05 December, 2021

Historic Images of Sydney's Catholic Cathedrals : 2

In our previous post, we presented a photograph of circa 1872 which shewed progress on the building of the present Saint Mary's Cathedral (commenced in 1866).

This photograph is taken from a similar angle, also looking north-east across Hyde Park. The photograph was taken in the year 1882 or 1883.  It shews the facade of the old Cathedral juxtaposed with the first stage of new Saint Mary's.  

In this photograph we see that the walls of the new Cathedral have risen significantly - although slowly - over the period of ten years.  In our age, when all buildings are completed in a relatively short space of time, it is a helpful reminder that it was not always so.  Work on the new Saint Mary's Cathedral was done carefully and could only proceed as funds permitted.  There was no bank loan to build the Cathedral, no giant bequests, no corporate funding; for the most part, it was built by the small, but steady giving of Catholics in Sydney and beyond.  

The first stages of construction (1866-1882) consisted of ground preparation and the construction of the massive foundations, the construction of the Northern (sanctuary) end, together with the sacristies, the transepts, two bays of the nave and the roofing-over thereof.  That was considered sufficient for the needs of the Archdiocese and realistic in terms of what could be afforded.

After the death of Archbishop John Bede Polding OSB in 1877, the new Archbishop, Roger Bede Vaughan OSB focussed a great deal of his attention on the building of the Cathedral.  In 1880, with the advice of the architect, William Wardell, he embarked on goal to bring the Cathedral to a temporary stage where it could be opened to the Faithful and used for Divine worship.

It is this stage of completion that we see depicted in our photograph.  It consists of the walls up to (but not including) the clerestory windows.  A temporary roof of galvanised iron protecting the completed stonework, whilst a timber scaffold over the top of this roof  permitted further construction to continue.  Inside, all the floors, the stone pillars and their arches, together with the lower-level windows had been completed.  The High altar had been completed - a donation covering its cost - and filling the windows with stained glass commenced. 

In September 1882, with three days of grand liturgical celebrations, this stage of the Cathedral was blessed and opened.  Sadly, Archbishop Vaughan did not live long to delight in the new building.  He left on a journey to Rome in April 1883, but died after his arrival in England aged 49.

Click on the image for an enlarged view.


02 December, 2021

Historic Images of Sydney's Catholic Cathedrals : 1

To continue our commemoration of the bi-centenary of the founding of Saint Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, we present this enhanced image from an original photograph held by the State Library of NSW.  The photograph was taken in Hyde Park, looking north-east, either in 1871, or the following year.

In the centre of the photograph, the principal structure is the remnant facade of Old Saint Mary's.  This facade was commenced in the early 1850s to the design of the famed English architect of the Gothic Revival, AWN Pugin.  This was an extension to the earlier section of the building, commenced in 1821 by Father Therry.  In the tragic fire of 29th June 1865, old Saint Mary's was completely burnt out.  The walls of the old section were quickly demolished thereafter, leaving the new facade remaining in a truncated form.

In 1866, the renowned peal of bells of Saint Mary's, which had been housed in a separate tower north of the Cathedral itself, was transferred to the tower section of the old facade, which subsequently had a neat copper roof added to cap it, circa 1869.

To the left of the old facade can be seen the worksite surrounding the rising walls of the new Saint Mary's Cathedral, designed in 1865 by the architect William Wardell.  Work to prepare the site and build the foundations was carried out between 1866 and 1868.  By 1871, the walls had risen to a height of approximately 25 feet.  On the image a STAR indicates the barely visible completed doorway of the new Cathedral's western transept.  The transept has three doors, the one indicated here being the southern door (on the right, when looking across from Hyde Park).

In the background, on the right of the photograph, is shewn the recently-completed Cathedral presbytery, being the residence of the Sydney city clergy.  This building continued to be used for this purpose until its demolition and replacement in the late 1980s.

The photographer captured two men taking their ease in the Park.  One is seen quite clearly, wearing a top hat.  The other is resting against one of the small timber fences which are protecting the Park's young trees.

Click on the image for an enlarged view.


24 November, 2021

The Governor's Regulations

In a previous post, we read the speech given by Major-General Lachlan Macquarie at the laying of the foundation stone of old Saint Mary's.  The Governor made a particular point of mentioning his experiences of Catholics as being "loyal and faithful subjects", obviously something he esteemed greatly.  On such occasions, there are often fine words spoken which do not completely reflect the mind of the speaker.  In this post, we transcribe a letter written to Fathers Therry and Connolly shortly after their arrival in the Colony of New South Wales as official Catholic Chaplains in May 1820.  This letter gives a very clear idea of the mind of Governor Macquarie respecting the practice of the Catholic religion.

The letter requires a few words of explanation.  Its gracious tone does not conceal an intention to place as many restrictions on the practice of Catholicism as the Governor can manage.  Its cordiality is balanced with veiled threats of what will happen if his instructions are not adhered to.  The appointment of the two Catholic Chaplains by the British Government came about because of discontent expressed in the British Parliament about Governor Macquarie's treatment of Father Jeremiah O'Flynn [EN 1].  Macquarie had been humiliated by the British Government and influential residents of the Colony of New South Wales, who didn't care much for the Macquarie regime, were happy to use that opportunity to point to other shortcomings of his governance. The two Catholic Chaplains were obviously not particularly welcome in the eyes of Lachlan Macquarie, but their appointment was something that he could not overturn. 

There are other considerations, also.  The most important being that at the time New South Wales was not a colony of free settlers, but mainly a colony of prisoners.  It was at the Governor's discretion what was permitted (within the law) and what was not, so to maintain order.  Macquarie was a military man, not a politician.  He did have sound religious beliefs, [EN 2] but these did not encompass openness towards Catholicism.  

Furthermore, in 1820, the practice of Catholicism itself was still under legal constraint.  Following the Protestant Reformation in England, Catholics were not free to practise their Religion; they were regarded as potential enemies of the Crown.  Catholics could not hold any public office; they could not have their children educated in the Catholic Faith; they could not even own property.  Two hundreds years later, these things are astonishing to us; two hundred years ago, they were greatly resented by Catholics.  Social movements, however, were emerging in England and Ireland which sought to place Catholics on a more equal legal footing with their Protestant fellow countrymen.  Other movements - particularly following the French Revolution and the years of Napoleon Bonaparte's control of Europe - sought to extend the privileges which the aristocracy enjoyed, to the benefit of the poor : the everyday man.

These matters are all in evidence in the Governor's letter to the two Chaplains.  It was obvious that any form of progressive social movement would not be welcomed by him.  Although he himself was not a member of the aristocracy, as a military man, maintaining social order was of prime importance. 

