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Sheehy, Samuel John Austin (1827–1910)

by Mary Shanahan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

Samuel John Austin Sheehy (1827-1910), Benedictine priest, was born on 1 October 1827 in Cork, County Cork, Ireland, son of John Sheehy, carpenter and builder, and his wife Harriett, née Roche. On 19 October 1838 he reached Sydney with his parents, bounty immigrants in the Magistrate. He studied at St Mary's seminary and in May 1845 entered the priory attached to the cathedral. He received the Benedictine habit on 2 August 1849, made his religious profession on 5 May 1851 and was ordained by Bishop Davis in St Mary's Cathedral on 6 March 1852.

After his ordination Sheehy was in charge of St Mary's seminary day school where he taught W. B. Dalley. In 1858 he became chaplain for Darlinghurst and Cockatoo Island gaols and in 1861 president of Lyndhurst College and vicar-general in succession to Abbot Gregory. A fellow of St John's College within the University of Sydney, in 1864 he was named parish priest of the Sacred Heart Church, Darlinghurst, and was sometime joint treasurer of St Vincent's Hospital. In 1866 he was appointed bishop of Bethesda in partibus infidelium and auxiliary to Archbishop Polding, but Cardinal Barnabò, the prefect of Propaganda College, asked Polding to defer the consecration until Sheehy had been cleared of charges of negligence, of 'having connived at the apostasies of certain monks' and of having been seen leaving his room 'valde ebria'. Sheehy resigned 'at the first sign of any opposition', but Polding claimed that the calumniators' plans were to prevent Sheehy from succeeding him; he asked Rome to appoint him to Armidale: 'I confess that since all my suffragan bishops are Irish, it would be very pleasant for me to have at least one, who, even though he is Irish, has spent his time of education and religious life at my side and in the work of the mission'.

Sheehy was not consecrated but he remained vicar-general until the arrival in 1873 of Archbishop Vaughan. He had been appointed at a time when discontent with the Benedictine regime was at its height, and he trod cautiously. Opposition came from his close association with the English superiors of the mission and not from any personal animosity. Consulted by Polding on the Benedictine community, in 1869 he concluded that, as there was little prospect of getting fresh subjects and great difficulty in training them, it would be better to break up the institute and get the professed religious secularized; Vaughan followed this advice in 1877.

Sheehy was appointed to Windsor in 1873 and to Wollongong in 1885. That year Cardinal Moran bestowed on him the honorary title of vicar-general. In 1888 he moved to Ryde and in 1907 to Waverley. Although he was secularized with the few remaining Benedictines, he remained faithful to his early calling and merged into the Australian scene. He died of senile decay at Randwick on 14 September 1910 and was buried in the Field of Mars cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £30.

Select Bibliography

  • H. N. Birt, Benedictine Pioneers in Australia, vols 1-2 (Lond, 1911)
  • M. Shanahan, Out of Time, Out of Place (Canberra, 1970)
  • Roman Catholic Archives (Sydney).

Citation details

Mary Shanahan, 'Sheehy, Samuel John Austin (1827–1910)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/sheehy-samuel-john-austin-4567/text7495, published in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 26 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

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