Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Patrick Ambrose Treacy (1834–1912)

by A. I. Keenan

This article was published:

Patrick Ambrose Treacy (1834-1912), Catholic educationist, was born on 31 August 1834 at Thurles, County Tipperary, Ireland. Educated at an academy and the local Christian Brothers' school at Thurles, he excelled in mathematics. In February 1852 he joined the Congregation of Christian Brothers, Waterford. After a rigorous course he was posted to various local schools for experience and also continued his studies, including part-time courses under the aegis of the Science Museum, South Kensington. After eight years of teaching at Wexford schools he became headmaster of the Christian Brothers' schools at Carlow. Showing administrative skill he achieved high teaching efficiency and improved school buildings and equipment.

In 1868 Bishop Goold asked for a community of Christian Brothers to establish schools in Victoria. Treacy was chosen as leader, and with three confrères arrived in Melbourne in the Donald McKay in November to find the Catholic school system receiving some state aid, but in a parlous condition under the control of local parish priests. Treacy opened a primary school in Lonsdale Street in 1869. When the Education Act of 1872 set up a system of 'free, compulsory and secular' education, controlled by a state department, the Catholic hierarchy determined to retain and pay for their own school system. Undaunted by lack of money, Treacy initiated a colony-wide campaign to finance land and buildings. With generous help from colonists of all creeds a college was erected in Victoria Parade on Eastern Hill, Melbourne; opened in January 1871, its final cost was about £12,000. Having observed the deplorable state of diocesan schools during his collecting tours, Treacy advocated to the Catholic Education Committee a rise in teachers' salaries and a training college. He offered in the meantime to train as teachers senior boys selected from his own system. There were no funds for a teachers' college but his further offer to inspect metropolitan schools was accepted.

Treacy's report on the condition of the system resulted in up-to-date equipment, and under him the Brothers organized a training scheme for their aspirants. At first they were trained in the schools, but in 1897 Treacy decided to use a recent foundation at Lewisham, New South Wales, as a training centre under a qualified master of method. He also arranged for several trained Irish Brothers to migrate each year.

Treacy decided to extend the studies of the more talented of his pupils beyond the primary level and to present them for the civil service and the matriculation examinations. Small classes at Victoria Parade College and St Patrick's, Ballarat, taught by Brothers Nugent and Kennedy respectively, achieved eminent success in these examinations. In the early days not many boys sat for matriculation, but many entered both the civil service and commerce. At this time there were no Irish secondary schools; it was Treacy's initiative and dedication that shaped the pattern of the Australian Christian Brothers' higher education without regard to pupils' social or financial standing.

Gifted with great prudence and business acumen, Treacy also acceded to the requests of the hierarchy to open schools in many parts of Australia. By 1900, when he retired after thirty years as a provincial superior, he had established twenty-seven schools in the principal cities of Australia, and one in New Zealand. He was recalled to Ireland in 1900 as an assistant to the superior-general, and returned to the Australian province in 1910. Although retired, he insisted on working and was sent to Brisbane in a bid to prolong his years in a warm climate. He died at St Joseph's College, Gregory Terrace, on 2 October 1912.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Fogarty, Catholic Education in Australia 1806-1950, vol 2 (Melb, 1959)
  • Christian Brothers (Dublin), Educational Record, 1913-14, 1965-66
  • Christian Brothers, Centenary Book, 1868-1968 (Parade College, Bundoora, Vic)
  • P. A. Treacy letters (Christian Brothers Archives, Rome)
  • Catholic Education Committee minute books, 1875, 1877 (Roman Catholic Archives, Melbourne).

Citation details

A. I. Keenan, 'Treacy, Patrick Ambrose (1834–1912)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 13 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]


31 August, 1834
Thurles, Tipperary, Ireland


2 October, 1912 (aged 78)
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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