And so, to the Governor's letter to the two Chaplains, written in his own hand from Government House :  [EN 3]

An aquatint of Sydney in the year 1820 or 1821.
The residence of the Governor is shewn in the middle ground, just right of centre.
Image : National Library of Australia.

Government House, Sydney

6th June, 1820

In conformity with the wish you have expressed to be informed of the line of conduct, which, in my opinion you should pursue in the performance of your clerical duties in New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land, I willingly embrace the occasion to express feelingly and candidly to you what I conceive is the course you are called upon by your sacred functions, and a due regard to the laws of the Mother Country, to pursue.  Although, by the laws of England, marriages there can only be legally celebrated by the clergy of the Church of England, yet, as I find that all the provisions of the Marriage Act do not extend to the colonies of Great Britain, you are at liberty to celebrate marriages between parties where both are Roman Catholics, subject, however, to the following regulations. 

1st.   That the names, residences, and description of the persons desiring to be joined together in holy wedlock (provided they be convicts, or either of them a convict) be transmitted in like manner as is done by the Chaplains of the Church of England to the Governor, and his permission obtained for the ceremony taking place.

2nd.  That you transmit applications to the Governor for leave to celebrate marriages in all cases, where it is required, on the first Monday (or as early as possible in the first week) of each month, in the same manner as is done by the chaplains of the Church of England.

3rd.  That you keep a register of all marriages which shall be celebrated by you, regularly vouched, and capable of being duly authenticated in all cases, when proof of a marriage may be required.

4th.  That you make a quarterly return to the Governor of all marriages, which shall have been celebrated by you within that period, and in order that your said returns may coincide in regard to dates with similar ones made by the Protestant chaplains, you will please to consider the four quarters of the year as terminating respectively with the 31st of March, the 30th of June, the 30th of September, and the 31st of December.

But you are on no account or consideration whatever, to celebrate a marriage between parties being Protestants, or where one of them is a Protestant, or where one or both is or are of any other religious persuasion than that of Roman Catholics.  The steady adherence to this injunction, involving in it the rights of legitimacy and inheritance, it will be your duty to keep this prohibition at all times clearly in view, both as it regards your obedience to a direct command and as it is of absolute necessity to guard against the validity of such marriages being hereafter called in question, and thereby the inheritance of property rendered doubtful and insecure. It would therefore appear a measure of sound policy on your part on behalf of the members of the Romish communion, and would mark in a very gratifying way your disposition to maintain and uphold the constitution and laws of the mother country, were you frequently to impress on their minds that the legitimacy of their offspring and their claims to the inheritance of property, will hinge on the validity of the marriage of parents. 

The penalty attached to a Roman Catholic priest for celebrating the marriage Ceremony between parties other than those immediately belonging to, and members of the Church of Rome, must be too well known to you to require me to say more on that subject, than merely to call it to your mind, and therefore, I need not dwell on the risk that would be incurred by your performing strictly forbidden service.  Your own good sense and feeling, not only of propriety, but of personal responsibility also, will fully mark the line of conduct you have to pursue in all such cases. 

You have likewise my permission to Baptise the children of parents of the Roman Catholic communion, but you are strictly enjoined to confine yourselves in the performance of that service to those persons of your own Communion. 

I see no objection whatever to your performing the funeral service, according to the rites of your Church, when called upon, over the remains of any deceased member of the Roman Catholic persuasion. 

Governor Lachlan Macquarie

In the way of advice, I have to recommend most strongly to you for the sake of concord with the members of other religious persuasions, that you endeavour not to make converts from the Established Church (or generally from the Protestant Church), but that you confine your spiritual ministry to those persons exclusively who are of the Romish communion. Indeed, within your own flock, which is very numerous, you will have quite enough of duty to perform conscientiously, without attempting by proselytizing, to acquire additional members. What I have already observed on this subject is altogether in the form of advice, for the laws of England, to which we must all conform at out peril, are too strong to require me to be more explicit in regard to their operation. 

I shall now advert to some points which are more of necessary local arrangement and political expediency in this colony than what I have already dwelt on, and shall preface them by observing to you that the melancholy effects lately produced in England by large popular meetings, [EN 4]  under the banners of itinerant political  demagogues, long practised in the acts of Faction, and ripe for anarchy and confusion, having made the enactment of certain laws in regard to future assemblages of the people, a matter of absolute necessity, in order to restrain the excesses to which they were becoming every day more and more the dupes, it will be incumbent on this Government to tread in the steps of those of the Mother Country, in order to avert the evils arising out of such popular meetings. In order, therefore, to guard against large meetings taking place under any pretence whatever, unless when called together by the proper legal authority, it will be expected and required of you :— 

1st. — That when you shall have fixed on certain stations, whereat you propose to celebrate divine service, at regular periods, that you transmit me, or the Governor for the time being, a return of the plans you shall have so determined on, whereby I shall be enabled to judge of their fitness, and when approved by me, I shall transmit authority to the Magistrates to permit the assemblage of your congregations at those particular places. But no meeting or assemblage of Roman Catholics, consisting of more than five persons for the celebration of the rites or service of your Church, is to be convened or held at any other place or places than those approved in the foregoing manner, unless leave for their special purpose shall have been first had and obtained from the magistrate residing nearest to the proposed place of assemblage, and notice of the time at which the intended meeting may be proposed to be held shall also be given to the said magistrate, whose permission must be obtained before such meeting or congregation shall be there assembled. 

2nd. — That you confine the public celebration of Mass to the Sabbath Day, and the Holy days set apart by the Church of England, on which, service is performed accordingly in this colony, in the Established Church. 

3rd. — That you administer the comforts of your religion to those persons exclusively who are of the Roman Catholic faith. 

4th. — That on Sundays and on the other holidays of the Church of England, when you shall celebrate Mass, you adopt the same hours for that service as are prescribed to the clergy of the established Church, in order that the prisoners of the Crown of your religious persuasion may be mustered in the same manner as those of the Church of England, and proceed to Mass, and return from it under the charge of the constables appointed for that duty. 

5th. — That you do not interfere with the religious education of orphans in the Government charitable institutions of this colony, they being by the fundamental regulations of those institutions, to be instructed in the faith and doctrines of the Church of England. 

6th. — That you keep registers, make regular quarterly returns, to the Governor, of births and deaths among the Roman Catholic inhabitants, in like manner as already directed for marriages, and the returns to be made up to the same periods. 

Having now, Gentlemen, dwelt on the principal points, both religious and political, which have occurred to my mind at this time, I shall wind up my instructions, by assuring you that I, at present, entertain a full confidence in the purity and integrity of your views and purposes as you have expressed them to me, and shall feel much mortified, indeed, if I should hereafter have reason to doubt that purity and integrity, or to call in question any part of your conduct in the ministry of the rites and ceremonies of the Church of Rome. 

But I willingly dismiss that subject from further observation, in order to give you the assurance that you will ever find me ready to advocate and support the religious liberty of your flock, and to maintain your own just rights and privileges, and to show you every mark of favour to which exemplary conduct can lay claim. 

I am, Reverend Sirs, 

Your obedient humble servant, 



The Revs. Philip Conolly and John Joseph Therry,

Roman Catholic Chaplains of Sydney.

- o - 

A photograph of Father Therry in old age.


[EN 1]  Father Jeremiah O'Flynn - who will be the subject of a future article - arrived in the Colony in 1817 with an appointment from the Vatican, but not the permission of the British Government.  Governor Macquarie took a very strict line that a priest without Governmental appointment had no business ministering in the Colony.  After six months, Macquarie had Father O'Flynn arrested and deported back to England.  The news of these events caused indignation in certain English political quarters and the Governor's actions were discussed unfavourably in the English parliament.

[EN 2]  Lachlan Macquarie was a practising Presbyterian, but nevertheless conformed to the Established Church upon becoming Governor of New South Wales in 1810.

[EN 3]  Our source for this letter was Father Eris O'Brien's biography of Father Therry (1922).  But Cardinal Moran's earlier history (1896) and an article in The Freeman's Journal of January 1888 give the date of Macquarie's letter as 14th October, 1820.

[EN 4]  It is likely that Macquarie is referring to the infamous public meeting in Manchester in 1819, which became known as The Peterloo Massacre.

Next post : Francis Greenway and Old Saint Mary's Cathedral.


04 November, 2021

Old Saint Mary's by Moonlight


Old Saint Mary's by moonlight
Image : The Saint Bede Studio.

Eastward of this Park [Hyde] without trees is the Catholic Chapel and a view of Port Jackson, with its numerous bays and woody shores.  The Gothic edifice, though a plain structure without the usual architraves, fretwork, moulding and sculpture, is a surprising piece of work, standing where it does ... This building, begun in 1820, and now roofing in, is in the form of a cross having at each corner octagonal buttresses rising above the roof with high-pointed caps, ornamented with turrets.  There, a circular projection in the transept for the altar constitutes the principal decorations, yet the whole has a fine effect, and by moonlight, but that the stone is fresh, you might fancy it is some old abbey.

Excerpt from the article "New Holland" by Dr Roger Oldfield in the South-Asian Register, May 1828.


The image of Old Saint Mary's accompanying this post is digital artwork prepared by The Saint Bede Studio.  It depicts the Western facade and the northern transept of the old Cathedral, looking across from Hyde Park, which is divided from the road (later College Street) by a post and rail fence.  To the left of the Cathedral are those buildings which comprised the residence of the Archbishop and the clergy of the Cathedral, built in the 1820s.

01 November, 2021

Bicentenary of the Founding of Saint Mary's Cathedral : 3

The day selected by Father Therry for the founding of the Colony's Catholic Chapel was All Saints' Day 1821.  It is most likely that he chose it to coincide with the Feast.   Somewhat daringly, Father Therry sent a letter to Governor Macquarie notifying him that the ceremony would occur, and inviting him to lay the first stone.  Governor Macquarie had laid the first stone of many buildings in the Colony, including some Anglican churches, but certainly not a Catholic building.  On 20th October, the Secretary replied that the Governor would "be very happy to have the honour of laying the first stone of the intended Roman Catholic Chapel", but stipulated that it could not be on the proposed date.  FN1  Consequently, Monday 29th October was chosen, at the hour of 1pm.  A very large number of people, Catholics and non-Catholics were present for the occasion.

Governor Macquarie
Portrait by Australian artist Arthur Levett Jackson.
Image : Wikipaedia.
Father Therry's invitation was strategic and of the greatest importance to the progress of the Catholic Faith in the Colony; but it was also somewhat unusual. If we were to accept at face value the extract from The Sydney Gazette, (reproduced in the first article of this series), the occasion was purely civic. The ceremony for laying the first stone of a Catholic Church is not a civic ceremony, however, but a rite of the Church, usually performed by a bishop. Since Father Therry's bishop was resident in Mauritius, it is a moot point whether he even knew when the first stone would be laid in far-off NSW. The laws of the Church, nevertheless, require that a bishop approve the founding of a church, including the site on which it is to be built.


There are some questions about the form of the rite which Father Therry carried out that day in 1821, since the rites associated with the blessing of a church were part of a bishop's ritual book, The Roman Pontifical, which was not necessarily in the possession of Father Therry. Various sources, however, give us a few scant details of what did take place that day.  We know that Father Therry did observe a rite and that he was dressed in his "sacerdotal vestments".  He uttered a prayer of blessing over the foundation stone whilst it was being laid by Governor Macquarie.  We also know that in a tent nearby, a small choir sang the responses to the prayers.  If all the choir had to do was to sing "Amen" at the end of a prayer or two, there would have been little need of their services.  So, it is most likely that part of the rite Of the Blessing and Laying of the Foundation Stone for the Building of a Church was observed that day and that it was certainly celebrated in Latin. FN2  Given the presence of the protestant Governor, it may be that Father Therry was inclined to modify the rite so as not to offend sensibilities.  As it was, it is recorded that Macquarie did attract a great deal of criticism for assisting at this Catholic ceremony.  FN3  

The following extract from a letter written in 1865 by Columbus Fitzpatrick (the ten-year old boy who assisted Father Therry as a server at the 1821 ceremony) would indicate that the ritual on the occasion was far from a cobbled-together abbreviated ceremony, and that singing of the chants set down in liturgical books was observed.  An important detail is that the celebration of Mass was part of the occasion, although this took place distinct from the Foundation Stone Rite, and certainly not in the presence of the Governor.   
...At all events, the Governor consented to lay the first stone of the first Catholic church in Australia.  The day was fixed, and every one of the [Government] officials, taking the cue from Government House, vied who could do most to forward the work.  Father Therry, who never put his light under a bushel, strained every nerve to make the scene an imposing one.  The trenches [marking the line of the intended walls of the building] were dug out, and a large quantity of stone placed on the ground; a marquee was erected, in which Mass was celebrated, and a procession formed which made a round of the site, while the choir chanted the various hymns appropriate for the occasion.  ¶ 
There were Catholics from all parts of the colony at the ceremony of laying the first stone, and they added not only to the appearance, but also to the subscription list.  I was then a boy serving at Mass, and it was part of my duty to hold the trowel until the time came for Father Therry to present it to the Governor.   FN4
Another newspaper correspondent from the year 1915 gives further interesting details of the occasion: 

