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Patrick Bermingham (1828–1883)

by C. J. Duffy

This article was published:

Patrick Bermingham (1828-1883), Roman Catholic priest, was born in King's County, Ireland. He was educated at Navan, ordained at Maynooth in 1852 and became prefect of humanities at Carlow Seminary. In February 1855 Bermingham and his close associate, Michael McAlroy, arrived in Victoria. Bishop James Goold posted them to Geelong, then thriving as a religious and educational centre under Bermingham's cousin, Rev. Patrick Dunne. Within a year their resolute individuality of thought and action brought them into conflict with the bishop. Dunne was the thinker and planner of the three, McAlroy the organizer and Bermingham the scholar, orator and ecclesiastical politician. They were determined to give Australia an ecclesiastical establishment based on the Irish pattern; sure of what was best for the infant colony, they intended to proceed with or without episcopal sanction, relying on lay support; they were prepared to take the offensive against their superiors regardless of reproof. On the whole they were successful in spite of crushing rebuffs; their case had merits and they pursued it with tenacity of purpose and genuine skill in negotiation.

In 1856 the bishop separated them after they had openly expressed disapproval of members of religious congregations holding the top posts in the diocese. Bermingham was sent to a new parish at Duneed, near Mount Moriac, which included Colac and Stawell. He was later rejoined by McAlroy. However, the three priests were not at all satisfied with the bishop's decision and began to write appeals for circulation in the right quarters in Sydney, Rome and Ireland.

In Sydney they approached Archbishop John Bede Polding. Although a member of a regular Order, he was sympathetic to Bermingham and McAlroy's appeal for a mission and in 1857 gave them charge of the parish of Yass which included the southern tablelands and Riverina, where many industrious Irish settlers were migrating. In less than five years Bermingham had helped McAlroy to develop their area into a potential diocese. Substantial, well-designed churches and schools appeared in every growing centre, all free of debt. In 1857-59, working from Yass, the priests took turns to visit a distant centre each week and covered untold miles on horseback, helping to settle parishioners on farms and caring for their needs. Once more they established a dominion that was almost personal and Bermingham made every effort to help his confrère to become its bishop.

Amidst all their apostolic endeavours they found time to advocate their church policies. In 1861 Polding rebuked McAlroy for encouraging Cardinal Paul Cullen to interfere in Australian affairs and for allowing Bermingham to sabotage Lyndhurst College by persuading wealthy farmers to send their sons to Ireland for education. Bermingham accompanied the colonial scholars to Ireland and in 1862 delivered first to Rome and then to the Irish bishops a highly-coloured and inaccurate memorial which depicted the supposedly sad state of religion in Australia. It was similar to the complaints that he and McAlroy had circulated in the colony with the help of John McEncroe and the Freeman's Journal; it stressed the need to replace English bishops with Irish and to appoint Irish to contemplated new sees. Polding was so indignant that he forbade Bermingham to return and in 1867 asked the bishop of Goulburn to do the same. Bermingham remained in Ireland as vice-rector of Carlow College and his influence with the Irish hierarchy increased.

In 1874 Bermingham returned from exile with a group of teaching nuns recruited from Kildare by McAlroy and was appointed to the Wagga district in June. There he organized the building of the fine Sacred Heart Presentation Convent which was completed in 1876 to house the nuns. However, without McAlroy the ebullient Bermingham lost his sure touch; the buildings which he planned for Wagga were lavish but their financing was shaky and in 1882 he was dismissed. Exiled for the second time from Australia he returned in poor health to Ireland. He died in London on 9 September 1883 and was buried at Kensal Green.

Select Bibliography

  • F. Mackle, The Footprints of Our Catholic Pioneers (Melb, 1924)
  • J. G. O'Connor (ed), A Brief History of the Foundation of the Sacred Heart Presentation Convent (Syd, 1881)
  • T. L. Suttor, Hierarchy and Democracy in Australia 1788-1870 (Melb, 1965)
  • J. O'Brien, ‘The Apostle of the South’, Australasian Catholic Record, vol 22, no 4, Oct 1945, pp 209-27
  • Wagga Wagga Advertiser, 3 June 1874, 30 June, 15 Dec 1875, 14 Dec 1876
  • Dunne and Bermingham memorials, Polding letters (Roman Catholic Archives, Sydney).

Citation details

C. J. Duffy, 'Bermingham, Patrick (1828–1883)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 24 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Offaly, Ireland


9 September, 1883 (aged ~ 55)
London, Middlesex, England

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