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Patrick Francis Moran (1830–1911)

by A. E. Cahill

This article was published:

Patrick Francis Moran (1830-1911), by unknown photographer

Patrick Francis Moran (1830-1911), by unknown photographer

Herald & Weekly Times Portrait Collection, State Library of Victoria, H38849/3056

Patrick Francis Moran (1830-1911), cardinal, was born on 16 September 1830 at Leighlinbridge, Carlow, Ireland, youngest of five children of Patrick Moran, businessman, and his wife Alicia, née Cullen and formerly Murphy. For both his parents, who had complex family relationships through the Mahers, it was a second marriage.

Born into material comfort, Moran was deprived of emotional security. His mother died when he was fourteen months old, his father when he was 11, and three siblings died young. The Cullens of Craan, Carlow, provided a home for him until, in 1842, he was placed in the care of his mother's half-brother (Cardinal) Paul Cullen, rector of the Irish College, Rome, who was to be the formative influence in his nephew's life.

In Rome Moran was a model student, diligent and industrious. At 15 he spoke Italian and Latin 'as well as any man in Rome', according to Cullen. Over the next ten years he added French, German, Spanish and Irish, as well as Hebrew and biblical Greek. He studied theology at the Roman Seminary under the Jesuits Perrone and Passaglia, and at the Urban College of Propaganda Fide where in 1852 he was awarded a doctorate with Archbishop Pecci (later Pope Leo XIII) as one of his examiners. His studies had been only slightly disturbed by the Roman revolution of 1848-49 and he was ordained priest on 19 March 1853.

At the Irish College Moran was at the centre of a missionary enterprise with world-wide interests. In 1856 he was appointed vice-rector, but he preferred missionary work to an episcopal career in Ireland; his strong sense of missionary vocation was to underlie his willingness to go to Australia in 1884. He developed good working relations with Roman officials and in the 1850s and 1860s regularly wrote memoranda to officials, drafted reports on Irish affairs, and even wrote some of Cullen's pastoral letters. He acted as translator, interpreter and guide for both metropolitan and overseas Irish: in 1859 he helped Archdeacon McEncroe to prepare the colonial Irish clergy's case against Archbishop Polding of Sydney.

In 1857 Moran was appointed professor of Hebrew in the Propaganda College, where he also taught Scripture. He had studied palaeography and, urged by Cullen, began the first systematic study of the sources for the history of the Irish Church. On 2 May 1859 Cullen secured special papal authorization for Moran to make copies of relevant codices in Roman archives. For the rest of his life Moran maintained his interest in the search for relevant manuscripts and built up a collection of books and maps dealing with Australasia and the Pacific. He regularly recorded archaeological details and visited the sites of former Celtic monasteries.

Moran wrote five substantial books on Irish Church history including Historical Sketch of the Persecutions Suffered by the Catholics of Ireland Under the Rule of Cromwell and the Puritans (1862), Essays on the Origin, Doctrines, and Discipline of the Early Irish Church (1864) and a History of the Catholic Archbishops of Dublin, Since the Reformation (1864). He wrote many scholarly articles, pamphlets and formal lectures, some of which were collected in Occasional Papers (1890). He also edited The Pastoral Letters and Other Writings of Cardinal Cullen, Archbishop of Dublin (1882), and Spicilegium Ossoriense (1874, 1878, 1884), a three-volume collection of documents illustrating Irish ecclesiastical history from the Reformation until 1800, and made other compilations of source material.

Well versed in hagiology, Moran published Irish Saints in Great Britain (1879). Although some of his work was antiquarian and his purpose often apologetic or polemical, he saw himself as rescuing the Irish past from the dominance of the Protestant ascendancy represented by J. H. Todd and Trinity College, Dublin. However, he was a pioneer in the use of archives, and some of his work belongs to the wider context of the creation of a modern Irish cultural identity. He was an early advocate of compulsory Irish for university matriculants, and remained a strong supporter of the language revival. By the 1870s he had acquired some of the analytical skills and understanding of a historian, but his development was increasingly restricted by pressure of work, and his intended biography of Cullen was never written. His massive History of the Catholic Church in Australasia (1895) was essentially a compilation of source material, but organized with specific apologetic and polemic aims. He made other, much shorter, contributions to Australian historiography, most notably Discovery of Australia by De Quiros in the Year 1606 (1906), in which scholarly caution was overridden by his eagerness to claim first arrival for his Church. Historical research gave him a strong sense of change over time and of the need to respond to that change.

In 1866, newly promoted monsignor, Moran returned to Ireland to become Cullen's private secretary. From 1864 he had been joint founding editor of the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, which he later made the model for the Australasian Catholic Record he launched in Sydney in 1895. He was appointed professor of Hebrew and Scripture at Holy Cross College, Clonliffe, the Dublin diocesan seminary, and was also appointed to the staff of the troubled Catholic University of Ireland as professor of Scripture and scriptural languages and of Irish history. In 1869 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Irish Academy.

In 1871 Cullen arranged for Moran to be appointed coadjutor-bishop in Ossory and on 5 March 1872 consecrated him bishop of Olba in partibus. In August Moran succeeded automatically when the octogenarian bishop died. After moving to Kilkenny, he visited each of the forty-one parishes at least twice in his first three years. He concentrated on raising the educational standards of the clergy, strengthening their discipline and reorganizing the local seminary, St Kieran's College, reviving liturgy, increasing the number of nuns, and establishing industrial schools. He strongly advocated total abstinence, a policy he pursued vigorously in his early years in Sydney but later moderated. He inherited a serious situation in the town of Callan where the learned but eccentric parish priest Robert O'Keeffe had defied suspension measures, launched civil actions against the old bishop, and added further libel actions against Moran and Cullen. The legal saga ended in 1875 with O'Keeffe's defeat, setting precedents for church-state relations in Irish law.

Moran was 6 ft 3 ins (191 cm) tall, an impressive figure but reserved, shy and seemingly aloof. He kept his emotions under tight control, but was subject to bouts of weeping which he overcame only in his forties. One of his priests said later that he was 'very much respected, a good deal feared, but little loved'. He was a man of simple piety and well-regulated habits. He meditated daily on life as a 'pilgrimage', regularly using Bishop Challoner's The Garden of the Soul. He was probably the only nineteenth-century bishop actually to publish a devotional book, The Catholic Prayer Book and Manual of Meditations (Dublin, 1883) which, characteristically, included translations of early Irish prayers. His health was never robust: he suffered from bronchitis and congestion of one lung.

Many of the Irish bishops and clergy regarded Moran with suspicion because of his close relationship with Cullen, but most bishops, and especially Roman officials, recognized his competence. He was secretary for one of the commissions of the 1875 Maynooth Plenary Council; the task of getting the council's decrees approved by Rome facilitated the smooth functioning of his own three plenary councils in Australia. He was several times authorized by the Vatican to mediate in disputes between Irish bishops and clergy and over land agitation, and to negotiate with the British government on education reform.

Some clergy and laity mistakenly regarded both Cullen and Moran as favourably disposed towards British rule: both had a strong sense of Irish nationality but condemned Fenianism on the practical grounds that it would only result in increased British repression. Publicly cautious on national issues, Moran, asked by Leo XIII in 1888 secretly to investigate Irish conditions, upset the Vatican with the forcefulness of his condemnation of British policy.

From the 1850s Moran had been an interested observer of Australasian events. In 1866 he was appointed non-resident vicar-general of the diocese of Maitland, New South Wales, and as Bishop James Murray's proctor attended sessions of the first Vatican Council. He thought of New Zealand as an integral part of a common region, and later strongly opposed a Roman decision to separate New Zealand from the Australian colonies for Church purposes. In 1878 the New South Wales Irish suffragan bishops appointed him their agent to argue their case in Rome against the English Archbishop Vaughan, especially in defence of Bishop O'Mahony, which Moran quickly realized was a lost cause. Despite anti-Irish lobbying by English Catholic bishops and a British government agent, Moran had the strong support of Propaganda officials and the endorsement of Pope Leo XIII himself. He was appointed Archbishop of Sydney on 25 January 1884 and arrived on 8 September.

His settling in was disrupted on 1 May 1885 by a summons to Rome. He believed he would be offered the see of Dublin, but determined to urge Leo XIII to allow him to return to Sydney. On arrival he was informed that he was to be made a cardinal. Far from a consolation prize, this was both a confirmation of Moran's high personal standing in Rome and an affirmation of Leo's belief in the importance of the new worlds. On 27 July he was raised to the rank of cardinal-priest, with a titular link to the Roman church of St Susanna, and became a member of three Roman congregations, Propaganda, Consistory and Religious; but he had few opportunities to join in curial government. When Leo died in 1903, Moran failed to reach Rome in time for the conclave that elected Pius X.

Before his return to Sydney in 1885 he was appointed apostolic delegate to preside over the Plenary Council of Australasia, held in November to reorganize Church structure and discipline. He was given similar authority for the second and third councils of 1895 and 1905 and, since this covered intervening years in which council decrees were being processed, Moran, for most of his Australian years, occupied a most unusual position as both the senior member of the local hierarchy and the Pope's representative in dealing with that hierarchy. This dual role confirmed the Pope's high opinion of Moran. Rome had wanted a plenary council to be held in Australia since the 1870s to consolidate the widespread Church structure. Moran acted skilfully and decisively and the three councils in a period of economic development and vital political change laid the foundations of the national Church in the twentieth century.

Before Moran's arrival, the Australasian colonies had been heavily dependent on migrant priests. He soon commissioned Sheerin & (J. F.) Hennessy to design a seminary and his official residence (completed 1886) at Manly. St Patrick's College, initially intended to provide priests for all the colonies, was opened in 1889; Moran contributed a library of several hundred books, a collection of medieval manuscripts, and items for a museum.

Within two years Moran, with typical thoroughness, had not only visited every one of the forty-six parochial districts of his diocese (which then extended to the Victorian border), but also the suffragan dioceses of Maitland and Armidale, and New Zealand. In 1887 he sailed to both Brisbane and Adelaide to confer palliums on new archbishops, and to Perth to consecrate a bishop. Before his death he had visited almost every diocese in Australasia including Western Australia in 1887 and 1911 and New Zealand in 1885, 1905 and 1908. He dedicated cathedrals at Armidale, Bathurst, Goulburn, Lismore; Melbourne and Bendigo, Victoria; Hobart; Rockhampton, Queensland; and Auckland and Dunedin, New Zealand. He made five journeys to Rome on Church business in 1885, 1888, 1893, 1902 and 1903.

Moran was determined to have all Catholic children in schools staffed by religious Orders. By 1911 more than three-quarters of the Catholic children in Sydney of primary-school age were in his system, and he had laid the basis for a similar secondary system. He almost trebled the number of teaching brothers and more than trebled the number of nuns. He had authorized the expenditure of more than £1,250,000 on building churches, schools and institutions. On the twentieth anniversary of his arrival he noted that he had personally blessed eighty-eight foundation stones for churches or schools in the diocese. The largest single building project was the near-completion of St Mary's Cathedral. He had first finished the northern end, then built the central section including 'the Cardinal's Tower' by 1900, and was able to consecrate it all, debt free, in 1905. In his last years he decided to begin work on the southern part of the original plan, set a foundation stone in 1909, and in the second half of 1910 was speaking almost weekly in a tour of parishes to raise money.

The colonies had a long history of sectarian conflict before Moran's arrival, exacerbated by disputes over education in the 1870s and 1880s. His Irish experience made him deeply distrustful of other denominations. In the 1880s he rejected offers from the Anglican Bishop Barry to co-operate for common Christian objectives, and resisted pressure from the governor Lord Carrington, with similar aims. In the 1890s he increasingly believed that Catholics' political and civil rights were threatened and, in 1896, saw deliberate discrimination in a situation where 'no office of first, or even second, rate importance is held by a Catholic'.

In 1901 he refused to attend the official inauguration of the Commonwealth because precedence was given to the Church of England. As his public role developed, he made numerous enemies for himself and his Church by his attacks on other denominations. When his secretary D. F. O'Haran was cited as co-respondent in the Coningham divorce cases in 1899-1901, he regarded this as a Protestant conspiracy aimed at himself, but rejoiced that 'the Catholic spirit has been wonderfully aroused'.

In deliberately developing an active public role, Moran acted on the assumption that in colonial society leadership was needed. While his sermons remained, as in Ireland, 'so learned that he was hard to follow', he delivered brief, impromptu speeches at Church functions which, by the 1890s, had become the delight of Sydney journalists. In this role he became one of the best known public figures in Australasia. Increasingly in the 1890s he advocated Federation and in 1896 was invited to address the People's Federal Convention at Bathurst. Next year he agreed to stand for election to the Australasian Federal Convention and, when sectarian feeling erupted, he persisted in his candidacy, believing that the civil rights of Catholics were at issue, but failed to win a position in the New South Wales delegation of ten. In the 1900s he continued to strongly advocate an independent defence and foreign policy, repeating earlier calls for a separate Australian navy and supporting schemes for military training programmes.

In the 1880s and 1890s Moran denounced anti-Chinese legislation as unchristian and specifically defended Chinese migrants, though pilloried in front-page caricature by the Bulletin as 'The Chows' Patron'. His vision of Australia as the base for the Christianization of Asia and the Pacific was threatened. He had originally intended to establish a Chinese College in Sydney. His junior seminary, St Columba's College, Springwood, was planned as a missionary college. He gave the French Sacred Heart missionaries a Sydney base and seminary at Kensington for their work in Melanesia. Through the 1880s and 1890s he urged the Propaganda Congregation to provide missionaries for both Melanesia and Polynesia, sending detailed advice on ethnology, geography, social conditions and means of travel. At the 1885 Plenary Council of Australasia he introduced a scheme for annual collections throughout the colonies to support missionaries working among Australian Aborigines, especially in Queensland and Western Australia; but he received little support from most of the other bishops, despite his constant reminders.

There was an unconventional side to Moran which marked him out among his contemporaries in the Irish episcopate and in the College of Cardinals. Although in no real sense a liberal Catholic, he had no sympathy with the integralist trends of European Catholicism. He criticized French Catholic anti-Semitism during the Dreyfus case, and paid a sympathy call on the chief rabbi of Sydney after pogroms in Russia. In Ireland he had opposed political activity by women; in Australia he became a strong advocate of female suffrage and authorized use of his name for female suffrage campaigns in Europe. In 1907, in response to Pius X's directive to all Catholic bishops, he dutifully set up a vigilance committee to search for evidence of 'modernism' but decided there was nothing to be worried about in Australia. The radicalization of his political and social attitudes in his last fifteen years involved no questioning of theological implications. He remained within the conventional theology of his early years, and enjoyed making disparaging remarks about Cardinal Newman as a theologian.

His increasing public support for the trade union movement, for the new Labor Party, and for what he called 'Australian socialism' alarmed conservative Catholics in Australia and overseas. In 1890 he had supported the trade union cause in the maritime strike, a year before the appearance of the papal encyclical Rerum novarum, for which he tried to provide Australian relevance in his 1891 public lecture, 'The rights and duties of labour'. At first cautious, by 1900 he had criticized many aspects of the industrial system, and on one occasion even quoted Karl Marx on the social consequences of capitalism. To some extent, his support for the Labor Party was influenced by his belief, expressed publicly in 1901, that Labor was 'the only party above religious prejudice'. By 1902 he was being criticized by other bishops for putting social reform ahead of their demands for 'educational justice'. In 1905 he upset both Prime Minister (Sir) George Reid and the leading Catholic editor J. Tighe Ryan by denying that the Labor Party's platform made it unacceptable to Catholics. The great enemy of Australia, he said, was 'not socialism … but imperial jingoism'. In his last year, he both intervened in State politics to persuade a Catholic not to abandon support for the tottering McGowen Labor government and provoked worried letters from American Catholic bishops, including Cardinal Gibbons, because of his strong public support for the 1911 'socialist' referenda proposals.

In 1889-99 Joseph Higgins served Moran faithfully as auxiliary bishop. When Higgins was given his own diocese in 1899, an ageing Moran was in even greater need of help. Since arriving in Sydney he had depended heavily in administrative matters on his secretary O'Haran, 'a treasure to me'. Seemingly oblivious to growing criticism of O'Haran from clergy and laity, well before the Coningham case, Moran nominated him as his auxiliary, and was upset by Rome's reply that the nomination was opposed by several Australian bishops. Angered to find that his old friend Bishop Murray was among O'Haran's critics, Moran contemplated resignation and retirement to Rome. He refused to make any other nomination and hastily decided to have, instead, a coadjutor with the right of succession. Uncritically, he endorsed the first choice of the clergy and bishops, Michael Kelly, a man quite unsuited for Australian conditions and probably too simple-minded to be a successful bishop anywhere. From Kelly's arrival in 1901 the relationship was one of constant friction. Annoyed by Kelly's repeated public-relations blunders and, above all, by his failure to give priority to episcopal visitations, Moran tried unsuccessfully to minimize the consequences of his own misjudgement.

In August 1911, after a visit to Perth, Moran retired to Manly for a few days rest. He was found dead in his room on the morning of 16 August. He was buried in the crypt of St Mary's Cathedral.

Portraits of Moran are in St Patrick's College and the Archbishop's House at Manly, and at St John's College, University of Sydney. A bronze statue by Bertram Mackennal is outside the south entrance of St Mary's Cathedral.

Select Bibliography

  • J. T. Donovan, ‘His Eminence’ (Syd, 1902)
  • P. MacSuibhne, Paul Cullen and His Contemporaries, vols 1-5 (Naas, Kildare, Ireland, 1961-77)
  • P. Ford, Cardinal Moran and the A.L.P. (Melb, 1966)
  • R. G. Ely, Unto God and Caesar (Melb, 1976)
  • P. O'Farrell, The Catholic Church and Community in Australia (Melb, 1977)
  • E. M. O'Brien, ‘Cardinal Moran's part in public affairs’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, 28, no 1 (1942)
  • A. E. Cahill, ‘Catholicism and socialism: the 1905 controversy in Australia’, Journal of Religious History, 1, no 2 (1960), and ‘Cardinal Moran and the Chinese’, Manna, 6 (1963)
  • also J. M. Mahon, same issue of Manna
  • Moran papers (Catholic Diocesan Archives, St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney)
  • Irish College Archives and Sacred Congregation of Propaganda Fide Archives and Vatican Secret Archives (Rome)
  • Catholic diocesan archives (Melbourne and Perth, Maitland in New South Wales, and Dublin and Kilkenny in Ireland).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

A. E. Cahill, 'Moran, Patrick Francis (1830–1911)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 23 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

Patrick Francis Moran (1830-1911), by unknown photographer

Patrick Francis Moran (1830-1911), by unknown photographer

Herald & Weekly Times Portrait Collection, State Library of Victoria, H38849/3056

Life Summary [details]


16 September, 1830
Leighlinbridge, Carlow, Ireland


16 August, 1911 (aged 80)
Manly, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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