About forty years ago [circa 1875] I had an interesting conversation with one of the masons who was at the ceremony of the laying of the foundation-stone, and who assisted to set it in its place. His name was Lawler, living then at Erin Vale, near Gunning (NSW). He stated that Father Therry had made great preparations for the occasion, and managed to get a few singers together to form a choir. The event drew a large attendance. Governor Macquarie, in official dress, accompanied by his staff, arrived and was received by the priest, who had several altar-boys in attendance. I heard in after years that Columbus Fitzpatrick, brother of the member of the Legislative Assembly, Sydney, was one of the boys. The old man told me that the ceremony was a very solemn affair, and that the silence was great whilst Father Therry read his address to the Governor, to whom he handed a silver trowel. His Excellency's reply was listened to with respectful attention.   FN5

Here follows an outline of that Latin rite, together with the text of particular prayers that were likely to have been recited.  FN6

Blessing of the Foundation Stone of a Church
as celebrated by a Bishop.
A large timber Cross - suggested to be 2 metres in height - is required to be erected beforehand on the site of the intended church and this Cross was to signify that place where the altar of the church would be erected. Of the details that have been preserved, there is no evidence that such a Cross had been erected, but we cannot say that it was not put up. The Cross is to be blessed with holy water, whilst a psalm is sung and then the following prayer is recited :


O Lord God, although heaven and earth cannot contain you, yet you are pleased to have a house on earth in which your name may be continually invoked. Look down with loving-kindness upon this place, and by the inpouring of your grace, purify it from all defilement and keep it pure. As you fulfilled the devout desire of your well-beloved David in the work of Solomon his son, likewise in this work be pleased to accomplish our desires, and drive from this place all the spirits of wickedness.

Attention is then focussed on the first stone, which is intended to be part of the structure of the intended wall, rather than a commemorative feature.  The following prayer invokes God's blessing over the stone :

O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, you, true God Almighty, brightness and image of the Eternal Father, and Eternal life; you who are the corner-stone cut out without hands from the mountain, and the unchanging foundation; fix firmly this stone to be laid in your name. We pray you, O Beginning and End, the Beginning which the Father created all things from before all ages, be the beginning, advancement and completion of this work which is to be undertaken for the praise and glory of your name.
The celebrant then sprinkles the stone with Holy Water and traces the Sign of the Cross upon each face of the stone.  After this, the stone was put in place, with the assistance of a stone mason. This would have been the moment when Governor Macquarie used the trowel presented to him for the occasion and the short addresses made.  The rite indicates that the Litany of the Saints is sung after this.  

In the Rite found in The Roman Pontifical, the celebrant turns his attention away from the foundation stone towards the entire site of the intended church.  He blesses the outline of the building, walking around it sprinkling the area with holy water whilst three psalms are sung.  Whether this part of the Rite was observed in 1821 is a moot point, since at this time no definite plan for Saint Mary's existed, only some ideas about its size and design.

After the hymn Veni Creator Spiritus,  FN7 the celebrant prays that the Holy Spirit will come down upon the building which is about to rise from the ground, that He would make acceptable the offerings of clergy and people, and purify the hearts of the faithful. The last petition is that the building itself may endure forever as an unfailing source of heavenly blessings: 
O God, whose clemency and loving-kindness is shown forth in every place subject to your dominion: graciously hear us and grant that the structure erected on this site may endure forever, and that all your faithful who here pray to you, may ever receive the benefits of your bounty.

Saint Mary's Chapel and associated buildings 1834.
Image : State Library of NSW.


From the memoir of William Bernard Ullathorne  FN8  are also preserved some details of the foundation of Saint Mary's.  These are in the form of testimony repeated to him by Catholics present on the day in 1821.  They indicate that Father Therry celebrated the Rite in his "sacerdotal vestments" and by this is probably meant his cassock, surplice and stole.  This may not seem so very remarkable, except one recalls that at the time, Catholic priests were forbidden by law to appear in public in priestly attire.

From Father Ullathorne's account, and the letters of Columbus Fitzpatrick and the account of the ceremony given by Mr Dywer, it is certain that a choir sang the chants appointed in the liturgical books at the Foundation stone ceremony.

We know about this very old choir through a variety of sources.  It had been formed by Mrs Catherine Fitzpatrick FN9 and a Mr Maguire in 1818 and they set about learning that liturgical music proper to the Mass and the Divine Office.  They became very accomplished.  Whether the music they provided for the Liturgy was sung to the Gregorian melodies or to other compositions (probably somewhat operatic), we cannot be certain.  How they came to have liturgical music at all is also unknown, except perhaps they had it specially sent to the Colony from England or Ireland.  That choir, formed in 1818, continued in various forms to accompany the Sacred Liturgy at Saint Mary's Church - later Cathedral - and does so until this day.

To be continued.

Further instalments:
The architecture of old Saint Mary's; 
What happened to the foundation stone?



FN1    The letter from Governor Macquarie's secretary is reproduced in Father Eris O'Brien's The Life of Archpriest J.J. Therry, Sydney, 1922
FN2   This centuries-old rite is found in the second volume of The Roman Pontifical, originally published by Pope Clement VIII in 1596.
FN3  Criticism of Governor Macquarie is detailed in a letter of Columbus Fitzpatrick 3rd July 1865 published in The Southern Argus (Goulburn).
FN4  Extract from Columbus Fitzpatrick's letter loc. cit.
FN5  Extract from a letter to the Editor by Mr A.T. Dwyer, The Freeman's Journal 23rd September 1915.
FN6  Translation of the prayers of The Roman Pontifical from the original Latin by the author of this article.
FN7  The ancient hymn to the Holy Spirit, Come O Creator, Spirit blest.
FN8  Father Ullathorne arrived in Australia in 1833 as Vicar-General.  In later years, he wrote his memoirs, which were published initially during his life, but significantly revised after his death. William Bernard Ullathorne, From Cabin Boy to Archbishop, London, 1943.
FN9  An interesting essay about this devout and dedicated Catholic pioneer can be found here: https://australiancatholichistoricalsociety.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/gleesoncatherinefitzpatrick.pdf 

29 October, 2021

Bicentenary of the founding of Saint Mary's Cathedral : 2

We continue our series of short articles commemorating the Bicentenary of the Foundation of Saint Mary's Cathedral, Sydney.

