01 April, 2021

Lenten Pastoral of Archbishop Polding : 1860

Archbishop Polding

If there is one thing more obvious than another in the vocation to which the Almighty has called us Christians, it is its absolute claim over all that man has and is - the entireness of the change by which the Christian has become a new creature, and which old things are passed away, and all things are become new.  Hence, indifference is amongst its deadliest enemies or, rather, it is a foe which bears within itself the concentrated mischief of all others.  Open sin degrades and makes miserable the sinner, but it leaves his with his eyes in some degree open, if it be only to see his own nakedness. ...

The first and the greatest of all commandments – the first of the two on which hang all the law and Prophets, runs thus: “You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, and with your whole soul, and with your whole mind.”  Recall to memory the terms which are used by the inspired writers of the New Testament, in order to describe true nature of the life which is to be led by the disciples of Christ : it is a pilgrimage, a race, warfare demanding watchfulness, and endurance, and stout heartedness.  The merchant of our blessed Lord’s parable, having found the one pearl of great price, went his way and sold all that he had, bought it.  If Christian men would be indeed followers of Him whose name they bear, they are warned of the cost as earnestly as they are lovingly invited; they are to take their Cross daily; they are to stand prepared to give up all that is dearest in human life, and that life itself also, when their Master’s call is heard.  The same voice which is ever crying throughout the world “Come to me all you that labour and are burdened, and I will refresh you,” utters also the warning exhortation “You cannot serve God and Mammon” : the same Good Shepherd who gathers the lambs in his arms, and seeks out with so loving a perseverance the wandering sheep, has Himself told us of the day when He will say to those who - at the appointed hour, shall have no oil in their lamps -  “I know you not.”

There is a fearful error, Dearly Beloved, against which no warnings of mine can be too solemn and importunate.  It is the error of supposing the Christian life to be a thing of negatives, as if all you had to hope and strive for were the avoiding of flagrant transgression of the penal laws of God.  What an unworthy distortion of Christian thought, and yet how many seem to adopt and live in this distortion !  You are “to cease to do evil” certainly, but it is that you may “learn to do well” and these two things are as inseparable in practice as they are in precept.  What is the main character of the spirit taught by the Church and by the Holy Scriptures?  Is it not the filial temper of love and self-sacrifice, and devout imitation of our Lord, in very contra-distinction to the grudging, reluctant, sluggish, lukewarm temper of the slave who fulfils an unloved service under constraint and fear of punishment? Think too, again, of that revelation which our Saviour has graciously made to us of the manner in which the last judgement will be conducted.  How much it declares, and how much it implies…. The blessed are blessed for what they have done; the cursed are cursed for what they have left undone.  Most merciful and dread lesson!  Let us take it to heart.

What we have said, Dearly Beloved, and what we have suggested, is enough to guide your thoughts in the direction in which we would in this season have you employ your self-examination.  What is the remedy … if you discover that practical indifference has fastened upon yourselves, or upon any you love and care for?  This one thing; recurrence to one of the first statements of your catechism - man was created in order to know God and serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him in the next.  Enter into the depths of this truth and when you are in some tolerable measure permeated by a sense of what it implies, then look at this world, at its utmost good and evil in such a light.  Or listen to these words of eternal wisdom: “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and lose his own soul?”  

Better still to go to the foot of the Cross; spend these few days of the penitential season in the slight self-denial that is required of you, strengthen your heart and purge your soul by the spiritual exercises of the Church, and then look up into the face of the Crucified, and see whether you can find any excuse for indifference.  Never did Christian man, as he stood upon Calvary and contemplated its spectacle, think of half measures.  Truly and wholly, in the church and in the world, in prosperity and adversity, “I am yours and yours only, My Lord and my God.”  May this be in all your hearts; and make the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the charity of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  Amen.

Excerpts from Archbishop Polding's Pastoral Letter for 1860 as contained in the anthology The Eye of Faith.



The Eye of Faith was printed by the Lowden Publishing Co., Kilmore Victoria in 1977.  The editors were Gregory Haines, Sister Mary Gregory Foster and Frank Brophy.  Special contribution to the volume were made by Professor Timothy Suttor and James Cardinal Freeman.


