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Patrick Joseph Slattery (1830–1903)

by T. J. Linane

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Patrick Joseph Slattery (1830-1903), Catholic priest, was born on 17 March 1830 at Nenagh, County Tipperary, Ireland. He attended Maynooth College, Kildare, and was ordained for the Cashel diocese in 1855. Early in his career he was a military chaplain at Aldershot, England, while on loan to the London Mission. He arrived in Melbourne in the Anglesey on 5 February 1862 and was at St Francis's Church, Melbourne, until May when he went to Daylesford. Slattery replaced the wooden parish church of St Peter with a stone edifice that was opened on 14 May 1865. He also built a mortuary chapel at the Eganstown cemetery in 1863, churches at Franklinford (1863), Glenlyon (1869) and began another at Mount Prospect in 1869; he supported Catholic schools enthusiastically. He was in turn chairman and life governor of the local hospital and by his pulpit oratory raised large sums for building. He was several times chairman of the Daylesford Mechanics' Institute. As community arbiter in the town where quarrels frequently ended in fisticuffs, he did not hesitate to use the horsewhip when the occasion warranted it.

Slattery succeeded Archdeacon Matthew Downing at Geelong in December 1870 and became the chief Catholic spokesman in the bitter controversies over the 1872 Education Act. In Geelong he inherited good school sites and reasonably sound buildings dating from the 1850s. He improved the quality of the teachers and, obtaining needed finance from his low-income congregations, he tenaciously kept eight schools open; but he had to pay low wages to his lay teachers and many soon left to go to newly opened state schools. The Mercy Sisters and Christian Brothers filled the teaching vacancies.

On 24 January 1875 Slattery delivered his rumbustious 'flashing sword' sermon. Challenging the secular aspect of the 1872 Act, it drew a leading article and virulent criticism in the Age; it created a public furore and embarrassment to Catholics and non-Catholics alike because his approach was over-simplistic and smacked of a grating authoritarianism. In 1883 with Thomas Cahill he gave evidence for the Catholic Education Committee before the royal commission on education. He argued that religion was an integral part of education and claimed that Catholics were unjustly deprived of government education funds. He was willing to see the two systems working side by side provided that the state paid £2 for each child in the Catholic system.

Slattery was an energetic pastor. The Church of St Mary of the Angels had remained partly built for fourteen years, but he completed it within two years and opened it in 1873: one of the finest country churches in Victoria, St Mary's stands as his main monument. He was made doctor of divinity in 1876 and vicar-general to Archbishop Thomas Carr in 1891. He gave generously to charity and fostered the temperance cause. Devotion to his school children and constant visitation of the sick brought about sheer exhaustion in February 1900 and he lived in enforced retirement at St Mary's presbytery until his death on 21 June 1903, aged 73. He was buried in the priests' section of the East Geelong cemetery. A new mortuary chapel was later built to his memory at a cost of £800.

Select Bibliography

  • Argus (Melbourne), 27 Oct 1865
  • Daylesford Mercury, 16 Jan 1875
  • Age (Melbourne), 27 Jan 1875
  • Geelong Advertiser, 22 Apr 1875
  • Herald (Melbourne), Aug 1927
  • Ballarat Diocesan Archives
  • Melbourne Diocese Historical Commission Archives.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

T. J. Linane, 'Slattery, Patrick Joseph (1830–1903)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 29 May 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]


17 March, 1830
Nenagh, Tipperary, Ireland


21 June, 1903 (aged 73)
Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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