Before the ritual of laying the First stone of the chapel commenced, Father Therry, the Catholic Chaplain resident in Sydney, read a prepared Address to the Governor.  Afterwards, he gave a copy of his speech to the editor of The Sydney Gazette, and so we have preserved the actual words he spoke on that occasion :

To His Excellency LACHLAN MACQUARIE, Esquire,  Governor in Chief, &c. &c. &c

In presenting to Your Excellency this humble Instrument (which, undervalued as it may be by the supercilious and unscientific, will not be condemned by any who have studied and patronised, as Your Excellency has done, the sciences and useful arts), We, the Catholics of this Colony, cannot refrain, on so auspicious an occasion, from expressing our most sincere and heartfelt gratitude to Your Excellency, for having deigned to honour us, by personally laying the first Stone of the First Roman Catholic Chapel attempted to be erected in this Territory.  

As a worthy Representative of a benevolent King, you, by this act of condescension, give an illustrious example, which will prove to be not less beneficial to society than meritorious to Your Excellency. You will have the merit of laying the firm foundation of a moral Edifice of unanimity, mutual confidence, and fraternal love, and of more strongly cementing the respect and affection of all persuasions and parties, in this Country, to our Sovereign, to yourself, and to each other. 

In the Temple which you now commence, prayers shall be frequently offered to the Throne of God, to invoke upon yourself, and your amiable Family, the richest blessings of Heaven; and we venture to predict, that, whilst it shall continue to be appropriated to the sacred use for which it is intended, neither the Name, nor the Virtues of Your Excellency, shall at any time be forgotten. 

JOHN JOSEPH THERRY, Roman Catholic Chaplain, 
For himself, and his Roman Catholic Brethren of New South Wales

Sydney, 29th October, 1821

Founder of Saint Mary's Cathedral


The Governor's answer to Father Therry's address was also included in The Sydney Gazette.

To the Reverend JOHN JOSEPH THERRY, and the Roman Catholics of New South Wales. 


I receive from your hands, with much pleasure, in your own name, and that of your Roman Catholic Brethren of New South Wales, the very handsome Silver Trowel now presented to me; and I feel myself much honoured in having been thus selected to make use of this Instrument in laying the First Stone of the first Roman Catholic Chapel attempted to be erected in Australia. 

The sentiments you have addressed to me, are congenial with my own, in the beneficial result to be derived from the erection of the proposed Edifice. 

It has been a great gratification to me to witness and assist at the ceremony now performed;—And I have every hope, that the consideration of the British Government, in supplying the Roman Catholics of this Colony with established Clergymen, will be the means of strengthening and augmenting (if that be possible) the attachment of the Catholics of New South Wales to the British Government, and will prove an inducement to them to continue, as I have ever found them to be, loyal and faithful Subjects to the Crown. 

I beg you will accept of my best acknowledgments for the sentiments of friendly regard, and kind good wishes, you have been pleased to express for myself, and my Family. 

LACHLAN MACQUARIE, Governor in Chief of New South Wales. 
Sydney, 29th October, 1821.

A correspondent records that the Governor's address was listened to respectfully and greeted with cheers.  The language of these two addresses is decidedly that of another age, but important points are made both by Father Therry and Governor Macquarie, with the utmost graciousness.  Given the social and legal standing of Catholics at this time (prior to the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829) it is unsurprising that the tone of Father Therry's address is deferential.  It presupposes that Catholics are tolerated, but perhaps not warmly welcomed.  Father Therry does indicate, however, what Catholicism can add to the Colony of New South Wales, namely, social cohesion through the spread of Christian morality and mutual respect.  In his turn, Governor Macquarie makes a most important observation about his experience of the Catholics of the Colony, namely, that they are good Citizens.

By that short ceremony, two hundred years ago, Catholicism gained within the Colony of New South Wales a sense of permanence and even respectability.  The Governor, by his own hand, had founded their place of worship and indicated that Catholics were not rebels, felons and troublemakers, but "Faithful and Loyal Subjects of the Crown."

To be continued.


Hyde Park, 1829
Image :  Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection, Sydney Living Museums

This is an engraving of Hyde Park, Sydney, based on a drawing of 1829 by the deaf artist John Carmichael.  The view is looking northwards across Hyde Park and shews in the distance a number of buildings which are still in existence almost two hundred years later.

The Supreme Court and Saint James' Anglican church are shewn at centre left.  To the right is the Rum Hospital (now the Mint Building) and beside it, the Hyde Park Barracks. To assist with identification, names of the buildings have been digitally added.

On the right-hand of the engraving is shewn Old Saint Mary's, still under construction and before it began to be used as a place of worship. The walls are in place and the timber members of the roof, but the actual timber shingles were not in place for a few years more, owing to a lack of money to complete work.  At this time, 1829, the roadway we now know as College Street did not exist, but Saint Mary's Road (as it would later be known), seen in the engraving, was part of a roadway leading to Woolloomooloo Bay.


The portrait of Father Therry, included in this post, is an original piece of digital art but based on the 1819 miniature held by the Archdiocese of Sydney and which bears Father Therry's signature.


28 October, 2021

Bicentenary of the Founding of S' Mary's Cathedral Sydney : 1

The silver trowel presented to Governor Macquarie
with which he laid the first stone of Saint Mary's Chapel
29th October 1821.

Image : State Library of NSW.

Adjacent is a facsimile of a news report in The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser for Saturday, 3rd November, 1821.  It reports a brief ceremony of great significance in Australian history.  The occasion was the laying of the Foundation Stone of the colony's first Catholic church, Saint Mary's Chapel, on the previous Monday, 29th October.  It was also the first occasion when a leader of Colonial Government had in person supported and participated in the rites of the Catholic Church in Australia.  It is likely that those present saw the occasion in that very light.  The leader in question was Governor Lachlan Macquarie, who has never been portrayed in our history as a friend to Catholicism.  Not much more than three years previously (1818) it was the same Governor Macquarie who had arrested and deported from the Colony, the Catholic priest Father Jeremiah O'Flynn, because that priest lacked authorisation from England to minister to Catholics in Australia.  When two further authorised Catholic chaplains arrived in NSW two years later (1820), they were received coolly by the Governor, who placed strict limitations on their ministry within the Colony.

Yet this man, who had behaved in such an inflexible way towards Catholics and their chaplains altered his attitude and offered public support for the practice of Catholicism in the Colony.  It would have been a remarkable moment for the Colony's Catholic population after more than 20 years of being barely tolerated and unprovided for by Authority.