22 March, 2021

Letter of Archbishop Polding
during a time of natural disaster

The Pastoral Letter of John Bede,
by Divine Grace and favour of the Holy Apostolic See,
Archbishop of Sydney and Metropolitan,
on behalf of those who are suffering from the blighted harvest
and the floods of this present Year of Our Lord, 1864.

Dearly Beloved Children in Jesus Christ,

He that loveth not his brother whom he seeth, how can he love God whom he seeth not?
1st Epistle of Saint John 4 : 20.

These simple sacred words of the beloved apostle, how they stir our hearts! Saint John, likened to the eagle, for the sublimity of his doctrine concerning the great mysteries known to man only through Divine revelation in the Church of Christ; Saint John, the seer of Apocalyptic visions concerning the future of the Church; Saint John, [who] leaned on our Lord’s breast when the treachery of Judas, and of Judas-like men was heavy on his spirit; Saint John, to whom the mother of Jesus was given by her Son at that supreme moment of His passion; Saint John, who was so much, and had seen so much - what is the sum of the doctrine he preaches with so much earnestness and frequency? Nothing difficult to understand, nothing hard to practise, for the princely spirit of simple truth and love, nothing that needs or provokes discussion – “that we love one another, as he has given commanded unto us.” And then, that there be no mistake, no self-deceit, no resting in mere impulse and warm feeling, he shows, in those simple, keen, luminous words that we have just recalled to your memory, how we may know the truth about ourselves, whether we are genuine Christian men, or wordy, self-deceived deceivers. “He that loves not his brother whom he sees, how can he love God whom he sees not?” What a changed world this would be, Dearly Beloved, if men would be guided by such a rule and motive as is here implied! 

In all the terrible prospect that seems to lie in this world’s future, in all the sin and misery that are darkening it at this moment, we should still rejoice in gleams of the Divine presence, if we could see, even here and there, men proving their love to God by consistent persevering love of their fellows. How light then, comparatively, would be fears of wars, and earthquakes, and tempests; how much less should we be troubled by the sordid intrigues and schemes of politicians; how much less should we be disheartened by the real misery of the sins, and infidelities, and sacrileges, that abound, if we walked more diligently with our eyes fixed on this plain bright path traced for us by the beloved disciple.   And indeed there are, thank God, those who walk in this path.  Who they are, and how many, or how few they may be, we do not know, nor is it necessary we should.  One thing only is necessary, that each one of you should take care to be in this path himself.   The judgements of God are upon the earth, but whether they shall be to us judgements of reprobation and destruction or the chastisements and warnings of God’s tender love, this rests upon your correspondence with God’s grace.  And, in view of these judgements, our best and safe course is to look simply what might have been our own share in provoking them.  It is not always where they seem to fall heaviest that they are most deserved, that there is the heaviest guilt. 

Suffering in this world is not the final reckoning.  Whether then such calamities as the blighted harvest in one part of our colony, and the devastation of floods in another, are judgements of a national kind, directed against our guiltiness as a nation, and in what degree they are so, it is less profitable and necessary to enquire than to examine what our own individual sins of omission and commission might have been.   It might well be, that as a colony we have been arrogant and boastful, neglectful of God and of God’s service, training our children well and carefully for the gain and service of Mammon, but leaving their education for God - so far as the colony is concerned - to individual neglect or incapacity; we might have the weight of old cruelties to bond-servants about necks, we might have the blood of aboriginal inhabitants on our hands. God knows (may He be merciful to us) how much as a colony we have sinned in this wise. 

I do not say that at this season of truly penitential thoughts you should entirely pass over such considerations as these.  There are blessings that we enjoy as a community, as a nation, and doubtless there are sins also that we have committed as a community, and there is an inheritance of sins.  But, Dearly Beloved, what I have to say to you on this point is mainly this is: look each one of you to himself. See, lest any worldliness, any pride, any selfishness, any hard-heartedness, any irreverence, any sensuality, any neglect of spiritual interests in yourself, might have contributed to the mass of guilt that at length brings down on man the visible anger of God.  This is your care. 

