Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Lanigan (1820–1900)

by C. J. Duffy

This article was published:

William Lanigan (1820-1900), Roman Catholic bishop, was born in May 1820 at Lisdaleen, Tipperary, Ireland, son of Thomas Lanigan and his wife Brigid Anastasia, née Dauton. He studied at St Patrick's College, Thurles, and at Maynooth, where he was ordained on 8 April 1848. He worked mostly at Kilcummin and Bansha. In 1859 he applied for leave to go to Sydney at the invitation of Archdeacon John McEncroe, and was highly commended by his archbishop. He reached Sydney in December 1859, served under Father Michael McAlroy in Goulburn and in 1861 made his headquarters at Berrima. On 19 April 1867 he was appointed to the vacant see of Goulburn in rather unexpected circumstances after Bishop Patrick Geoghegan had died in Ireland, Dean Hanly of Yass had declined and McAlroy was excluded as too implicated in the manoeuvring. Throughout his long episcopate Lanigan was a solid if dour and unexciting church ruler who had the advantage of an active team of priests including Patrick Dunne, Patrick Bermingham and Michael McAlroy and the guidance of Bishop Matthew Quinn of Bathurst.

Lanigan's main contribution to the evolution of Catholicity in Australia was made in helping to counter Archbishop John Bede Polding's policy of fusing English and Irish elements into a new Australian culture. In the early 1870s Rome was persuaded by Cardinal Paul Cullen, McEncroe, Bermingham and others that the future of the Church in Australia lay with the local Irish laity led by bishops and priests, imported if possible direct from Ireland, where a supply of clergy and teachers was waiting to be tapped by leaders who would promise them missionary activity and freedom from English rule.

Advantage was taken of Polding's absence overseas to have Lanigan consecrated at Goulburn Cathedral on 2 June 1867 by Bishops James and Matthew Quinn and James Murray. After the ceremony defiant speeches were made on the education question and the four prelates proffered advice to Rome on future policy. At a later farewell to the bishops on their way to the Vatican Council, Polding's proposal for a united Australian attitude in the Church was brusquely rejected by Lanigan. He also passed over the more experienced Hanly and chose McAlroy as his vicar-general. Four of his ten priests took the hint and returned to Sydney, but with habitual lack of humour he protested about Hanly's departure. The new authoritarian pattern of Irish Catholicism was beginning to prevail and the last vestiges of the old pioneer days were disappearing. At Bishop Lanigan's golden jubilee of ordination in 1898 the enormous growth of the diocese was described and it was noted that none of the clergy were native-born although the teaching orders were getting recruits.

Lanigan fully supported Archbishop Roger Vaughan in his fight for Catholic education. Within his own diocese he introduced the Christian Brothers in 1874, the Patrician Brothers in 1886, the Presentation Sisters in 1874, the Brigidines in 1883 and the Passionist Fathers in 1890. He joined his fellow bishops in insisting on diocesan Josephite Sisters and took his first foundation from Perthville in 1882. Aged 80 Lanigan died at Goulburn from senile decay on 13 June 1900 and was buried in the sanctuary of Saints Peter's and Paul's Cathedral.

Select Bibliography

  • T. L. Suttor, Hierarchy and Democracy in Australia, 1788-1870 (Melb, 1965)
  • J. O'Brien, ‘In diebus illus’, Australasian Catholic Record, 20-21 (1943-44)
  • J. P. O'Malley, ‘Bishop Lanigan’, Australasian Catholic Record, vol 44, no 2, Apr 1967, pp 113-23
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 15, 16 June 1900
  • Roman Catholic Archives (Sydney).

Citation details

C. J. Duffy, 'Lanigan, William (1820–1900)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


May, 1820
Lisdaleen, Tipperary, Ireland


13 June, 1900 (aged 80)
Goulburn, New South Wales, Australia

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