Amongst the large crowd of Catholics and residents of Sydney present that day was a boy named Columbus Fitzpatrick.  He assisted Father Therry as a server during the Rite in which the Foundation Stone was laid.  Young Master Fitzpatrick recalled the informal remarks made by Governor Macquarie :
The Governor wiped the trowel with his own handkerchief, and put the trowel in his bosom, saying "You must know Mr Therry, that although I never laid the first stone of a Catholic church before, I am a very old Mason; and I shall keep this trowel as long as I live, in remembrance of this day, and I wish you and your flock every success in your pious undertaking. " FN

Major General Lachlan Macquarie
Governor of the Colony of NSW 1810-1821

Image : Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery.
Within a couple of months, Governor Macquarie had left Australia and returned to England.  And he did take that trowel with him.  140 years later, in 1962, his descendants returned the trowel to Australia where it remains preserved in excellent condition in the State Library of NSW.  It is remarkable to consider that an artefact of such an historic occasion has survived.  But the chapel that Father Therry and Governor Macquarie founded that day in 1821 was consumed by fire in 1865 and of that historic building - Australia's first dedicated Catholic church - but one section of a masonry wall has survived.  It is dwarfed by the towering walls of the present Saint Mary's Cathedral.

To be continued.

The Silver Trowel and its maker

The silver trowel described in the report of The Sydney Gazette was made and engraved by Samuel Clayton.  Given that Governor Macquarie had only agreed to lay the Foundation stone for Saint Mary's several days previously, the silver trowel must have been produced and engraved very quickly.

Samuel Clayton was a talented portrait artist, engraver, art teacher and silversmith. Unfortunately, as a young man, his talents were put to ill-use, since he was tried and convicted on charges of forgery in Dublin in 1815 and was sentenced to 7 years transportation. He arrived on 20th December 1816. He came from a reputable Protestant family and his father was also a proficient engraver. Obviously an enterprising man, within a few weeks Samuel Clayton was advertising his services in The Sydney Gazette, offering to take “likenesses” and proposing to give instruction “in ornamental painting and drawing” as well as engraving and miniature painting. He also produced works in silver, such as jewellery, buying old silver to refashion it. Samuel Clayton engraved the plates for banknotes of Bank of New South Wales in April 1817. That he had prospered in the colony is evident by the fact that in 1839 he was one of the proprietors of the Bank of New South Wales. His success might in part have had to do with his Masonic associations. Most of his surviving work is on silver. Attributed to him are two trowels, including the one presented to Governor Macquarie at the laying of the foundation stone of Saint Mary’s. Both incorporate masonic details in the engraving. In 1818 he received a Conditional Pardon and in 1824 an Absolute Pardon from the Colonial Government.

The inscription on the trowel reads :

The Captn. Gen. Governor & Commander in Chief, Vice Admiral, and Commander of the Forces in and over the Territory of New South Wales and its Dependencies. His Excellency Lachlan Macquarie Esq. Major General in the Army &c &c &c. Used this Instrument at the Ceremony of laying the first Stone of the first Catholic Chapel erected in the said Territory on the 29th day of Oct. A.D. 1821.

Engraved on blade are the words "Wisdom, strength & beauty S. Clayton Fecit et Sculp."  The Coat of arms used by Governor Macquarie is engraved above a raised triangle on the blade.  


FN Quoted from Dean John Kenny's A History of the Commencement and Progress of Catholicity in Australia, Sydney, 1886 p. 41.  In the quoted words of Governor Macquarie, he is making a little joke when addressing those present.  When he said "I am a very old Mason" he is referring to his being a member of long-standing of Freemasonry.


14 September, 2021

The beginnings of the Church in Australia :
a brief sketch 1792 - 1834

In previous articles at In diebus illis, we have traced the beginnings of Christianity in the Colony of New South Wales.  We noted the numbers of Catholics who were part of the First Fleet in 1788.  We read a heartfelt letter from an English Catholic priest, asking to be allowed to travel to Botany Bay to minister to Catholic convicts.  We also gained a vivid glimpse into the ministry of the first Christian Chaplain to the Colony, the Reverend Richard Johnson.

The purpose of this article is to give an overview of the events and personages of the Catholic community in the Colony of NSW from 1792 until 1834, the moment when Australia's first bishop, John Bede Polding OSB, was appointed.  For this overview, we use material from the Australian Dictionary of Biography and from some Catholic historians.   EN1   The contents of this post will be elaborated upon with forthcoming articles.  A further article will discuss the varying social conditions of Catholics during the first fifty years of the Colony.

As we have traced in previous articles, the spread of the Gospel was not a focus of the early Governors of the penal colony of New South Wales, still less, support for the practice of Catholicism.  There was no practical interest in religion per se, except as a means of improving the moral tone of the Colony - a struggle which was ongoing.  The absence of any formal Catholic community in Australia before the arrival of the two Catholic chaplains in 1820, also reflected the lack of legal rights afforded Catholics in Britain and the suspicion which British Authority had towards the blend of Irish Nationalism and Irish Catholicism.  Although the largest proportion of Catholic felons transported from Britain and Ireland from 1788 were Irish, not all were and there were also a small number of soldiers and officials of the Colony who were Catholic.  In 1792, a group of Catholics resident in Parramatta petitioned the Governor of NSW to make some provision for the religious sensibilities of Catholics; unsurprisingly, it was ignored, but this was the first moment when Catholics asserted their desire to practise their Religion.

Following the 1798 Uprising against British Rule in Wexford on the west coast of Ireland, many more Irish Catholics were transported to New South Wales and among them were three priests, Fathers James Harold, James Dixon, and Peter O'Neil.  All three were accused - unjustly - of complicity in that Uprising.  They have been known to Australian history as The Convict Priests. The fortunes of these these three in the Colony varied somewhat, and it was only Father Dixon who was was given official permission to offer Mass publicly in 1803. Rome conferred on him the title of Prefect Apostolic of New Holland, which sounded very grand, but had very little benefit to the Catholics of the Colony.  

Father Jeremiah O'Flynn
A sketch which appears in 
The Progress of Catholicity in Australia
published 1886.
What seemed the beginnings of a Catholic community collapsed when discontented Irish convicts took up arms at Castle Hill (near Parramatta) in 1804.  Even though Father Dixon attempted to broker peace between the Castle Hill rebels and the Colonial Authority, Government toleration of Catholicism evaporated and the ministry of Father Dixon came to an official end.  All three priests had left the Colony by 1810, without any permissions granted for a further public ministry.  Seven bleak years ensued when there was no Catholic priest resident in the Colony, and yet, there were prominent Catholics - mainly former convicts - who worked quietly and successfully at building up a Catholic community.  We mention here William Davis and his wife Catherine (nee Miles), Jane Langley, James Dempsey, Michael Dwyer, James Sheedy, Michael Hayes, Edward Doyle, James Meehan, Catherine Fitzpatrick and her family.  