And do not be content with looking at sins of commission only.  Sins of omission are weighty and deadly.  Have you not duties to the community in which you live as well as to the individuals who compose it?  Ah! It is a fearful reckoning when honestly looked into; but still let us look, that we may repent, and see God’s grace and mercy behind and above all.  You have influence more or less on the national acts, the government, and character of the colony; has that influence gone to Christianise or to degrade and make heathen those acts, and that government?  Hearken in these points also to your Christian conscience.

Dearly beloved, I have suggested so far the uses that may be made of our calamities, or of those of our friends and neighbours, as a matter of examination and self-abasement for Lent; but I have now to ask for the fruits of your faith, the alms that will give wings to your prayers.  And I ask with some confidence that you will be generous in aiding those who are now suffering so heavily.   I cannot here give you details of the loss and wretchedness which so many, in the inscrutable providence of God, are enduring, but it is unnecessary, for the public prints have informed you, and they are a matter of common sympathy and conversation.  And what you have done before fills me with thankfulness and hope : you have given your money freely to relieve distress throughout the world.  England, Ireland, France, India, all have been helped and comforted by your Christian devotion, true devotion of Saint John’s kind, the love of God that is seen in the love of your brethren.   You will not fail, nor shame me now, you will again honour your Catholic name and faith.   The cry of distress comes now from distant Donegal, or Lancashire, or Hindustan, but from near homes, the familiar names of Camden and Maitland.  When the arms of your charity have reached to the extremities of the world, they must not be paralysed here, at what is to you a centre. 

A rare photograph taken in June 1864 shewing a flooded street of Maitland NSW.
Image : National Library of Australia.

There is an order in charity and so it should never cease to glow whenever there are men who struggle and suffer, yet it should be more intense in proportion as the all-wise Providence of God has placed its objects near to us in duty or place.  They are the voices of friends and kinsfolk that are calling upon us.  As we are now crying to God for mercy upon ourselves, let us give an attentive ear to their misery.  It is very deep, very overwhelming in its nature.  Here is no failure of a mercantile venture, no disappointment of a gambling speculation, but destruction to the righteous hopes of honest, hard, patient labour.  The toils and anxieties of many homes, of parents and children together labouring, and utterly lost.  God has withheld from them their harvest.  What is it?  Is it that he is deaf to their prayers unthoughtful of their labours?  No, but it is this.  I am speaking to Christians, and you will understand me.  He would have you supply to your brethren by your gifts the harvest that has failed in the order of nature, and He would gain for Himself a spiritual harvest in the works of your Christian faith and love.  So will there have been this year two harvests instead of one, and that in an especial manner had a greater glory of God.  You will do your part well, and the calamity of your friends and fellow-countrymen will be transformed into a blessing. 

The labours of the husbandman requiring, as they do, patience, industry, foresight, and trust in the future, call more than other earthly employments upon our sympathy when they are disappointed of their results.  It seems almost as if humble faith in the course of God’s providence had received shock.  The common lot of humanity, that man should earn his bread for the sweat of his brow, is at all times hard enough to be borne, how much more this affliction that God has laid upon our brethren!  Their toil, their patience, their early and late anxiety, all aborted. T hey have laboured, but so far in vain; the food and clothing for themselves and their children, all gone; in some places considerable debt has been incurred for the fruitless seed, and the future is darkened beyond the present distress.  The elements themselves, ordinary sources of benediction upon human toil, have been hostile to those who have deserved ordinary reward of their obedient labour at least as well as we.

