Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Joseph Patrick Byrne (1843–1901)

by C. J. Duffy

This article was published:

Joseph Patrick Byrne (1843-1901), Roman Catholic bishop, was born on 18 June 1843 in Dublin, son of Patrick and Maria Byrne. He studied at St Lawrence O'Toole College and then at the Rouen Seminary. Ordained there in 1865 he at once volunteered his services to Dr Matthew Quinn, newly-appointed first bishop of Bathurst, accompanied him to Australia and proved himself a most competent and loyal colleague. Such was the impression he made that Bishop James Murray successfully sought his services to administer his Maitland diocese during his absence in Europe from 1869 to 1873. On Murray's return Byrne became vicar-general to Quinn and also president of the seminary and college of St Charles Borromeo, which opened in 1875 with a staff of secular clergy and laymen. This double institution of learning played an important part in Catholic education. As St Stanislaus College, founded in 1867, it still flourishes and as a training house for priests it bridged the gap between the Benedictine Lyndhurst and the foundation of St Patrick's College, Manly.

Though he had no episcopal ambitions Byrne, the obvious choice to succeed Quinn, was consecrated by Bishop Murray on 9 August 1885. He ruled the diocese for fifteen years complementing the work of his predecessor. Nothing new had to be added but a more genial attitude to priests and people was called for; the elaborate organization had to be trimmed and streamlined, debts paid and modifications introduced. All these things were done and well done. Byrne is credited with spending £300,000 and he added churches in Gulgong, Coonamble and Stuart Town, and a convent at Wellington. He increased the teaching strength by bringing the Brigidine Sisters in 1883 and the Patrician Brothers in 1886. He also established the St Vincent de Paul Society. Byrne's most significant changes were in the diocesan colleges. Realizing the difficulty of maintaining them with diocesan clergy he invited the Vincentian Fathers to take over St Stanislaus Boarding School in 1888 and the seminary, which was closed in 1896 after the college at Manly was opened. Byrne also changed the government of the Josephite community founded in Perthville by Rev. Julian Tenison-Woods, for whose methods he had never shared Quinn's enthusiasm. Whereas this priest had not only supervised the Perthville community but also conducted a series of missions throughout the diocese for many years, he was cut off completely from any direct control by Dr Byrne. Woods's unpredictability and peculiar mysticism did not appeal to the bishop and he joined the ranks of his episcopal confrères in barring Woods from exercising any further influence; even letters and records were destroyed.

Byrne encouraged Rev. Milne Curran in his geological studies and allowed him to accept appointment as a teacher in the Sydney Technical College and later as government geologist while retaining his diocesan status. In 1899 the bishop brought him back to Bathurst to edit the Record. Six months later the printery was burnt out, but nothing was done to resurrect it for the bishop's days were numbered. The circumstances of his death had a special poignancy. Late in 1900 when devoted priests began to organize a testimonial for him, it became clear that Byrne would not live until the appointed date, so it was changed to 6 January 1901. Knowing that this would be his final meeting with his flock the bishop took the opportunity to say his farewells in a moving address. He died on 12 January from cancer.

Select Bibliography

  • Illustrated Sydney News, 29 Aug 1885
  • Freeman's Journal (Sydney), 12, 19, 26 Jan 1901
  • Roman Catholic Archives (Sydney and Bathurst).

Citation details

C. J. Duffy, 'Byrne, Joseph Patrick (1843–1901)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 17 April 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]


18 June, 1843
Dublin, Dublin, Ireland


12 January, 1901 (aged 57)
New South Wales, Australia

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