Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Jean-Louis Rocher (1809–1894)

by John Hosie

This article was published:

Jean-Louis Rocher (1809-1894), Marist Father, was born on 29 May 1809 at La Primatiale, Lyon, France, son of Jean-Pierre Rocher and his wife Françoise, née Battex. After a commercial career, Rocher studied for the priesthood at the minor seminary of Largentière, then at the major seminary of St Irenaeus, Lyon. Professed as a Marist on 3 September 1839 he was ordained priest on 21 December by Bishop Devie at Belley. In 1844 he was appointed to assist Fr Antoine Freydier-Dubreul and lay brother Auguste Leblanc to found a supply base in Sydney for extensive Marist Pacific missions. On 12 April 1845 they reached Sydney with a letter of introduction from the cardinal prefect of the Propaganda Fide, Rome. Archbishop Polding feared that the Marists would complicate his plan to make Sydney an 'abbey-diocese' for his own Benedictine Order, and his attitude caused them to consider leaving Sydney. In May 1846 Debreul returned to Europe leaving Rocher in charge.

Rocher reported to the superior-general that deaths from massacre and tropical diseases made the future of the mission off New Guinea very uncertain, and a threatened massacre of missionaries in New Caledonia had been narrowly averted by evacuating them to Sydney where they stayed at a house near Hunter's Hill, which Rocher had bought in May 1847. In 1853 he bought a block of land near by to which the Marists later transferred; he organized the Villa Maria Procure house to help the Pacific missionaries, maintaining communications and supplies by available shipping and chartered vessels; sick missionaries came to Sydney for rest. Other French people also settled in Hunter's Hill which came to be known as 'the French village'.

Rocher, aided by the friendship of Archdeacon McEncroe, improved the strained relations with the Benedictines. In 1856 Polding offered him and the Marists the care of the parish of St Charles's, Ryde. He proved an energetic parish priest, completing a church and a school by 1858. He got on well with his people, including the controversial J. K. Heydon.

In late 1857 Fr Victor Poupinel was made higher superior in Sydney; he planned an expansion of the functions of Villa Maria and recalled Fr C. M. Joly from Samoa to assist Rocher. In 1859 Rocher visited Europe. After coming back he was appointed acting Pacific superior while Poupinel visited Rome. Asthmatic attacks were weakening him and when Poupinel returned he was repatriated in 1864. He worked in London and then in his native Lyon as mission procurator general. After a gentle retirement he died from inflammation of the lungs on 26 January 1894 and was buried in the cemetery of St Foy-les-Lyon.

Rocher was a simple man, very efficient on behalf of the needs of the missionaries, and in keeping the books. Cautious and tactful in the delicate Sydney situation, he helped the Marists from shaky beginnings to firm establishment in Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Hosie, ‘Founded upon a rock’, Harvest, May 1970
  • J. Hosie, The French Mission: An Australian Base for the Marists in the Pacific to 1874 (M.A. thesis, Macquarie University, 1971)
  • J. K. Heydon letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Rocher and Poupinel letters (Marist Archives, Rome, microfilm copies at State Library of New South Wales and National Library of Australia).

Citation details

John Hosie, 'Rocher, Jean-Louis (1809–1894)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 19 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


29 May, 1809
La Primatiale, Lyon, France


26 January, 1894 (aged 84)

Cultural Heritage

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