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Healy, Francis Vincent (1834–1925)

by Pauline Rule

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Francis Vincent Healy (1834–1925), hardware merchant and community worker, was baptized on 5 December 1834 in Dublin, fourth son of John Healy, hairdresser, and his wife Susan, née Head. Francis saw the flood of refugees into Dublin after the 'great famine' of 1845-49, when Catholic laymen formed conferences (local groups) of the Society of St Vincent de Paul (founded in Paris in 1833) to alleviate suffering. In 1854 Healy helped to set up a conference at the parish of St Paul's, Arrans Quay, and took a leading role in following decades.

About the same year he began working for an uncle in the Tolka Ironworks, with a city store and iron yard at Arrans Quay. By the 1860s Healy was the proprietor. On 27 September 1864 at St Michan's Chapel, Dublin, he married Ann Carton. His business was ruined following an explosion in 1878 that destroyed the city premises and a flood in 1879 that washed away the ironworks. In 1882 Healy migrated to Melbourne with two children. By the time his wife and remaining five children joined him in 1885 he had a hardware business at 100 Elizabeth Street. At first he sold locally made items, but from about 1889 he indented, representing British and American manufacturers.

About 1883 Healy suggested to the Jesuits in his Richmond parish of St Ignatius that a Vincentian conference be started. As a branch of the Friendly Brothers Society already existed there, the proposal was rejected, but his perception of the need for assistance for the poor was correct and Catholic charities were relatively few. In late 1883 he helped to organize a men's conference of the St Vincent de Paul society at St Patrick's Cathedral, reviving a short-lived group set up in 1854. Members visited homes, provided relief, sought funds and promoted spirituality. A night shelter for destitute men was established at Fitzroy. By 1886 Healy sometimes presided over meetings. He became vice-president next year and president in 1888.

That year the society's Paris headquarters directed that a governing body (Particular Council) be established in Melbourne and Healy was elected founding president. Under him the organization was consolidated and expanded, surmounting such crises as the 1890s depression—when bank suspensions left it without funds for the night shelter and poor relief. After bushfires in Gippsland in 1898 the society distributed clothing and bedding. Healy was particularly interested in setting up a home for destitute children. A boys' club, a night school for city boys and a seaman's mission were also established. When a conference was started at Richmond, he became its president. In addition to his management role, he visited the poor.

His long leadership led some to regard Healy as autocratic. Reporting his resignation in 1907 the Particular Council described him as having 'for many years ruled the Society in this state'. Healy nominated his replacement but deferred to Archbishop Carr who wanted a different candidate. Healy was deprived of all offices after the Sydney-based Superior Council reported him to Paris for lack of 'deference and submission to the clergy'. An appeal, however, led to the Council General's statement that it had not intended to deprive him of membership and that it hoped that he would remain active.

Despite this controversy, Healy's supporters celebrated his retirement with a function to acknowledge his work as founder of the society in Melbourne and his fifty years of service to the poor there and in Dublin. He died on 19 August 1925 in hospital at Fitzroy and was buried in Boroondara cemetery. Two daughters and five sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • E. M. Bond, Society of St Vincent de Paul Victoria (Melb, 1980)
  • Australasian Hardware and Machinery, vol 24, no 10, Sept 1909, p 294
  • Superior Council, Society of St Vincent de Paul in Australasia, Report, 1907
  • Advocate (Melbourne), 6 May 1893, p 16, 12 Nov 1898, p 16, 27 Aug 1925, p 20
  • St Patrick’s Cathedral, minute book, 1895-1907 (St Vincent de Paul Archives, Melbourne)
  • Particular Council, Society of St Vincent de Paul in Australasia, minute book, 1905-19 (St Vincent de Paul Archives, Melbourne).

Citation details

Pauline Rule, 'Healy, Francis Vincent (1834–1925)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/healy-francis-vincent-12973/text23445, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 22 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

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