Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Matthew Quinn (1821–1885)

by Brian J. Sweeney

This article was published:

Matthew Quinn (1821-1885), Catholic bishop, was born on 29 May 1821 at Eadestown, County Kildare, Ireland, youngest son of Matthew Quinn and his wife Mary, née Doyle. Educated at a private classical school in Dublin, he entered Propaganda College, Rome, in 1837 to study for the priesthood and transferred on 4 September 1839 to the Pontifical Irish College whence he graduated with a doctorate of sacred theology in September 1845. He had been ordained priest in the Church of St John Lateran, Rome, on 15 February and left Rome on 30 July 1847 for Hyderabad as a missionary with Bishop Daniel Murphy. Broken in health he returned to Ireland in 1853 and became vice-president of St Laurence O'Toole's Seminary, Dublin. In 1859 he succeeded his older brother James as president on the latter's appointment as bishop of Brisbane. In the next years he helped to raise an army of Irish volunteers to defend the Papal States and organized shiploads of Irish migrants for Queensland.

Appointed first Catholic bishop of Bathurst, Quinn was consecrated with his cousin James Murray in Dublin Pro-Cathedral on 14 November 1865 by Archbishop Cullen. In the Empress he arrived at Sydney in October 1866 and was installed at Bathurst on 1 November. His early dealings with Henry Parkes and the Council of Education over such matters as textbooks for use in denominational schools and the certification and payment of teachers convinced him that government aid for denominational education would not continue indefinitely. He determined to establish a system of Catholic schools principally run by religious orders. Such a system had been initiated in Adelaide under Bishop Sheil and Father Julian Tenison-Woods. His zeal in founding schools led to a dispute with Mother Mary MacKillop over the administration of the Sisters of St Joseph, and finally caused Quinn to found his own congregation of Sisters of St Joseph at Perthville. The dispute frustrated his efforts for many years to get a congregation of Brothers for the diocesan boys' schools, yet he persisted, assured bishops, clergy and laity of the necessity to Catholic schools to increase and preserve the faith, founded St Stanislaus' College, the St Charles Seminary and introduced the Vincentian Fathers. He was effectively the leader of the New South Wales hierarchy and laity for much of his episcopate. When he came to the colony the aged Archbishop Polding was abroad and the Irish Catholics were opposed to the English Benedictinism that Polding had been trying to establish. Hence they looked to Quinn, the senior of four Irish suffragan bishops, to champion their cause. Though he deplored the extremes to which Irish nationalism at times led, he vainly opposed the appointment of R. Vaughan, another English Benedictine as co-adjutor archbishop of Sydney in 1872.

From his position of influence and by the success of his own schools, Quinn won the support of his brother bishops, including Vaughan, and the laity for his policy. When the famous Joint Pastoral of the Bishops of New South Wales was issued in 1879, it merely confirmed what Quinn had long been doing and he could rightly claim 'The Archbishop wrote it, but every word of it was mine'. The Pastoral precipitated the 1880 Public Instruction Act which withdrew all aid from denominational schools in 1882. Quinn's policy, by then universally implemented in all dioceses, ensured that not one Catholic school in his diocese closed because of the withdrawal of aid. In 1883-84 Quinn visited Europe. He died on 16 January 1885 at St Stanislaus' College and was buried in the Bathurst Cathedral.

Select Bibliography

  • B. J. Sweeney, Bishop Matthew Quinn and the Development of Catholic Education in New South Wales, 1865-1885 (M.A. thesis, University of Sydney, 1968)
  • M. Lyons, Aspects of Sectarianism in New South Wales circa 1865-1880 (Ph.D. thesis, Australian National University, 1972).

Citation details

Brian J. Sweeney, 'Quinn, Matthew (1821–1885)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 19 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


29 May, 1821
Eadestown, Kildare, Ireland


16 January, 1885 (aged 63)
Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia

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