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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Torreggiani, Elzear (1830–1904)

by C. J. Duffy

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

Elzear Torreggiani (1830-1904), Catholic bishop, was born on 28 May 1830 at Porto Recanati near Loreto, Marchian Province of Ancona, Italy, youngest son of Vincenzo Antonio Torregiani and his wife Margarita Francesca, née Osimani. Baptized Aloysius, he was educated by the Jesuits at Loreto; hoping in vain to enter their Order, on 20 October 1846 he joined the Order of St Francis at the Capuchin monastery of Camerino in Umbria. Professed on 20 October 1846, he received the name Elzear and later studied philosophy and theology at Ancona, where he was ordained priest on 23 May 1853. Volunteering for the foreign missions, he was surprised to be sent to England: 'I knew it must be the will of God, because there was none of my own in it'.

In June 1856 Torreggiani reached Peckham, London, but was soon sent to assist in founding a friary at Pantasaph, North Wales, where he helped to begin missions in Flint, Mold and Holyhead. In 1860 he took charge of the mission at Pontypool and organized the building of the monastery and a large school; in 1876-79 he was guardian of Peckham friary where his success as a missioner and as an administrator came to the notice of Archbishop Vaughan, who wanted a replacement who was neither English nor Irish for Bishop O'Mahony.

On 3 March 1879 Torreggiani was consecrated bishop of Armidale and after a visit to Rome reached Sydney in the Avoca on 8 November 1879 accompanied by five Capuchin priests. His huge diocese of some 10,000 Catholics was served by only nine priests and two schools and his first pastoral visitation of over 40,000 miles (64,374 km) took three years. Jovial, kindly, black-bearded and weighing twenty-one stone (133 kg), he became known in every hamlet. He brought harmony and organization to his diocese, but on Christmas Day 1884 as he was about to celebrate Mass, a road-worker named McCafferty tried first to stab him, then fired a revolver shot through his vestments; after falling he continued the service.

In 1881 Torreggiani established Mother Mary MacKillop's Sisters of St Joseph at Tenterfield and successfully defended their power of central government against the Irish bishops at the 1885 Plenary Council. In 1882 he invited the Ursuline Sisters and in 1887 the Mercy nuns to start schools. By 1885 he had spent £60,000 on new buildings. Grafton became a separate diocese in 1887; by 1904 he had nineteen priests, seventeen schools, and many handsome buildings.

Torreggiani died at Armidale of pulmonary thrombosis and heart disease on 28 January 1904, and was buried in the Catholic cemetery. Dedicated to a life of poverty, his debts exceeded his assets by £130. His vicar-general and coadjutor from 1903, Patrick Joseph O'Connor, claimed that he had lived in the same house with Torreggiani for twenty-five years and had 'seen him under circumstances that would almost tempt a saint, yet I never saw him once ruffled'.

Select Bibliography

  • P. F. Moran, History of the Catholic Church in Australasia (Syd, 1895)
  • Analecta Ordinis Minorum Capuccinorum, 20 (1904)
  • Franciscan Annals and Monthly Bulletin (Lond), Aug 1879
  • Armidale Express, 5 May 1885
  • E. J. Doody, History of the diocese of Armidale (Roman Catholic Archives, Armidale)
  • Archives, Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (Rome)
  • Roman Catholic Archives (Sydney).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

C. J. Duffy, 'Torreggiani, Elzear (1830–1904)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 8 August 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 6

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