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Commemorating the sesquicentenary of the arrival of Irish Jesuits in Australia

This year the Australian Province of the Jesuits are commemorating the sesquicentenary of the arrival of Irish Jesuits in Australia. Australia became the first overseas mission of the Irish Jesuit Province. To mark the occasion the Archdiocese of Melbourne are organising a special thanksgiving Mass in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne 27 September. On 20 June Damien Burke, Assistant Archivist, Irish Jesuit Archives gave a talk at the 21st Australasian Irish Studies conference, Maynooth University, titled “The archives of the Irish Jesuit Mission to Australia, 1865-1931”. In his address Damien described the work of this mission with reference to a number of documents and photographs concerning it that are held at the Irish Jesuit Archives.

Irish Jesuits worked mainly as missionaries, and educators in the urban communities of eastern Australia. The mission began when two Irish Jesuits Frs. William Lentaigne and William Kelly, arrived in Melbourne in 1865 at the invitation of Bishop James Alipius Goold, the first Catholic bishop of Melbourne. They were invited by the Bishop to re-open St. Patrick’s College, Melbourne, a secondary school, and to undertake the Richmond mission. From 1865 onwards, the Irish Jesuits formed parishes and established schools while working as missionaries, writers, chaplains, theologians, scientists and directors of retreats, mainly in the urban communities of eastern Australia. By 1890, 30% of the Irish Province resided in Australia.

By 1931, this resulted in five schools, eight residences, a regional seminary in Melbourne and a novitiate in Sydney. Dr Daniel Mannix, archbishop of Melbourne, showed a special predication for the Jesuits and requested that they be involved with Newman College, University of Melbourne in 1918. Six Jesuits (five were Irish-born) served as chaplains with the Australian Forces in the First World War and two died, Frs Michael Bergin and Edwards Sydes. Both Michael Bergin and 62 year-old Joe Hearn, earned the Military Cross. Bergin was the only Catholic chaplain serving with the Australian Imperial Force to have died as a result of enemy action in the First World War.

Thirty years ago, Fr F.X. Martin OSB used the Irish and Australian archives to research Bishop James Alipius Goold, in a paper to the Irish-Australian conference in Canberra. The archives provide a history of the mission, in topics such as agreements with archbishops and bishops to establish a Jesuit house in a particular diocese, the journey by sea to Australia, the administration of various residences, colleges and parishes, the finances of the Mission, the expansion of the Mission (New Zealand and Tasmania) and Jesuits living and working in Australia. For all that is in the Irish Jesuit Archives, there is lacuna. Any papers sent from Ireland, papers on those Jesuits who died in Australia and anything post-1931, reside in the Australian Jesuit Archives in Melbourne. The archives of the Irish Jesuit mission to Australia record the challenges, aspirations and experiences of Jesuits and documents their successes and failures, in pioneering the building up of the Catholic Church and Catholic education in Australia. They remain largely undiscovered.

Photo: St. Ignatius Church, Toowong, Brisbane, 1930.