Prior to World War II

Part 1: Capuchins in Australia - Prior to World War II


In the early colonial days, which could be referred to as the "catacomb era" of the Church in Australia, an English Benedictine William Ullathorne was appointed Vicar-General of New South Wales in 1833. He brought with him an Irish Capuchin, Thomas Sheehy. The same year another Irish Capuchin, Thomas McCarthy, came to Australia in the company of Bishop Polding. He worked for several years on Norfolk Island, and later at Windsor and Parramatta (near Sydney) where he died in 1843, much lamented by the people he served. A mortuary chapel to honour his memory was erected over his grave in St. Patrick's Cemetery, Parramatta. Attention was drawn to it in 1994, when the Parramatta City Council gave a grant to celebrate the sesquicentenary of the laying of the foundation stone of what is the oldest mortuary chapel in Australia.

In 1854, several years after Melbourne became a diocese, Fr. John O'Connell arrived in Australia. Previous to his coming, he had succeeded Fr. Theobald Matthew, the Apostle of Temperance, as Provincial Minister of the Irish Capuchins. He became the first parish priest of Emerald Hill (now Port Melbourne) and also served in the Sandringham area.

Fr. Modestus Henderson volunteered for Australia, arriving in 1863. Scottish by birth, he was educated and ordained in France. He was assigned by the bishop of Adelaide to care for the Catholics living within the range of 806 square kilometres in the Eyre peninsula. He travelled incalculable distances on horseback ministering to the faithful living in isolated groups in the lonely Australian bush and spinifex country. Later, he was appointed parish priest of Port Lincoln.

From 1879 until 1904, the diocese of Armidale (NSW) was served by a Capuchin bishop, Elzear Torreggiani (pictured). Italian by birth, after priestly ordination in 1853, he was sent to Wales in the British Isles where he laboured for 25 years. When the see of Armidale became vacant, he was chosen bishop of the young diocese. After consecration in London, he set sail in 1879 from Brindisi, a seaport in Italy, accompanied by six other Capuchins. Under the leadership and energy of Torreggiani, the diocese prospered in every way. He participated in the first plenary council of Australian bishops in Australia. He advocated the creation of the new diocese of Lismore, as Armidale was too extensive - some say it was because he was too corpulent which made it difficult for him to travel the long distances. It is believed he was one of the few bishops that defended the case for Blessed Mary MacKillop when she was under censure. He died in 1904 at the age of 74, greatly mourned be clergy and people alike.

In addition to the six friars who accompanied bishop Torreggiani, there were fifteen other Capuchins who ministered in the Armidale diocese. While there may have been the intention to establish the Order in Australia, this never came to pass at the time because of the shortage of personnel available to Europe.

The only Capuchin who worked in Queensland was Fr. Cassar. He was born in Malta, studied in France and lived for several years with the Irish Capuchins in Cork. The date of his coming to Australia is unknown, but in 1890 he was working in the Rockhampton diocese. After a long life of priestly activity, he died in 1927. From 1927 until 1945 no other Capuchins came to work in Australia.

Next: Capuchins in Australia - Post World War II