Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Patrick Pierce (1909–1970)

by W. J. McCarthy

This article was published:

John Patrick Pierce (1909-1970), Catholic priest, was born on 24 March 1909 at Footscray, Melbourne, eldest of seven children of Victorian-born parents John Patrick Pierce, ironmoulder, and his wife Anne, née Whelan, both of whom were of Irish descent. Young Johnny was educated at St Augustine's parish school, Yarraville, and at Assumption College, Kilmore, where he was dux in his final year. Having completed his studies at Corpus Christi College, Werribee, he was ordained priest by Archbishop Mannix on 15 July 1934. Fr Pierce began his ministry as assistant-priest at Daylesford before being sent to Heidelberg.

Following the outbreak of World War II, Pierce joined the Australian Military Forces on 3 October 1939 and served in Melbourne as a chaplain, 4th class. In December 1940 he transferred to the Royal Australian Air Force with the same rank (equivalent to flight lieutenant) and was posted to the headquarters of R.A.A.F. Station, Laverton. Embarking for Singapore in May 1941, he ministered to airmen from his base at Sembawang. There, he was renowned for the vigour with which he played recreational games of Australian Rules football. He was based at Ipoh, Malaya, in December, when Japanese forces approached. Air force personnel were evacuated on the 20th. Purloining a car from a deserted Bentley showroom, he headed for Singapore with five men.

The air force was withdrawn from Singapore to the Netherlands East Indies in January-February 1942. Pierce commandeered a vessel and took sixty men to Palembang, Sumatra, and then to Perth. Following postings in Victoria (1942 and 1944-45) and England (1943-44), he was demobilized in Melbourne on 14 November 1945 as chaplain, 2nd class (wing commander). Airmen admired him for his courage, leadership and concern for their welfare.

After the war Pierce was placed in charge of the Catholic Rehabilitation Office, Melbourne. Appointed immigration chaplain in 1948, he established the Catholic Immigration Office. At this period he was also Catholic chaplain to the deaf; at Mannix's request, he set up a Catholic school for the deaf at Portsea. In 1950 he became parish priest of St Teresa's, Essendon. Keenly interested in a range of sports, he instituted an annual Mass at St Francis's Church for the racing fraternity at the time of the Melbourne Cup. This interest led to his appointment as Catholic chaplain to Melbourne's racing clubs.

Suffering from chronic leukaemia, Pierce retired in 1969. He died of cardiac infarction on 14 December 1970 at Box Hill and was buried in Melbourne general cemetery. Pierce had served airmen, returned servicemen, immigrants, the deaf, his parishoners, sporting friends and all manner of people, irrespective of their religion. The Catholic centre for the deaf, at Prahran, was named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Catholic Truth Society, For This Was I Born (Melb, 1971)
  • P. A. Davidson, Sky Pilot (Canb, 1990)
  • Teresian, Dec 1970
  • Advocate (Melbourne), 24 Dec 1970.

Citation details

W. J. McCarthy, 'Pierce, John Patrick (1909–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 14 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


24 March, 1909
Footscray, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


14 December, 1970 (aged 61)
Box Hill, 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.