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Patrick Bonaventure Geoghegan (1805–1864)

by Osmund Thorpe

This article was published:

Patrick Bonaventure Geoghegan (1805-1864), Roman Catholic bishop, was born in Dublin and baptized on 17 March 1805. He was orphaned at the age of 8 and relations of his father who were not Catholics arranged for his admission to a Protestant institution. He was rescued by a Franciscan priest and placed in an orphanage. Later the Franciscans sent Geoghegan to school at Edgeworthstown, County Longford, and then to a college in Lisbon. Eager to become a Franciscan priest he was transferred to the Franciscan training school at Coimbra, Portugal. After completing his studies he was ordained priest on 21 February 1830. He was appointed to St Francis's Church, Dublin, where in 1837 he was interviewed by Dr William Ullathorne who was recruiting priests for the Australian Catholic Mission. Geoghegan volunteered to go for seven years. Given £150 for his outfit and passage by the Colonial Office he sailed in the Francis Spaight and arrived at Sydney on 31 December. He was appointed to Bathurst but after four months Bishop John Bede Polding sent him to establish the first Catholic mission in Melbourne.

Some three thousand Catholics were then in the area out of a population of about ten thousand. Geoghegan lost no time in putting up 'almost in the open air … a poor temporary altar' and celebrated the first Mass on Pentecost Sunday, 19 May. A week later he notified his flock that 'a plain commodious church' had to be built and that they were to cultivate 'kind liberable feeling and deportment toward the members of all religious persuasions'. The government gave him a salary of £150 and a land grant at the corner of Elizabeth and Lonsdale Streets where he built a temporary church, a presbytery and a school. On 4 October 1841 he laid the foundation stone of St Francis's Church. In April-September 1842 he was in Sydney and again briefly in 1843. In Melbourne in July he narrowly escaped being hit by a bullet fired in an encounter between members of the Orange Society and Catholics, mostly Irish born, whom he was trying to restrain. He was made vicar-forane by Archbishop Polding. On 23 October 1845 he opened the completed Church of St Francis. On 30 October 1846 he left Melbourne for Hobart Town on his way, it was wrongly thought, for Ireland but was back in April 1847. Rumour then held that he was to be the first Catholic bishop of Melbourne. However, James Goold was appointed to the Melbourne see and on 6 August 1848 chose Geoghegan as his vicar-general. Early that year Geoghegan had visited the new Anglican bishop, Charles Perry, but received what even many Protestants regarded as an an ungracious rebuff. In March 1849 Geoghegan left for Ireland to recruit priests for the Australian mission. He returned in April 1851. In 1852 to the select committee on education in Victoria 'he gave a most complete exposition of Catholic views on the respective roles of the Church, the family, and the state in education'.

When Dr Francis Murphy died in 1858 Geoghegan was appointed bishop of Adelaide. He was consecrated in St Francis's, Melbourne, on 8 September 1859 and enthroned in St Francis Xavier's Cathedral, Adelaide, on 1 November. Deeply troubled by the education system in South Australia he 'exhorted pastors and their flocks to an united effort to establish Catholic schools in their respective localities'. With the help of 30,000 francs from the Propagation of the Faith, several schools were opened. He also built twenty new churches and the chancel and side altars of his cathedral. To recruit dedicated priests for the diocese he left for Europe in February 1862 but in Rome on 10 March 1864 was translated at his own request to the new see of Goulburn, New South Wales. In Dublin he was extremely ill when an old throat ailment became a cancer. He died on 9 May 1864 at Kingstown (Dunleary) and was buried in the old Church of St Francis, Merchants Quay, Dublin.

Father Geoghegan, according to one who knew him in the early days in Melbourne, was 'a round, chubby, natty little man, a perfect picture of health and cheerfulness'. At his best when faced with problems, he admitted to being very sensitive and easily hurt, a disposition which led him into errors of judgment as well as much suffering. An inclination to excessive fault-finding alienated some of the priests in Melbourne and Adelaide.

A portrait in oils is in the dining room of the Archbishop's House, West Terrace, Adelaide.

Select Bibliography

  • P. F. Moran, History of the Catholic Church in Australasia (Syd, 1895)
  • F. Byrne, History of the Catholic Church in South Australia (Adel, 1896)
  • F. Mackle, The Footprints of our Catholic Pioneers (Melb, 1924)
  • R. Fogarty, Catholic Education in Australia 1806-1950 (Melb, 1959)
  • Geoghegan papers (Roman Catholic Archives, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide).

Citation details

Osmund Thorpe, 'Geoghegan, Patrick Bonaventure (1805–1864)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 14 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Dublin, Dublin, Ireland


9 May, 1864 (aged ~ 59)
Dun Laoghaire , Dublin, Ireland

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