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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Fitzpatrick, John (1810–1890)

by T. J. Linane

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

John Fitzpatrick (1810-1890), clergyman, was born in Dublin. He studied for the priesthood at the seminaries of Carlow and Maynooth and was ordained on 30 December 1837 for the Dublin archdiocese. Along with James Goold, Francis Murphy, John Brady, Patrick Geoghegan and others he was persuaded by Dr William Ullathorne to work in the Australian colonies, and in July 1838 he arrived at Sydney in the Cecilia. He was sent first to the Goulburn mission and travelled far into the Riverina, but he was no horseman and after a year moved to the Penrith and Liverpool areas. In 1848 he was invited by Bishop Goold to join him in Port Phillip. Fitzpatrick arrived in Melbourne on 6 November in the Shamrock and, apart from a brief pastorate in Geelong in the early 1850s, was Goold's right-hand man for the next thirty-eight years.

As administrator of St Patrick's Cathedral in 1858-79, Fitzpatrick was responsible for adopting William Wardell's plans for the building, and from the first he nurtured the project, begged funds and kept meticulous account of the £150,000 raised and spent in the cause. According to the Bulletin, 'in spirit he raised every stone of the walls. He haunted the building like its ghost … often the workmen were startled to see his slight, bent figure, with the cassock gathered around it, crossing from aisle to aisle on the foot (30 cm)-wide, windy walls, 70 ft (21 metres) above the ground'. With his close knowledge and love of architecture Fitzpatrick was often consulted in the building of Catholic churches, colleges and schools in the colony.

In 1851-53 Fitzpatrick was in Rome with Goold. As secretary and vicar-general on his return he handled most of the episcopal correspondence and administrative burdens. His ponderous formality and persistent monetary demands for support of the cathedral irked the priests struggling in the country mission. He seldom ventured beyond Melbourne apart from the occasional deputizing for Goold in opening churches. Clerical and lay discontent reached its peak in the late 1850s with the departure of Fathers Patrick Dunne, Michael McAlroy and Patrick Bermingham.

In 1876 Fitzpatrick was appointed monsignor and papal chamberlain but refused to be addressed by the title. In his last years he lived at the cathedral presbytery while Dean Thomas Donaghy attended to matters of administration. He died there aged 80 on 21 January 1890 and was buried in the cathedral vaults. Obituarists spoke warmly of his 'untiring zeal and self-denial' in building the cathedral without incurring debts. 'Kindly, benevolent, disinterested in gain', Fitzpatrick assigned almost all his property, which was filed for probate at £601, to the cathedral building fund. The sanctuary, chapel and transepts were then unfinished and £27,000 was needed to complete the building. It was proposed that this money be raised and the works completed as a memorial to him.

Select Bibliography

  • H. N. Birt, Benedictine Pioneers in Australia, vols 1-2 (Lond, 1911), W. A. Ebsworth (ed), St. Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne (Melb, 1939)
  • J. O'Brien, ‘The Maneroo’, Australasian Catholic Record, vol 22, no 2, Apr 1945, pp 77-97
  • Advocate (Melbourne), 25 Jan, 22 Feb 1890
  • Australasian, 25 Jan 1890
  • Argus (Melbourne), 18 Feb, 21 Mar 1890
  • Bulletin, 26 Aug 1899.

Citation details

T. J. Linane, 'Fitzpatrick, John (1810–1890)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 8 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Life Summary [details]


Dublin, Dublin, Ireland


21 January 1890
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence