Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Patrick Scott Cleary (1861–1941)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published:

Patrick Scott Cleary (1861-1941), journalist, was born on 13 September 1861 at Brunswick, Victoria, only child of Patrick Cleary, labourer, and his wife Anne, née Scott. Both parents were Irish-born. Educated by the Christian Brothers, Cleary was a clerk, living at South Melbourne, when he married Mary Tuohill (d.1903) at Sandhurst (Bendigo) on 22 July 1885.

About 1901 Cleary moved to Sydney, where he opened a newsagency at Woollahra; he was district registrar of births, deaths and marriages, and official valuer for the local municipal council. At St Mary's Cathedral on 24 January 1906 he married Irish-born Ellen Carey. Cleary became a frequent contributor to the Sydney press, notably the Daily Telegraph, on public issues. Articles of his, published in the quarterly Australasian Catholic Record in 1909-12, reveal a wide reading on church history. Other pamphlets showed a pronounced anti-socialist leaning. In 1913 he was a founder (and the first and only president) of the New South Wales branch of the Catholic Federation, whose purpose was to advance 'the religious, civil and social interests of Catholics throughout Australia'. It aimed at organizing denominational support with the chief objective of obtaining state aid for church schools. In 1915 he became sub-editor on the weekly Catholic Press.

Cleary opposed conscription in World War I; he gave evidence for the seven internees of Irish descent suspected of membership of the Irish Republican Brotherhood at the inquiry conducted by (Sir) John Harvey in August 1918. Cleary was prominent among Catholics who spoke in the Sydney Domain; in October 1919, after the introduction of proportional representation to New South Wales, he was a founding member of the Democratic Party, formed by the Catholic Federation in an attempt to obtain its objects by contesting State elections. He was one of the party's nine unsuccessful candidates in March 1920. In December a papal knighthood of St Sylvester was conferred on him.

Upon the death of J. Tighe Ryan in 1922, Cleary became editor of the Catholic Press. Though he lacked the provocative brilliance of his predecessor, he 'wrote from behind a rampart of knowledge built on wide reading … his style was trenchant but unhurried, cool and logical'. Cleary's less bellicose manner was appropriate to the calmer though isolationist atmosphere of Catholic activism after the furore in 1921 over Sister Liguori had capped fifteen years of dramatic confrontation, in which he had been an active participant.

In 1933 he published Australia's Debt to Irish Nation Builders. He had been a delegate to the Irish Race Convention in Paris in 1922. Unlike Ryan, Cleary was distrustful of a democratic, pluralist society; his editorials on occasion were tinged with anti-Semitism. He approved of Mussolini. His last pamphlet, Spain's Civil War (1937), in which he supported Franco, signified the beginning of a new period of Catholic political activity.

Cleary continued as editor until he died on 7 December 1941 at his home in North Sydney. He was survived by his wife, and by three sons of his first marriage. After a requiem Mass he was buried in the Catholic section of Waverley cemetery. Less than three months later the Catholic Press amalgamated with the Catholic Freeman's Journal to become the Catholic Weekly.

Select Bibliography

  • P. J. O'Farrell, The Catholic Church and the Community in Australia: A History (Melb, 1977)
  • Bulletin, 29 Aug 1918, 29 Jan 1925
  • Catholic Press, 24 Nov, 8 Dec 1921, 11 Dec 1941, 26 Feb 1942
  • Freeman's Journal (Sydney), 11 Dec 1941.

Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Cleary, Patrick Scott (1861–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


13 September, 1861
Brunswick, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


7 December, 1941 (aged 80)
North Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.