The essential distrust of Irish Catholics held both by the British and successive New South Wales Colonial governors, was not eased by the short ministry in Sydney of the Irish priest, Jeremiah O'Flynn.   Father O’Flynn, formerly a Cistercian monk, arrived in Sydney in 1817 with Rome's approbation as Prefect Apostolic.  Always given to imprudence and impetuous behaviour, Father O'Flynn failed to obtain prior approval from the British Government to enter and minister to Catholics in the Colony.  When he arrived - unannounced - he was not made welcome by the Governor, Lachlan Macquarie.  Father O'Flynn assured the Macquarie that authorisation for his appointment would be forthcoming from London, but without licence, he ministered in semi-secrecy to the Catholics of Sydney and surrounding districts.  He was eventually arrested and deported by Colonial Authorities to England.  He left behind a Catholic community disheartened by the loss of their pastor, but also a Divine present : the Reserved Sacrament in a pyx guarded reverently in the home of one of the pioneer Catholics of Sydney. 

The notorious case of Father O'Flynn had other significant outcomes so far as the Catholic Community in the Colony was concerned. Upon his return to Britain, there was public distaste for the manner in which Fr O'Flynn had been treated, but perhaps more concern was expressed for the plight of Catholics in the far-off colony who had no chaplain.  Pressure brought to bear on the Government made them more disposed to providing Catholic chaplains, but they also cooperated with Catholic Authorities in Rome and London to facilitate this.  The British Government's continuing unease about Irish Catholicism led them to cooperate with the Vicar Apostolic of London in arranging for a chaplain or chaplains to be sent to NSW.  

Father John Joseph Therry
An aquatint of him painted in
Ireland around 1815.
In 1818, Rome created an Apostolic Vicariate ( a form of Diocese) at the Cape of Good Hope and responsibility for the Catholics of far-off New South Wales was entrusted to the new Vicar-Apostolic, English Benedictine Father Edward Bede Slater. The new bishop's jurisdiction included Mauritius, Madagascar, the Cape of Good Hope, New Holland and Van Diemen's Land. Notwithstanding the British Government's intentions that English Catholic priests be sent to NSW, the incapacity of the English Benedictines to send priests to the outposts of this vast ecclesiastical territory caused Bishop Slater to seek chaplains in Ireland. Two Irish volunteers, Fathers John Joseph Therry and Philip Conolly, were accepted by Bishop Slater OSB and appointed by the British Government, each with a salary of £100. These two priests were to be the Bishop's missionaries in New Holland and Van Diemen's Land. They were responsible both to him and to the Colonial Government. The two chaplains arrived in Sydney in May 1820.  

Embarking on their work with great enthusiasm, unfortunately it became clear very quickly that the two priests did not work well together.  In 1821, within months of the pair's arrival in Sydney, Father Connolly left the mainland to establish a mission in Van Diemen’s Land, specifically in Hobarton, where the small Catholic population was almost entirely convict.  Father Therry was left to minister to the needs of Catholics in all the existing and newly-settled areas of NSW.  Despite his immense energy and missionary zeal, he was barely equal to the demands upon him.  Although admirable for his perseverance in adverse circumstances, his hot-headedness and impatience with Authority led to his too-prominent association with groups opposed to Colonial policies.  A series of aggravating incidents led to the withdrawal of his Government salary in 1826, and a determined effort to expel him from the Colony.  

Father Therry would not be moved, however, and continued his ministry whilst being supported by the Catholic Faithful, who held him in the highest esteem.  Partly because of their regard for him, the Catholic community did not warm greatly to the two Irish priests who replaced Fr Therry in succession as Chaplain from 1826.  These were  Father Daniel Power and then Father Christopher Vincent Dowling OP.  Notwithstanding these divisions, the priests continued a zealous ministry.  In 1821, the first Catholic school in Australia commenced in Parramatta and the foundation stone of the first Catholic Chapel - subsequently known as Saint Mary's - was laid by no less a personage than Governor Macquarie.

Father John McEncroe
Arrived as a Catholic Chaplain
in 1832

From the late 1820s, as the number of Irish Catholics in the colony continued to rise (though mainly convicts and working class people), a trickle of educated and politically-significant Irishmen migrated to Sydney, notably Roger Therry and John Hubert Plunkett, both of whom were appointed to senior legal offices in the Colony.  Father John McEncroe accompanied Mr Plunkett as an additional official chaplain (1832).  Father McEncroe, who had previously spent some years working in the American colonies, managed what his two predecessors (Fathers Power and Dowling OP) had failed to do, namely to maintain a good working relationship with Father Therry.  

In the same year, 1832, a new Vicar Apostolic at the Cape of Good Hope appointed Father William Ullathorne OSB (a monk of Downside Monastery in England) as his Vicar-General in the colony of New South Wales.  This appointment was ratified by the British Government.  Although very young, when Father Ullathorne arrived in Sydney in 1833, he tactfully and capably put the affairs of the Church in order with the assistance of Father McEncroe and sometimes grudging cooperation from Father Therry.  But Father Ullathorne soon saw the infant Church in Australia needed its own resident bishop, and wrote to Rome and England accordingly.  After some consideration and negotiation, the Holy See and the British Government reached agreement and Dom John Bede Polding, another Benedictine monk of Downside Monastery, was appointed the Vicar Apostolic of New Holland and Van Diemen's Land in 1834.


Standing on what is now Saint Mary's Road, an artist painted the watercolour shewn above in July 1834, looking towards what we know as the site of the ANZAC Memorial in the southern precinct of Hyde Park.  This watercolour is part of the collection of the National Library of Australia.

In the centre of this painting is Saint Mary's Catholic Chapel, whose exterior walls of light-coloured stone had only been completed in the previous year.  A year later, it would become the Cathedral Church of the newly-arrived Bishop Polding.  The proportions of Saint Mary's are not quite accurately portrayed in this painting : it was of a much more "squat" appearance.

The focus of these paintings is a collection of buildings which were constructed in stages during the 1820s and included a temporary chapel (under the patronage of Saint Joseph), a schoolroom and the residence for the various pioneering priests. 



EN1  Biographical notes prepared in 1967 by the late Mr Bede Nairn for The Australian Dictionary of Biography were used as the skeleton for this article.

24 August, 2021

On telling the history of the Church

Studying the accounts of many Australian Catholic historians, as part of my ongoing research, I have noticed a distinct change in the emphasis of telling Catholic history over the last 50 or so years.  Reading these studies, sometimes I have felt that there is very little difference in style between those writing about the history of the Church and those writing the history of a political party, for example, or detailing the reign of a monarch.  In such studies, although they are academically rigorous, there has been something lacking, at least from my perspective.

