously, Archbishop Daniel Mannix of Melbourne had invited Roscrea to make a foundation in his archdiocese. In August 1954, Dom Camillus arrived to assist in the process and was accompanied by Fr Carthage O’Dea.
On the afternoon of 5 August 1954, the party inspected the property of Tarrawarra and instantly concluded that this was the spot for a monastery. With some financial help from the archdiocese in the form of an interest-free loan and with donations from benefactors, the property was purchased. It comprised of four hundred hectares, on traditional land of the Wurundjeri people. A large house built by David Syme in 1900 became the nucleus of the monastic buildings.
The monks took legal possession of Tarrawarra on 1 November 1954 and began to move in, having lodged previously at “Comely Bank” in Healesville by the kindness of the Sisters of Charity. Fr Cronan Sherry was the first superior. On 6 November 1954, Dom Camillus celebrated the first Mass at Tarrawarra. In 1958, Tarrawarra was raised to abbey status and Dom Kevin O’Farrell was elected as the first abbot, a position he held for thirty years until his resignation in 1988. He was succeeded by Dom David Tomlins.
Tarrawarra was founded in a time of great financial austerity, and for many years, the community laboured under the burden of debt. Thanks to a bequest from the Sutton family in South Australia, the monks were able to clear the accumulated interest and to begin reducing the debt. Over the years, the church, refectory, living quarters, workshops, library, etc were built.
Tarrawarra had the joy of adopting Kurisumala Ashram in India as a daughter-house in 1998 and helping it through the various stages to be incorporated into the Cistercian Order.