Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Torres, Fulgentius (1861–1914)

by Clement Mulcahy

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

Fulgentius Torres (1861-1914), Benedictine abbot, was born on 24 June 1861 at Ibiza, Balearic Islands, Spain, and named Antonio, son of Don Juan Torres y Torres and his wife Dona Manuela Mayans, of Formentera. Educated at the University of Barcelona (B.A., 1877; B.Sc., 1880) and the ecclesiastical seminary, Vich, he entered the Benedictine monastery of Montserrat in 1885 and took the name Fulgentius; he made his first vows on 21 June 1886, was ordained priest on 5 June 1887 and made his solemn profession on 13 July 1889. Torres helped to revitalize Montserrat as a training centre for overseas missions, opening a mission at Mindanao in the Philippine Islands in 1895. In 1898 he became rector of the Church of Montserrat, Naples, Italy, where he met Rosendo Salvado, who chose him to be his successor as abbot of New Norcia, Western Australia.

Reaching Fremantle in the Weimar on 9 April 1901 with eleven recruits, Torres was welcomed by, amongst others, Paul Piramino, an Aboriginal organist and conductor of a brass sextet. Erudite, acute and practical, Torres brought a creative, reforming energy to the colonial settlement and Aboriginal mission, transforming it into a monastic township with a distinctly European architectural heritage. He was confirmed as abbot on 26 December 1902 and was naturalized in May 1904.

Responding to the diocesan needs of Bishop Gibney of Perth, Torres also ministered to the developing wheat-belt east to Southern Cross and north to the diocese of Geraldton. At New Norcia Torres provided boarding schools for the children of farming families, designed new accommodation for the Aboriginal boarders, greatly expanded the monastery and added a campanile to the abbey church. After a personal reconnaissance, he established the Pago Mission (1908) on Napier Broome Bay, the forerunner of the Drysdale River Mission (Kalumburu).

In Rome in May 1910 Torres was consecrated administrator apostolic of Kimberley and titular bishop of Dorilea. Voyages to the north by Torres in 1906, 1908 and 1911 were feats of physical endurance. In 1908 the return journey alone took two months, with considerable privation. Initially the Kimberley Aborigines resisted the isolated missionaries and their lay employees, including other Aborigines. A major attack in September 1913 led the State government to direct that the Drysdale River mission be abandoned; Torres did not resile.

In the south, Torres recruited artisans, both lay and religious, for the decorative work that is a feature of the monastic township at New Norcia. In 1904 he commissioned Teresian Sisters from Spain for the Aboriginal Girls' Orphanage. He invited Sisters of St Joseph from Sydney to Southern Cross (1905), and then to run the secondary college of St Gertrude at New Norcia (1908); he also enlisted Marist Brothers for St Ildephonsus College (1913). In addition, he obtained Presentation Sisters from Geraldton for the Goomalling convent (1914) and clergy for diocesan duties. Stephen Moreno was among monastic recruits.

Torres revised the monks' timetable, including meditation times. The ageing veterans from Salvado's time preferred the clatter of battered tinplates and pannikins in the refectory to the clink of porcelain tableware, embossed with the Benedictine motto 'PAX', as introduced by the new leader. Reputedly, (Sir) Walter Murdoch delighted in visiting New Norcia and conversing with Torres, whose philosophical arguments, elegant posture and piercing eyes were 'enough to enkindle a dormant soul; but to me he was an electric shock'. Torres died of peritonitis on 5 October 1914 in hospital at Subiaco, Perth, and was buried at New Norcia. An edition of his translated Diaries (1901-14) was published in 1987. The Benedictine Monastery precinct is on the Register of the National Estate.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Flood, New Norcia (Lond, 1908)
  • J. S. Battye, The Cyclopedia of Western Australia, vol 2 (Perth, 1913), p 948
  • A. Catalan, Drysdale River Mission (New Norcia, WA, 1935)
  • E. Perez, Kalumburu (New Norcia, WA, 1958)
  • D. F. Bourke, The History of the Catholic Church in Western Australia (Perth, 1979)
  • S. Lennon, The Story of New Norcia (New Norcia, WA, 1979)
  • New Norcia archives, Western Australia.

Citation details

Clement Mulcahy, 'Torres, Fulgentius (1861–1914)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/torres-fulgentius-13221/text23941, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 28 November 2014.

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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Torres, Antonio
Birth

24 June 1861
Ibiza, Balearic Islands, Spain

Death

5 October 1914
Subiaco, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation