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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Crane, Martin (1818–1901)

by A. E. Owens

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

Martin Crane (1818-1901), Catholic bishop, was born on 11 October 1818 in Barrystown, in the parish of Bannow, County Wexford, Ireland, son of James Crane, farmer, and his wife Mary, née O'Connor. He was one of five sons who became priests in religious orders and his only sister was a nun in a Carmelite monastery. He received his early education at Wexford, joined the Augustinian order at Grantstown and completed his ecclesiastical studies in Rome. He was ordained priest at Perugia, Italy, on 12 April 1841 and then returned to Ireland. He was back in Rome for some years as superior of the Irish Augustinian house, and in Ireland he was several times prior of the head house in Dublin as well as being twice elected provincial superior. One of his great achievements was the building of the magnificent church of St Augustine in Dublin. He was in the United States collecting funds for the final stages of that work when he received word of his appointment as the first bishop of Sandhurst (Bendigo).

He was consecrated bishop in the procathedral at Dublin on 21 September 1874; one of the consecrating prelates was the bishop of Ossory who later became known to Australians as Cardinal Patrick Moran of Sydney. The new bishop visited Rome to see Pope Pius IX and left his native country for Australia early in 1875, having made arrangements for a community of Sisters of Mercy to follow him later that year. He was installed on 16 May and immediately set about visiting the various parts of the diocese. He found forty churches, many of them in poor repair, but only four parish centres and seven resident priests. He succeeded in bringing out more priests from the missionary colleges of Ireland, and within seven years was able to report that he had built twenty-eight new churches.

On a visit to Europe in 1882 Crane consulted a London specialist about his failing eyesight, but unfortunately what seems to have been a premature operation for cataracts resulted in total blindness. Further illness followed while he was away, and he arranged for the appointment of Stephen Reville, another Augustinian who had accompanied him to Australia, as coadjutor-bishop. At the same time he completed arrangements for some Augustinians from Ireland to set up a priory in Echuca.

Before leaving for Europe in 1882 he had spoken of building a cathedral in Bendigo. He was away for four years and when he returned to the diocese his loss of sight was an obstacle to his plans. However, the work began in 1896. He was present at the formal opening of the first section of this splendid building on 29 September 1901, but had to leave the ceremony because of illness. He died suddenly on 21 October, having been a priest for sixty years, and a bishop for over a quarter of a century.

An energetic traveller throughout his territory and a capable administrator, he was ideally suited for the task of bringing a struggling diocese to a firm footing. He was honest and straightforward, devoid of jealousy, unconcerned about his own welfare. In his nineteen years of blindness he gave a wonderful example of patience and resignation and spent many hours each day in earnest prayer for himself and for his people.

Select Bibliography

  • W. B. Kimberly (ed), Bendigo and Vicinity (Melb, 1895)
  • P. F. Moran, History of the Catholic Church in Australasia (Syd, 1895)
  • G. Mackay, Annals of Bendigo, vol 1 (Bendigo, 1916)
  • Bendigo Advertiser, Oct 1901
  • Bendigo Independent, Oct 1901
  • Advocate (Melbourne), 1901, 1947
  • private papers (St Kilian's).

Citation details

A. E. Owens, 'Crane, Martin (1818–1901)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 28 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

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