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Denis Francis O'Haran (1854–1931)

by Anthony D'Arcy

This article was published:

Denis Francis O'Haran (1854-1931), Catholic priest, was born on 11 February 1854 at Enniskillen, Fermanagh, Ireland, son of Patrick O'Haran, farmer, and his wife Bridget, née Flanagan. From his earliest childhood his mother impressed on him the dignity and sacredness of the priesthood. He was educated by the Jesuits at Clongowes Wood College, Kildare, studied for the priesthood in Rome at the Pontifical Seminary, and was ordained on 8 December 1880. While in Rome, as vice-rector of the Irish College, he met (Cardinal) Moran and was recommended by Pope Leo XIII. O'Haran travelled to Australia as Moran's private secretary, arriving in Sydney on 8 September 1884. He was also administrator of St Mary's Cathedral and vicar-general.

Diligent, hard-working, capable and a brilliant organizer, O'Haran became a close friend and confidant of Moran. His tall, soutane-clad figure accompanied Moran everywhere, so much so that he was known as the cardinal's second self. He helped to research Moran's A History of the Catholic Church in Australasia and wrote an unpublished biography of him. In 1895 he was first editor of the Australasian Catholic Record, a journal devoted in part to repelling the enemies of the Church. He was a great fund-raiser, gathering £55,000 for the completion of St Mary's Cathedral. He also worked tirelessly for charity and was chief chaplain of the Hibernian Australasian Catholic Benefit Society in 1911-31. His devotion and energy earned him Moran's effusive praise.

In December 1900 and July 1901 Dean O'Haran was cited as co-respondent in a divorce action by Arthur Coningham. Fr John Kenny, in letters signed 'Zero', provided Coningham with much scandalous rumour and questions to ask O'Haran during proceedings. Bitter sectarian feuding was whipped up by Rev. William Dill Macky; O'Haran was helped by the disreputable W. P. Crick and Daniel Green, who procured evidence discrediting Coningham. The two trials were interpreted by the Catholic hierarchy not as a personal suit for divorce but as a militant Protestant assault upon their Church. Despite the finding of the second jury against Coningham, the experience dogged O'Haran for the remainder of his life.

Moran's faith in his secretary's innocence was unequivocal, but in the face of local opposition, particularly from some bishops who had complained to Rome well before the Coningham case, he desisted in his attempt to appoint O'Haran as auxiliary bishop in place of Joseph Higgins. The appointment of Michael Kelly in 1901 as coadjutor archbishop led to uneasy and at times bitter personal relations between Kelly and Moran and O'Haran, who had not endeared himself to all Catholics. Such hostility stemmed directly from Moran's tendency to gather around him a select group of sycophants who monopolized power. O'Haran was a visible target for the jealous and frustrated. Yet he was very popular among parishioners. In their eyes he emerged from the ordeal of the divorce proceedings a Catholic hero and martyr.

On 26 December 1902 O'Haran and Moran left Sydney for England, Ireland and Rome. They had scarcely returned when the death of Pope Leo XIII in 1903 recalled them to Rome. That year O'Haran was appointed a domestic prelate and in 1905 prothonotary apostolic.

After the death of Moran in 1911, Monsignor O'Haran was transferred to the Sacred Heart parish, Darlinghurst, where he devoted himself to helping the poor and unemployed. Despite the many activities of his new parish, O'Haran remained committed to the perpetuation of the memory of his late 'chief', as he affectionately described Moran—largely by his efforts a bronze statue of Moran by Bertram Mackennal was erected outside St Mary's in 1928.

Paradoxically, O'Haran was both vain and self-effacing. His autographed photograph circulated widely at Catholic bazaars, but in December 1930 he refused to allow the golden jubilee of his ordination to be publicly celebrated. Although at times self-pitying and believing in his own importance, he was extremely charitable with his substantial wealth and gave the land on which was built St Columba's Seminary, Springwood.

O'Haran died on 22 March 1931 in St Vincent's Hospital and was buried in Waverley cemetery. His estate was valued for probate at £12,858.

Select Bibliography

  • ‘Zero’, The Secret History of the Coningham Case (Syd, 1901)
  • Third Australasian Catholic Congress (Syd, 1909)
  • H. M. Moran, Viewless Winds (Lond, 1939)
  • C. Pearl, Wild Men of Sydney (Lond, 1958)
  • Catholic Press, 11 Jan 1906, 26 Mar 1931
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25 Mar 1931
  • Freeman's Journal (Sydney), 26 Mar 1931
  • Kelly to Moran, 24 Feb 1900, 1 Sept 1901, Moran MSS M212, 213 (Sydney Diocesan Archives, St Mary's Cathedral).

Citation details

Anthony D'Arcy, 'O'Haran, Denis Francis (1854–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


11 February, 1854
Enniskillen, Fermanagh, Ireland


22 March, 1931 (aged 77)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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