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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Barron, Johanna (1865–1948)

by Wilma Hannah

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Johanna Barron (1865-1948), Brigidine nun known as Mother Paul, was born at Knockeen, County Waterford, Ireland, daughter of Thomas Barron and his wife Mary, née Power. She was educated at Butlerstown National School and at the Brigidine Convent, Abbeyleix, where she became a postulant in 1882 and in 1885 a professed Sister of the Brigidine Order.

In 1888 Mother Paul was one of five Brigidine Sisters, three from Abbeyleix and two from Goresbridge, who were selected from volunteers to found a convent at Ararat, Victoria. They arrived there on 16 November and in 1889 opened St Mary's Primary School, with an attendance of sixty children, and a select school with, initially, seven pupils. These Sisters had been brought to Ararat by Bishop James Moore of Ballarat, but there were already three Brigidine communities in the colony in the diocese of Bishop Crane of Sandhurst: at Echuca and Beechworth (both founded in 1886) and at Wangaratta (1887). Bishop Moore maintained that the churches could achieve little without Catholic schools and Catholic education. Although the Sisters likewise rejected the secular spirit of the day and emphasized the religious aspect of their teaching, their educational aims were not narrowly sectarian. Their reputation as teachers was high, and the curriculum offered by the select school in 1889 was both liberal and comprehensive.

The Ararat foundation flourished. It is not primarily as an educator, however, that Mother Paul is remembered, but as an administrator, unifying the Victorian foundations which had inherited the Irish tradition of autonomy. In 1889 all the Irish and Australian houses amalgamated and New South Wales and Victoria became one Province, which in 1896 was divided in two. In this time reorganization and rapid expansion—the original Australian foundations were themselves forming new communities—the role of mother provincial was critical. In Victoria Mother Paul held this position from 1908 for the unusually long period of twelve years. From 1920 to 1932 she was superior at the Albert Park and Ararat convents, before serving a further six years as mother provincial. In 1938-44 she was again superior at Albert Park, where she died on 15 October 1948, aged 82.

In her work of amalgamation Mother Paul was assisted by her personal links with the Sisters from the Irish founding houses, her devotion to the traditional Rule of the Order, in itself a unifying force and a force for equality within the Order, and her command of canon law. Conservative rather than flexible, she united a keen intelligence with a strong but kindly personality; her administrative skill was undoubted.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Gibbons, Glimpses of Catholic Ireland in the Eighteenth Century (Dublin, 1932)
  • Ararat Advertiser, 16 Nov 1888, Jan 1889
  • Advocate (Melbourne), Mar 1889, 21, 28 Oct 1948
  • Tribune (Melbourne), 6 Dec 1934
  • Mother Paul Barron, An Account of the Establishment of the Novitiate (Malvern Convent, Melbourne)
  • Annals of Albert Park, Ararat, Echuca and Mentone Brigidine Convents (Malvern Convent, Melbourne).

Citation details

Wilma Hannah, 'Barron, Johanna (1865–1948)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 9 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Paul, Mother

Knockeen, Waterford, Ireland


15 October 1948
Albert Park, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence