Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Joseph Lonergan (1888–1938)

by Chris McConville

This article was published:

John Joseph Lonergan (1888-1938), Catholic clergyman, was born on 22 March 1888 at South Melbourne, only son of Michael Lonergan, driver, and his wife Norah, née Tobin. He was educated at the local Catholic primary school run by the Loreto Sisters, then at St Patrick's, East Melbourne, and St Patrick's College, Manly, Sydney. After ordination in November 1911, Lonergan was appointed assistant priest at Gisborne, a small town within the archdiocese of Melbourne. His first post as parish priest was at Drysdale, an even smaller rural district.

Appointed to the staff of St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne, in 1916, Lonergan became diocesan inspector of religious instruction in schools and, in 1924, administrator and chancellor of the archdiocese and private secretary to Archbishop Daniel Mannix. During Mannix's absence in the pilgrimage year of 1925, he took charge of the archdiocese. Unlike his flamboyant archbishop, Lonergan worked unobtrusively from the cathedral on a wide range of administrative tasks. He served as chairman of the tribunal for matrimonial causes and acted as spiritual director to all the main associations of Catholic Melbourne, from the Catholic Young Men's Society to the Society of St Vincent de Paul. He sat on the board of the Catholic Tribune newspaper and administered property trusts and insurance for the archdiocese. Much of the responsibility for the organization of the International Eucharistic Congress in Sydney in 1928 fell to him and earned him, with the other members of the consulting council, the rank of monsignor. Next year he was created a domestic prelate to the pope, and in 1934 was attached to the suite of the visiting papal legate, Cardinal McRory. He was prominent in the eucharistic congresses in Melbourne (1934) and Adelaide (1936).

In January 1938 Lonergan was appointed bishop elect to the diocese of Port Augusta, South Australia. But he did not live to take up his post. After a long illness he died of hypertensive heart failure on 14 July 1938 at the Convent of the Good Shepherd, Oakleigh, Melbourne. He was buried in Melbourne general cemetery after solemn office and pontifical requiem Mass at St Patrick's Cathedral.

An eloquent preacher and platform speaker, Lonergan from an early age seemed destined for leadership within the Catholic community. Respected for his 'unvarying courtesy and genial disposition', he was described by the Age at the time of his elevation as 'the most popular clergyman of … the archdiocese'. He did much to extend personal friendship to Protestants in Melbourne and to help to assuage some of the bitter animosities of the war years. He cut a fine figure in a slowly growing band of Catholic clergymen born in Australian working-class parishes, educated at Manly and sent out to minister to flocks still accustomed to Irish clergymen.

Select Bibliography

  • Sun-News Pictorial (Melbourne), 13 Dec 1934, 15 July 1938
  • Age (Melbourne), 18 Jan 1938
  • Argus (Melbourne), 18 Jan, 15 July 1938
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 18 Jan, 15 July 1938
  • Advocate (Melbourne), 21 July 1938.

Citation details

Chris McConville, 'Lonergan, John Joseph (1888–1938)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 17 April 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]


22 March, 1888
South Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


14 July, 1938 (aged 50)
Oakleigh, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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.