Consider the following, for example, written by a Catholic priest as a foreword to a study on the beginnings of a congregation of Religious sisters in Australia:

All good history is an argument which marshalls evidence in support or rebuttal of a case.  It is never just facts piled upon facts in some shapeless mass; nor is it bland assertions without any proof.  Since history is about people, it is the same line of territory as imaginative literature and catches what it was like to be alive at the time of its subjects.  Thus it expands our experience of being human as well as our knowledge of the past.  EN1

This seems very good, so far as it goes, but is there something lacking?  What would that be?

Saint Bede the Venerable
by JD Penrose.
In answering that question, perhaps it would be helpful to look into what the Church has taught about the study of ecclesiastical history as described in an interesting and comprehensive article written by the renowned historian and biblical archaeologist Monsignor Johann Peter Kirsch for the 1910 edition of the Catholic Encyclopaedia. The following is an abridged extract from an article.

The Church was founded by Christ Jesus for the realisation on earth of the Kingdom of God and for the sanctification of man.  The Church has two elements : the Divine, comprising all the truths of Faith destined for the guidance of the faithful and the practice, together with the guardianship of all the means by which man receives and sustains his supernatural life (for example, the sacraments). The second is the human element being the co-operation of the human free will - under the influence of earthly factors - with the Divine. This human element is subject to change and development, and it is owing to it that the Church has a history. The scope of ecclesiastical history consists in the methodical investigation of the life of the Church in all its manifestations from the beginning of its existence to our own day among the various divisions of mankind hitherto reached by Christianity.  

In one facet, ecclesiastical history treats of the development of Church teaching, based on the original supernatural deposit of faith; of the development of ecclesiastical worship in its various forms; of the arts in the service of the Church, especially in connection with worship; of the forms of ecclesiastical government and the exercise of ecclesiastical functions; of the different ways of cultivating the perfect life in religion; of the manifestations of religion and sentiment among the people; and of the disciplinary rules whereby Christian morality is cultivated and preserved and the faithful are sanctified. 

In another facet, however, ecclesiastical history details the lives and activity of individuals (biography), who, during their lifetime, were of special importance for the life of the Church. There is also the historical description of single countries or parts of them, e.g. dioceses, parishes, monasteries, churches, the history of orders and congregations and also the history of missions, a subject of far-reaching importance. Furthermore, there is the history of the popes, of councils, collections of the lives and legends of the saints, also of patrology, dogma, liturgy, worship, the law, constitution, and social institutions of the Church. 

It is not sufficient for ecclesiastical history merely to establish a certain series of events in their objective appearance; the historian is also bound to lay bare their causes and effects. Nor does it suffice to consider only those factors which lie on the surface and are suggested by the events themselves, as it were : the internal, deeper, and real causes must be brought to light. In the ethical and religious world, the facts are the concrete realisation or outcome of definite spiritual ideas and forces, not only in the life of the individual, but also in that of groups and associations. 

Individuals and groups, without exception, are members of the one human race created for a sublime destiny beyond this mortal life. Thus, the action of the individual exercises its influence on the development of the whole human race, and this is true in a special manner of life in religion. 

Moreover, to discover fully the really decisive causes of a given event, the historian must take into account all the forces that concur in producing it. This is particularly true of the free will of man, a consideration of great importance in forming a judgment about ethical phenomena. It follows that the influence of given individuals on the development of the whole body must be properly appreciated. 

A characteristic, which ecclesiastical history has in common with every other species of history, is impartiality. This consists in freedom from every unfounded and personal prejudice against persons or facts, in an honest willingness to acknowledge the truth as conscientious investigation has revealed it, and to describe the facts or events as they were in reality; in the words of Cicero, "to assert no falsehood and to hide no truth." (De Oratore, II, ix, 15).

Believing Christian historians keep in view that the founder of the Church is the Son of God, and that the Church was instituted by Him in order to communicate to the whole human race, to individuals and to particular groups, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, its Salvation through Christ.  It is from this standpoint that the Christian historian assesses all particular events in their relationship to this end or purpose of the Church. Consequently, the possibility of Divine intervention can never be absent from the Christian historian's assessment of historical events.  The history of the Church , indeed, exhibits most clearly a special guidance and providence of God. 

The unbelieving historian, on the other hand, recognising only natural forces both at the origin and throughout the development of Christianity, and rejecting the possibility of any supernatural intervention, is incapable of appreciating the work of the Church in as far as it is the agent of Divine design.  EN2

From this exposition, we see Catholic history is not merely "about people" (as Father Campion suggested), but rather the story of people of Faith and their cooperation - more or less adequately - with God's plan for salvation of the human race, each and every individual.  Such a story does not preclude good humour, or the recounting of unpleasant, even disedifying stories.  It ought, however,  to be open to considering God's hand in shaping our story, through the mystery of his Providence.

Because historians are also fallible human beings, it is possible to fall into certain traps.  One of them concerns a practice of arranging facts according to a pre-conceived narrative or ideology.  We see such patterns all the time in the propaganda of politicians and governments.  The historian must attempt to step outside such pre-conceptions.  Similarly, a defect in assessing history is to perceive past persons or events entirely through the lens of modern thinking, rather than the thinking of the  age past.  It is easy to be shocked by attitudes from the past, but not so easy to analyse the degree to which those attitudes might be mistaken.  Likewise, those writing the history of our own age might be shocked by attitudes currently held commonly, which we might consider "enlightened" in contrast to our own past.

The last thing I would like to comment upon is the practice of charity.  In studying history, we frequently meet with persons who are not very admirable and events which offend.  We also meet with admirable people who have made serious mistakes or who have profound flaws.  Since history is mostly about persons who passed from this life, it is helpful to remind ourselves that, upon death, each and every human faces God and has to account for his or her life.  As Catholics, we believe that our failures and flaws will be made very clear to us at that moment by God.  We ought also to believe that, confronted with such things, the Faithful Departed will understand their failings in the light of God's plan for the Redemption of the human race.  We may judge sternly persons or events in history, whilst remembering that we ourselves, in our turn, will be judged.  Accordingly, the historian, in seeking to tell truthfully and objectively the events of the past, must temper that telling with charity.  That is good history.

Ut in omnibus Deus glorificetur.


EN1  Foreword by Father Edmund Campion in Sister M.M.K. Sullivan RSC A Cause of Trouble?  Irish Nuns and English Clerics, 2nd edition, 2019.

EN2  An abridgement of the article "Ecclesiastical History" by JB Kirsch in The Catholic Encyclopaedia, vol. 7, pp.365-380, Robert Appleton Company, New York, 1910.