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Andrew Killian (1872–1939)

by R. J. Egar

This article was published:

Andrew Killian (1872-1939), by Conlon Studio

Andrew Killian (1872-1939), by Conlon Studio

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 3973

Andrew Killian (1872-1939), Catholic archbishop, was born on 26 October 1872 at Edenderry, Offaly, Ireland, son of Nicholas Killian and his wife Eliza Josephine, née Ryan, who were school teachers. His grandfather Nicholas Killian had conducted a 'hedge school'. Andrew was educated at Mungret Jesuit College, Limerick, and St Patrick's College, Carlow. He graduated B.A. from the Royal University of Ireland, in 1894, and was ordained priest on 4 June 1898; he came to Australia later that year. His younger brother Patrick and sister Mary also worked in the Australian Catholic Church.

Killian's first appointment was as an assistant priest in the parish of Bourke in western New South Wales. In 1907 he visited Ireland and next year was transferred to Broken Hill. He subsequently filled the offices of parish priest, administrator of the cathedral, dean and vicar-general (1919). In 1919 he was designated a domestic prelate of the Holy See. At Broken Hill his talents as an administrator were recognized. He cleared the parish of debt, extended the bishop's house and built St John's School at Broken Hill North. Elected bishop of the neighbouring South Australian diocese of Port Augusta, he was consecrated on 15 June 1924 in the pro-cathedral at Peterborough. Between 1924 and 1933 the bishop travelled thousands of miles visiting the scattered parishes of his vast diocese which stretched from the eastern to the western border of South Australia. In 1926 he attended the Eucharistic Congress at Chicago; on this journey he was received by the Pope in Rome and visited Ireland again. In July 1933 Killian was appointed coadjutor archbishop of Adelaide to assist the ailing Archbishop Spence. When Dr Spence died next year Killian became archbishop.

It was an era of expansion for the Church despite the Depression. Archbishop Killian cited as the achievements of which he was proudest: the reopening of the historic school at Penola, originally founded by Mother Mary MacKillop, the opening of the juniorate of the Sisters of St Joseph at Cowandilla, the arrival of the Carmelite Sisters in the diocese and the National Catholic Education Congress of 1936.

He is most remembered for the congress. The first such gathering in Australia, it was arranged to mark the State's centenary. In announcing the event the archbishop said: 'The Education Congress will enable us to consolidate our forces behind the movement and enable us to acquaint our fellow-citizens of the sacrifices made by us. Catholics should know and understand the sacrifices made for Catholic Education'. Papers were presented by leading Catholic educationists about the work of Catholic schools and the congress ended with a Eucharistic procession of 100,000 people through Adelaide's streets.

In his last year Archbishop Killian was afflicted by cancer. He died on 28 June 1939 in the Mercy Hospital, East Melbourne, and was buried in West Terrace cemetery, Adelaide. He is remembered as a large, kindly, paternal man. His acceptance by Catholics and others was evidenced by the thousands of mourners who lined the path of his funeral cortège.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Catholic Education Congress (Melb, 1936)
  • Southern Cross (Adel), 7 July 1939
  • R. Morrison, summary notebook, B3 (no 13), E2 (no 4), (Adelaide Diocesan Archives of the Catholic Church).

Citation details

R. J. Egar, 'Killian, Andrew (1872–1939)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 20 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Andrew Killian (1872-1939), by Conlon Studio

Andrew Killian (1872-1939), by Conlon Studio

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 3973

Life Summary [details]


26 October, 1872
Edenderry, Offaly, Ireland


28 June, 1939 (aged 66)
East Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, 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.