It is a mystery, until we remember that God has not left us to the elements of material nature alone. He has planted in us, in our hearts, other elements which, in His plan and intention, are to complete and correct the operation of those others.  Compassion, kindliness, the instincts of brotherhood, are His gifts as well as those higher gifts of Christian grace, and all these are intended to heal and remedy the hurts that our brothers have received from the viewless blight, and the resistless [sic] flood.  Do you then show that you interpret aright the designs of God, and accept the occasion He offers you? Dry up as you may the bitter tears, and give new hope and courage to failing hearts.  Sanctify your fast of Lent by a work that God has eminently chosen for such purpose. It may be that your ready open-handed liberality in this emergency, will give a spiritual fruitfulness to your season and penitence, and an Easter Joy such as you have never gained before.  And, if any of you should perchance yourselves be wearing your lives under the weight and gloom of some providential chastisement, come forward the more eagerly, and help the suffering, and so our God may look graciously and speedily on you also in your time of need.  These are the words that He Himself says to you, and such as you, for all time: “When thou shalt pour out thy soul” - it is, you see, no cold unsympathising gift, no stinted measure that He calls for – “when thou shalt pour out thy soul to the hungry, and shalt satisfy the afflicted soul, then shall thy light rise up in darkness, and thy darkness shall be as the noon-day." (Isaiah 58:10)  May He, the giver of every good gift, inspire and bless your alms.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the charity of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.

Archbishop Polding's Pastoral Letter for 1864 as contained in the anthology The Eye of Faith.


1. The Eye of Faith was printed by the Lowden Publishing Co., Kilmore Victoria in 1977.  The editors were Gregory Haines, Sister Mary Gregory Foster and Frank Brophy.  Special contribution to the volume were made by Professor Timothy Suttor and James Cardinal Freeman.

2. Concerning the floods which devastated Eastern Australia from 1860 - 1864, this page be consulted.

3. The Archbishop's letter of March 1864 occurred during the Season of Lent, but was not his usual Lenten Pastoral.


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.


17 March, 2021

Could you help us?

Our project to promote interest in the life and work of Archbishop Polding is being blessed by good numbers of visitors to our Facebook page and blog.  We are discovering that interest in Archbishop Polding is not confined to Australia, but that there are "followers" overseas, particularly in England and Europe.

It is so wonderful to learn of the esteem in which the Archbishop is held even by those beyond these shores.

As our project continues, we find ourselves in need of support from those of you following this work.  We need support in planning events (such as the annual Polding pilgrimage), help in distributing promotional material about the Archbishop, assistance with our ongoing research work and other general assistance.

Perhaps you have some time to assist?  Perhaps you have already studied Catholic history in Australia and would like to help make it better known? Perhaps you are retired with more free time and have an interest in Archbishop Polding?  Perhaps you are interested in history or genealogy and are familiar with historical research?  Perhaps you have experience in organising religious gatherings? Perhaps you have secretarial skills?  Perhaps you are young and enthusiastic?

Would you consider offering assistance?

We can be contacted at this e-mail address or via our Facebook page.


12 March, 2021

Lenten Pastoral of Archbishop Polding : 1859

Archbishop Polding

Dearly Beloved,

There are two parties which our Divine Lord declares no one serve : God and the world - corrupt nature and grace. Yet to accomplish this impossibility appears to be the aim of very many Christians; and thus they spend their lives foolishly, fruitlessly, and therefore criminally. The name and profession belong to one; the real service is given to the other. 

This is a most important subject for self-examination. We call ourselves Christians, members of the true Church of Christ. Is our vocation made manifest in our lives? If not, our faith will aggravate our condemnation, and whilst exteriorly we belong to the body of the Faithful, we may be – by reason of our interior disposition - as if we were not. Following then, the advice of Saint James,  [1]  I would exhort you by the practice of good works, to give proof to your faith and to be convinced that by the neglect of good works your faith will decay, and it may be destroyed. 

For faith is not a mere speculative belief in certain articles of doctrine; it is not a mere habit of the soul, by which the understanding yields its assent in matters which are beyond its comprehension. Saint James intimates very distinctly that, unless faith exercises a more extensive influence over us, it is dead. Faith, without good works is dead. Consequently, the practice of good works, in giving proof the existence of faith, invigorates it. We know that the body and its limbs require constant exercise; that without it they become inert and unfitted for their purposes. In like manner, without good works, our faith -our profession of Christian life - in losing its character of activity, becomes a mere form. As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without good works is dead.


