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John Brady (c. 1800–1871)

by Kathleen O'Donoghue

This article was published:

John Brady (1800?-1871), Roman Catholic bishop, was born of peasant stock in County Cavan, Ireland. He was educated in a French seminary and after ordination served on the Isle of Bourbon (Réunion Island) for twelve years. On his return to Rome in 1836 he met Dr William Ullathorne who was recruiting priests for the Australian mission and was eager to secure his services. Brady arrived in 1838 in Sydney with the first large group of secular Irish clergy to reach Australia. Brady was originally intended for New Norfolk, but Bishop John Bede Polding felt his experience would be valuable on the mainland and he was appointed to Windsor. His extensive parish included Penrith and all branches of the Hawkesbury from Windsor to Broken Bay. His charges were mainly Irish convicts assigned to the landholders, and he rode hundreds of miles a month to serve them. After repeated incidents of coercion he was instrumental in establishing the convicts' right to freedom of worship. He was in touch with the Aboriginals and ministered to the French Canadian prisoners at Longbottom.

After five years Brady was appointed vicar-general of Western Australia. Accompanied by a Dutch priest and an Irish catechist, he arrived in Perth on 13 December 1843 and was gratefully welcomed by the small group of Catholics who had been without a priest. Governor John Hutt granted land for a church and school. Brady became convinced that he was working in a field ripe for the harvest and hastened to Rome to petition for priests and missionaries. He was particularly interested in evangelizing the Aboriginals and recommended that missions be established at King George Sound and Port Victoria. To aid this work he published, in Italian and English editions, A Descriptive Vocabulary of the Native Language of W. Australia (Rome, 1845). When it was decided to make Western Australia a separate diocese, Ullathorne declined the see and Brady was appointed bishop and consecrated in the Collegiate Church of Propaganda in May 1845. He returned to Perth next January with twenty-seven missionaries: French priests and brothers, Irish nuns and catechists and Spanish Benedictines. The sounds of the Te Deum for safe arrival had barely faded before it became painfully obvious that the small Catholic community could not absorb this group of differing nationalities and ecclesiastical training. Only one of the seven priests spoke English fluently. The French priests could do little with the Aboriginals near Albany, were suspected by the English settlers and finally transferred to Mauritius. Dom Joseph Serra and Dom Rosendo Salvado after initial difficulties established the flourishing Aboriginal mission at New Norcia.

Meanwhile Brady was living in conditions of extreme privation as death or disaster scattered many of his helpers. Harassed by pastoral responsibilities he petitioned Propaganda for aid. Dom Serra, then in Europe raising funds for the debt-encumbered mission, was appointed coadjutor bishop of Perth and administrator of the temporalities of the see. This appointment did nothing to alleviate the mushrooming difficulties. Brady went to Rome in 1850 to lay his case before the congregation of Propaganda. He was admonished for administering church property unwisely, returned to Perth without permission and engaged in violent disputes with his coadjutor. The débâcle was only terminated by legal action and the disciplinary visit of Archbishop Polding in 1852. Brady withdrew to his native diocese of Kilmore, Ireland, and spent his last years as a hermit in France. He died, not having resigned his see, on 2 December 1871 at Amélie-les-Bains.

Gentle and intelligent, Brady was unable to withstand the stress of founding a diocese in a new and unsympathetic environment. A charge of improvidence may be laid against him but it is mitigated and partially explained by the extreme simplicity and charity of his life.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vol 19
  • P. F. Moran, History of the Catholic Church in Australasia, vols 1-2 (Syd, 1895)
  • J. T. Reilly, Reminiscences of Fifty Years' Residence in Western Australia (Perth, 1903)
  • H. N. Birt, Benedictine Pioneers in Australia, vols 1-2 (Lond, 1911)
  • P. McCarthy, ‘The Foundations of Catholicism in Western Australia: 1829-1911’, University Studies in History and Economics, vol 2, no 4, July 1956, pp 5-76.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Kathleen O'Donoghue, 'Brady, John (c. 1800–1871)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 16 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


c. 1800
Cavan, Ireland


2 December, 1871 (aged ~ 71)
Amélie-les-Bains, France

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