Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Joseph Foley (1886–1975)

by S. M. Ingham

This article was published:

James Joseph Foley (1886-1975), De La Salle Brother, educationist and administrator, was born on 6 August 1886 at Killenaule, County Tipperary, Ireland, son of Patrick Foley, farmer, and his wife Johanna, née Corcoran. Jimmy entered the De La Salle novitiate at Castletown on 8 September 1903 and took vows on 22 November 1904, adopting the religious name Jerome. After teacher-training at the Order's college at Waterford, he taught in 1903-07 at Ardee where he decided to volunteer to serve in Australia.

In response to appeals to the Order to extend its educational work from New South Wales, Foley and two other brothers arrived in Melbourne on 4 February 1912. Next day they started teaching in a parish hall at Malvern; by Easter they had moved into a new building in Stanhope Street West. Transferred to New South Wales in 1913, Brother Jerome was appointed director at Ashfield, Sydney (1920), and at Armidale (1922). He returned to Victoria in 1923 and—while serving as director at De La Salle, Malvern (1923-24) and St Ignatius' School, Richmond (1924-28)—studied part time at the University of Melbourne (B.A., 1926). From 1929 until 1946 he had charge of the religious community and was headmaster of De La Salle College, Malvern (a secondary school since 1926), housed in new buildings in Stanhope Street East.

Foley was an inspirational teacher, his first loves being the natural sciences and mathematics. In 1930 he visited nearby convents after class, helping nuns in parish schools to teach science with simple experiments, many of which he devised himself. He had a lively character and intellect, and was a voracious reader, especially when walking along his favoured garden paths within the college grounds. Short in stature, he was a bundle of energy and an enthusiastic gardener. He walked miles at weekends, a distinctive figure with his T. S. Eliotish 'wopsical' hat planted squarely on his head. In the baking summer of 1942 he led by example, digging slit trenches in the clay of the main schoolyard.

In 1946-58 Foley was the Order's provincial for Australasia and Papua; he represented the Australian province of the general chapter of Brothers in the mother house in Rome in 1956. During his provincialship ten schools were founded, extending the Order to Papua, New Zealand and three other States in Australia, and a teachers' training college, Oakhill, was opened at Castle Hill, Sydney.

A model Irish-Australian, Foley was loyal to both countries. His support of the Australian Labor Party stemmed from his Irish background and from his membership of an Order devoted primarily to the education of boys from lower-middle and working-class families. He confided his private opinion that Archbishop Mannix had made a tactical mistake in aligning himself with the Democratic Labor Party after Labor split in 1955. Deeply religious and a 'commonsense' Catholic, Foley was reticent about himself; with the limpest of handshakes, he was perhaps at his best conversationally, while relaxing in the company of his dogs. His frailties included partisan and sometimes mildly abusive barracking at football matches, and shifting the baseline in a tennis game—if it were to his advantage. After retiring to Oakhill and then to Boystown, Beaudesert, Queensland, he died on 9 September 1975 in Brisbane and was buried in Castle Hill cemetery, Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • Br Aloysius, The De La Salle Brothers in Australia 1906-1956 (Syd, 1956)
  • G. McNamara, Brother Paul (Syd, 1966)
  • De La Salle College, Blue and Gold (Melb, 1975)
  • De La Salle Archives, Malvern, Melbourne
  • personal knowledge.

Citation details

S. M. Ingham, 'Foley, James Joseph (1886–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Jerome, Brother

6 August, 1886
Killenaule, Tipperary, Ireland


9 September, 1975 (aged 89)
Brisbane, Queensland, 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.