18 March, 2021

Commemorating the Burial of Archbishop Polding

On Saint Joseph's Day, 1877, was laid in the earth the remains of Australia's first bishop, John Bede Polding OSB. This was in a Catholic cemetery at Lewisham (or Petersham as it was then known) which has long since ceased to exist.  [1]  

After his funeral Mass at Saint Mary's Pro-Cathedral (since the present Saint Mary's Cathedral was merely rows of stonework and not yet a building) a vast procession took place to conduct the Archbishop's remains past Hyde Park, down Parramatta Road and on to the Petersham Cemetery.  At that time, it was the largest Funeral Sydney had ever witnessed.

Archbishop Polding pictured with his successor
Archbishop Roger Bede Vaughan OSB
Image : Good Shepherd Seminary Strathfield
At the graveside, surrounded by most of the bishops of Australia, clergy from the Archdiocese and beyond and a large gathering of the Faithful, Archbishop Roger Bede Vaughan OSB gave this short address, which was reported in The Sydney Morning Herald :

My Lords and Dearly Beloved – I assure you that I feel far too depressed today, after what I have gone through during the last week, to say any words at all, if I did not think that you would feel it as a loss if I did not, in a very short way, express the feelings which animate your hearts now that we are putting away all that is mortal of John Bede Polding, amongst his priests and amongst his people. Such a life as his, and such a work as he has done, you know as well as I do, require long thought and long study, not only to amass but to place before the minds and the imaginations of others in order that they may appreciate his spotless life, and learn the lessons which it teaches.

As to myself and my loss, this is not the place I suppose to speak of a personal loss, though what is your loss, what is the loss of each one of us but a personal loss? But I feel it because it leaves upon me a weight which was borne by him, and also because I know more of his former life before he came to this colony than any here present. I know something of his career during the years he was in the some house of religious discipline in which I myself was taught to serve God at early morning and late at night; and I can assure you here surrounding me that there was never anything in this world that had a more powerful action on my spirit, not from what I knew of him by any personal contact, but from the traditions that he left behind him, and from that indescribable influence which, like on opulent flower in a garden, spreads its perfume hither and thither. What he was as a bishop you know better than I do, because you have been in contact with him year after year, and have listened to the sage counsels and gentle reproofs which came from his lips. I will not detain you now in speaking of the works he has effected, or of his great piety, or of the wide-spread influence which he possessed throughout the community.

On another occasion myself, or some other person will endeavour to set forth a brief history of his life in the great and exalted position to which he attained, and to exhibit that gentleness, that forbearance, and all those other qualities which take so many years to learn, and which were displayed by him with such great brilliancy. May his mantle indeed fall upon my shoulders, and may I learn from him those lessons I so much need, and may he look upon that Church for which he laboured so indefatigably for many years. And let us in return not forget him. If you would do something for him remember his soul in your prayers, for, however spotless a man's life may be, there is an eye more searching than man's – the eye of the Judge of all men; and, if there be any soil, it will have to be burned out in the purging fires.

Pray then that he may receive that reward he longed for in life, and you will have performed the most holy service you can perform to John Bede Polding. Having buried his remains you may free his soul from the penal fires in which it may even now be placed. [2]


1.  The many hundreds of burials in the old Petersham cemetery were disinterred and relocated (in some cases with their headstones) to the Rookwood cemetery at the beginning of the 20th century.  

2.  Archbishop Vaughan is referring to the purification of Purgatory.

3. The image presented with this post is a copy made many years ago of a large photograph in the Archives of Saint Patrick's College Manly.  It is likely - but not certain - that the two Archbishops were photographed together, probably in the year 1874.  It also possible that it is not a "life study", but that the two Archbishops were photographed on separate occasions and then a montage was created to make them appear together.  Further examination of the original image would be required to clarify this point.


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