Blessed be God for his goodness towards us; we must acknowledge our unfaithfulness, must acknowledge that the world has well-nigh taken possession of our affection, yet still not beyond recovery; and as by the neglect of good works faith goes on from decay to utter extinction, so it is by the accomplishment of good works it is to be restored under the divine grace to its fullness of life. Let us meditate on the example of the Centurion mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. (10:I) Here is a man immersed in the errors of the pagan world, surrounded by its corrupting examples; nevertheless he was a man who feared God and taught his household to fear him, a man who distributed generously his wealth to the poor, and a man who was assiduous and fervent prayer. Wherefore, we are informed that this man saw an Angel of the Lord coming to him manifestly, saying unto him “Cornelius”, and he beholding him, being seized with fear, said “What is it Lord?” And he said to him “thy prayer and thy alms have ascended as an offering in the sight of God, and now send men to Joppe, and call here one Simon who is called Peter; he will tell thee what thou must do.” 

Meditate on this example, Christian of the world, who by your love of the world and of its pleasures, by your eagerness after its applause and its wealth have well-nigh forgotten that you are Christians. Meditate on this example, you who have been seeking and seeking the truth, unwilling to forsake that form which birth, friendship and fashion may endear to you, but in which your souls find not that rest which is of God. Had Cornelius neglected his duty of prayer, if with a large heart and a liberal hand, he had not distributed his substance according to his means; pagan born, in paganism he would have died.

Like Cornelius, be fervent in prayer, be bountiful in your charity, let your heart feel for the spiritual and temporal wants of the hundreds amongst whom you live; be zealous in all that appertains to the service of God, and faith will be resuscitated or receive its birth within you. Peter will be sent to tell you what you are to do. Divine grace will accomplish the good work. Fear not, only let your prayers and alms ascend as an offering before God, and an Angel will descend from heaven to guide you rather than that you should perish. 

Dearly Beloved, we have tried in vain to serve two masters. From the world, we have met with disappointment. Permit us, O God, even now to turn towards you. Alas what are we? We acknowledge our creator, our Redeemer, and we have passed days without one act of homage, one acknowledgement of your mercy in our regard. We have squandered away our time, our means on self. What have we done for God, for eternity? Even in appearing to serve others, we have made ourselves idols. 

That spark of faith which still remains, do thou, O God, enable us to cherish. Refuse us not, O Lord, your saving grace. Save us or we perish. May we now return to you, our God and our all! May we desire to serve you and you alone, that by good works we may make our calling and election sure, so that an entrance may be ministered unto us into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour. 

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of the Father and the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

Excerpts from Archbishop Polding's Pastoral Letter for 1856 as contained in the anthology The Eye of Faith.



1.  The Archbishop is referring to the Epistle of Saint James.

The Eye of Faith was printed by the Lowden Publishing Co., Kilmore Victoria in 1977.  The editors were Gregory Haines, Sister Mary Gregory Foster and Frank Brophy.  Special contribution to the volume were made by Professor Timothy Suttor and James Cardinal Freeman.

07 March, 2021

Saint Mary's Cathedral Sydney 1939

This charming illustration of the south-western end of Saint Mary's Cathedral was etched by the Australian artist Sheila McDonald in 1939.

The nave of the Cathedral and the facade of twin towers had been completed in 1928.


04 March, 2021

Saint mary's cathedral sydney 1910

This postcard, published around 1910, presents a view of Saint Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, looking north-east through Hyde Park.

On the left, in Edwardian splendour, two ladies are posing for the photographer within a leafy archway.

At this time, the structure of the Cathedral was only just a little more than half its present length.  Between 1867 and 1900 had been constructed the sacristies, the chancel, the transepts, two bays of the nave and the central tower, known at that time as The Cardinal's Tower in honour of the then Archbishop of Sydney, Patrick Francis Cardinal Moran.

Just right of centre is shewn another, smaller tower.  This is part of the remaining facade of old Saint Mary's Cathedral, (1821 - 1865).  Trees conceal the remainder of this old facade, which was added to the earliest sections of the building from the 1850s.  

When work commenced in 1912 on the completion of the present Cathedral, the old 1850s facade was carefully taken down, stone by stone, intended to be re-built elsewhere on the precinct.  But then World War One intervened and the stonework - carefully preserved - disappeared from the site ... it is not known for certain where it went and for what purpose.