The Irish Christian Brothers' first mission to Sydney, 1843-1847
AuthorGreening, William Albert
AffiliationMelbourne Graduate School of Education
Document TypeMasters Research thesis
Access StatusOnly available to University of Melbourne staff and students, login required
Master of Education
Three Christian Brothers came to Sydney from Ireland in 1843 at the behest of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith in Rome. For more than ten years prior to their arrival the missionary priests in Australia had been making overtures to the Founder of the Christian Brothers, Br Edmund Ignatius Rice, to send brothers to educate the sons of poor Catholic people in Sydney, most of whom were Irish convicts or ex-convicts. Rice refused on the grounds that he did not have enough brothers in his young Religious Congregation which had commenced in 1802, had received approval from Rome in 1821 to formulate Religious Rules, and had finalised its Rule Book in 1832. An Irish Priest, John McEncroe, had made the first approach to the Christian Brothers because he had first-hand knowledge of their work among the poor in Ireland and in England. The Benedictines, William B. Ullathorne and John B. Poldings approached the Superior-General of the Congregation in writing and by personal visits to Ireland, but Michael Paul Riordan Who had replaced Br Rice as the leader of the Congregation was forced. to refuse them, on the grounds that he too was short of men and that the isolation of Australia could be a problem for a Religious Congregation in the early stage of its development. There was an added problem of money - not only from an expense point of view, but because the Rule required that the brothers teach the poor gratuitously; and there had been mention made by the Benedictines of government money being offered for the Sydney project. This matter had an added sensitivity for Riordan as he was a firm advocate of gratuitous instruction. He had been successful in withdrawing the schools of the Brothers from the Irish National System because state aid violated the Brothers' Vow of Gratuitous Instruction. News of Governor Bourke's intention to introduce Lord Stanley's Irish National System in New South Wales in the eighteen thirties and of Bishop Polding's compliance in the matter had reached Riordan and the Christian Brothers at an inauspicious time. There seemed little likelihood that the Benedictines would entice the Congregation to Australian shores under the prevailing circumstances. The conditions remained unaltered, but Polding changed his strategy of appeal. In 1842, at the time he was delivering his first report to Rome as Vicar-Apostolic of New Holland and Van Diemen's Land, he took the opportunity of pointing out to the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith that the faith and morals of the children in the former convict colony were at stake unless the Irish Christian Brothers came to the rescue. His knowledge of Church politics won the day. Rome spoke at a time Riordan needed Papal help to settle a crisis within the Congregation. Almost as a 'quid pro quo', the Superior-General despatched three young Religious Brothers (all under the age of thirty) on the same boat to Sydney as the now-elated Polding and his other recruits in 1843. To the delight of the Irish Catholics of Sydney each brother was given charge of a school close to the centre of the city. Poor boys flocked to the schools in large numbers and the brothers instructed them daily in religious and secular knowledge, using the monitorial methods in which they had been trained and the text books (mainly Readers) which the Irish Christian Brothers had published. The schools were non-fee-paying, and the brothers' Vow of. Gratuitous Instruction was kept intact, as they received only their upkeep from the diocese. The arrival of the Christian Brothers coincided with the first elections for the partly elected Legislative Council set up by the 1842 Constitution Act and with the setting up of an Inquiry into the state of education in New South Wales. In the former the brothers got their first taste of colonial sectarianism and of Irish hooliganism. In the latter they were able to make a positive contribution to proceedings, particularly as one of their number was called as an expert witness. The whole venture gave the appearance of being a most successful missionary project, fulfilling the aims both of the young Religious Congregations of the Brothers of the Christian Schools of Ireland and of the ancient Benedictine Order of Priests. It fitted perfectly the Denominational System of schooling which had been put on a firm basis by Bourke' 1836 Church Act. The monitorial method whereby one brother instructed up to two hundred boys was ideal for the much-needed education of the Irish masses. The brothers themselves, being Irishmen, were compatible with the Irish Catholic colonists. Then, almost without warning, in 1847, four years after the commencement of their apparently successful work, the three young Irish Christian Brothers closed their schools and returned to Ireland. The present thesis has as its central theme the story of the Christian Brothers' first Australian Mission, attempting an analysis of the forces which caused them to undertake the task, of the factors which contributed to the success of their education of Irish poor boys in colonial Sydney, and of the circumstances surrounding their decision to abandon the project. The work encompasses a study of colonial life in the period leading up to the arrival of the Christian Brothers, and during their stay in Sydney, with particular emphasis on the part played by the Irish and by the Catholic Church in Australian life in the eighteen forties. An attempt is also made in the present work to examine the state of the major Christian Churches of the period, looking at the roles of religious leaders in Church and State, and at the part played by the laity in Church life. As the Christian Brothers' Australian Mission consisted of educating the masses, the thesis has as its second major theme the involvement of Church and State in the various attempts to establish a viable education system in New South Wales. Finally there is an analysis and interpretation of the work of Bishop Polding and his Benedictines in the Australian Catholic Church, simply because it was Polding who brought the Christian Brothers to Sydney and it was an altercation with the Benedictines which caused the Brothers to return to Ireland. Polding was originally offered the See of Madras but chose instead the challenge of the "peculiar" convict See of New Holland and Van Diemen's Land. He brought with him to the Antipodes religious zeal, boundless energy and English Benedictine ideals. Zeal and energy were essential to the gargantuan task of carrying the Catholic faith to the distant shores of a vast, unexplored continent, peopled by savages, outcasts and policemen. With a handful of equally zealous priests Polding went about his mission, bringing solace and the sacraments to exiled Irishmen. His English origins made him officially acceptable to the Home Office which would have cared little about his Benedictine origins. Polding, however, saw his Benedictinism as the source of all that was good in him as a missionary and as a man. With the singleness of purpose that drove him into the outback on horseback, in search of souls, Polding pursued his high-minded aim of making the Australian Church one large Benedictine Mission. His own Benedictines who should have shared his vision failed him - in England by not sending him co-workers, and in Australia by not living up to Benedictine ideals. Polding was forced to seek help from Catholic Ireland; missionaries, including members of a young teaching Religious Congregation called Christian Brothers, joined Polding in his zealous apostolate, but failed to share his Benedictine dream.
KeywordsAustralia; Catholic Church; Christian Brothers; Colonies; Education
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