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Pierre François Le Rennetel (1851–1904)

by John Hosie

This article was published:

Pierre François Le Rennetel (1851-1904), Marist Father, was born on 30 April 1851 in the parish of La Boussac, Brittany, France, son of Pierre Le Rennetel, farmer, and his wife Perrine Victoire, née Aubin. Brought up at St Malo, he was educated at the minor seminary at St Meen. His studies for the priesthood at the Marist seminary at Lyon were interrupted when he joined the French corps of Papal Zouaves raised by Charette during the later stages of the Franco-Prussian War. In 1872 he entered the Marist scholasticate at Belley and on 2 October 1873 was professed at Ste Foy-les-Lyon, continuing his studies there. He studied theology at Belley in 1875-76 and at St Mary's College, Dundalk, Ireland, where he was ordained priest on 24 August 1877 and taught for two years.

Le Rennetel had applied for a Pacific islands appointment, but was sent instead to Sydney where he arrived in November 1879. After a short time at St Michael's, Cumberland Street, he was transferred to St Patrick's, Church Hill. In 1883, while Dr Gillett was overseas, he acted as rector of St John's College, University of Sydney. He refused permanent appointment, but remained a fellow, and was appointed in November 1883 parish priest of St Patrick's, where he remained until his death. He was regarded highly by Cardinal Moran who made him a diocesan consulter and considered him for the diocesan seminary he was planning. In 1886 Le Rennetel had to go to some lengths to counter Moran's nomination of him as a bishop.

Efficient at managing finances, Le Rennetel built a convent for the Sisters of Mercy, assisted the Marist Brothers with their monastery, pushed through the construction of Federation Hall and built a presbytery for the priests. 'His sound common sense, wide knowledge of the world, high culture, and marked ability in the pulpit' helped to make St Patrick's an extraordinary centre of devotion and the Marists gave a valuable French element to a predominantly Irish-Australian Church. He supported Home Rule, and genuinely loved the Irish, who affectionately referred to him as 'Father O'Rennetel'.

During the 1890s depression Le Rennetel, with Fathers Ginisty and Piquet, unstintingly worked for the unemployed and destitute, many of whom lived at The Rocks. He claimed not only to know all his poor parishioners but also most of the Chinese in the area. He actively and practically encouraged young men's associations and liked to boast of his young men.

In 1898 Le Rennetel went to Europe for a break: extraordinary tributes and affectionate farewells testify to his popularity. Similar tributes marked his return in February 1899 and silver jubilee as a priest in 1902. Dark with an aquiline nose and flowing beard, Le Rennetel was a witty, sought-after speaker, also highly regarded within the French community. He gave retreats and missions in all New South Wales dioceses and also preached in Queensland, Tasmania and New Zealand. He suffered from disseminated sclerosis and died of cerebral haemorrhage on 25 July 1904 at St Patrick's presbytery. After a funeral attended by an estimated 40,000 people he was buried in Waverley cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Freeman's Journal (Sydney), 21 May 1898, 11 Feb 1899, 30 Aug 1902
  • Catholic Press, 9 Aug 1902, 28 July, 4 Aug 1904
  • Le Rennetel personal file (Archives of the Marist Fathers, Rome).

Citation details

John Hosie, 'Le Rennetel, Pierre François (1851–1904)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 15 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Le Rennetel, Pierre Francois

30 April, 1851
La Boussac, Brittany, France


25 July, 1904 (aged 53)
Church Hill, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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