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Cullen, John Hugh (1883–1970)

by Mary Nicholls

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

John Hugh Cullen (1883-1970), priest, was born on 14 June 1883 at Kilquade, County Wicklow, Ireland, son of Michael Cullen and his wife Mary, née Troy. He was educated by the Christian Brothers in Dublin, and at Mungret College, County Limerick, where he graduated B.A. in 1904 as an external student of the Royal University of Ireland. After four years at All Hallows College, Dublin, he was ordained priest on 24 June 1908 and at the instigation of Archbishop Delany of Hobart was sent to the University of Fribourg, Switzerland.

On arrival in Hobart in June 1910 Cullen became curate at St Joseph's parish, and remained in the position for almost twenty-four years. As an early executive-member of the Australian Catholic Federation he exercised a 'moderating and sensible influence'; in 1916 he debated with the Mercury the wartime relations of Pope Benedict XV and the Kaiser. But he gradually became absorbed in literary and educational affairs, and was the driving force behind the building of St Joseph's School, opened in April 1923; a new wing added to St Joseph's Orphanage for Girls (later Aikenhead House) in 1924; a two-storey convent for the Sisters of Charity in 1926; and the Church of St Francis Xavier in South Hobart opened in June 1933. He became parish priest on 6 February 1934. In June he was appointed diocesan consultor. In May 1944 he was made a domestic prelate (Monsignor) and in the following September became vicar-general of the archdiocese of Hobart.

Cullen contributed articles to Austral Light, Australasian Catholic Record and the Launceston-published Monitor, chiefly on religious themes but incorporating much general historical material. In 1916 with A. E. Warne he established the monthly Catholic Magazine, in which appeared a series of articles which formed the basis of his The Catholic Church in Tasmania (Launceston, 1949). After twelve months leave of absence in Ireland and Europe in 1926-27, when he was presented with a silver chalice by the Catholics of Delgany and formed a lifelong friendship with Eamon de Valera, he published Young Ireland in Exile: The Story of the Men of '48 in Tasmania (Dublin, 1928). Cullen's interest in the work of the Sisters of Charity led to The Australian Daughters of Mary Aikenhead: A Century of Charity (Sydney, 1938), and in 1966 he published the history of the Presentation Sisters' hundred years in Tasmania.

Perhaps Cullen's finest historical work was the series of articles in the Australasian Catholic Record in 1949-54 on R. W. Willson, the first Catholic bishop of Van Diemen's Land. Cullen wrote for the Catholic Standard which superseded the Monitor in January 1921, and after that paper was taken over by the Church in October 1937 and renamed the Standard, he was editor in 1939-45. Keenly interested in education, both religious and secular, he was appointed to the Teachers' and Schools' Registration Board as the Catholic representative in 1923. Admitted B.A. ad eundem gradum at the University of Tasmania in 1911 he became the first chaplain to the Newman Society in 1930. In 1965-69 he was patron of the Tasmanian Historical Research Association.

Cullen retired from St Joseph's in July 1956 and was appointed chaplain to St Joseph's Orphanage where he could indulge his love for children. Although fluent in six languages and popular as a public speaker, he disliked publicity, and was reluctant to celebrate his diamond jubilee in 1968. His speeches and homilies were noted for clarity and brevity, and his writing also was a model of simplicity. In September 1967 he resigned as vicar-general of the archdiocese and died in his sleep on 17 November 1970 at Aikenhead House, Taroona, leaving, in his own words, 'neither debts nor debtors'. He was buried in Cornelian Bay cemetery. He had outlived in two younger brothers, Arthur (1889-1939) and Joseph (1892-1951), who had followed him though All Hallows, the National University of Ireland and priestly service in Tasmania.

Select Bibliography

  • W. T. Southerwood, Planting a Faith in Hobart (Hob, 1970)
  • Catholic Church in Australia, Official Year Book, 1911-45
  • Catholic Who's Who (Lond), 1952
  • Monitor (Launceston), 19 Feb, 9 July 1909, 26 Aug 1910, 17, 31 Mar 1916
  • Catholic Standard, 12 May, 21 July 1923, 31 Mar 1927, 9 Feb 1928, 19 June 1930, 19 Jan, 6 July 1933, 28 Oct 1937
  • Standard (Hobart), 25 Nov 1937, 30 Mar 1939, May 1944, June, July 1968, Nov, Dec 1970
  • Mercury (Hobart), 18 Nov 1970.

Citation details

Mary Nicholls, 'Cullen, John Hugh (1883–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cullen-john-hugh-5837/text9917, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 18 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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