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Wednesday, 17 April 2013 20:49

Patricians: 130 Years in Australia

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In 2008 we celebrated our Congregation’s 200th anniversary since foundation by Bishop Daniel Delany at Tullow. In 2014 we will be celebrating the 200th anniversary of the death of Bishop Delany (9th July, 1814). And this year in Australia we acknowledge that it is 130 years since the Patrician Brothers arrived in Australia to establish a foundation: Brothers Dominick O’Neill and Fintan O’Neill arrived in Sydney Harbour aboard the S.S. Cephalonia on the 6th March, 1883. (As you may remember from the previous newsletter, Br John Delaney did arrive in Sydney c.1861, but he came to raise money for the new church in Mountrath, Ireland, he did not stay.)

After visiting the Bishops of Goulburn and Bathurst where Patrician foundations were to be made in 1884, the O’Neill’s travelled to Maitland where they took over the administration of St John the Baptist Boys School, Church Free Street, on the 9th April. They resided at Sacred Heart College situated on a hill overlooking the Maitland town. This is where this photo was taken, very likely the first Patrician photo taken in the colony.

In the photo from left to right we have Dominick O'Neill, Eugene Ryan, Ambrose Ryan, and Benedict McSweeney. When the photo was taken, pre-April 1885, Fintan O'Neill was in Goulburn. The photo is a sad one and tells a story of the hardships the Brothers endured in those early years.

Dominick, the eldest at 47, despite giving it his best, had had enough by 1892 and returned to Ireland. He was highly regarded in Ireland and thus was chosen for the Australian foundation, and he continued to be highly regarded after his return. Eugene Ryan arrived in 1884, he remained in Maitland until the Brothers left from there and he went on to do great work in Armidale, setting up Sacred Heart College and through his great entrepreneurial skills made it the boys’ college of the north. He was moved to Redfern and left the Brothers from there in 1892. He died a very well-to-do man, highly regarded by the people of Sydney, 5,000 attending his funeral. He is buried at Waverly. 

Next to Eugene is Ambrose. Ambrose too arrived at Maitland in 1884. He was eighteen years of age. He went with Eugene to Armidale, he to be in charge of the primary school in the town. Within a few weeks of arriving in he died of typhoid at the age of twenty-two. Sitting next to Ambrose is Benedict who has an equally tragic story. He arrived in Sydney in 1884 along with Eugene, Ambrose, and eight other young Patricians, Benedict was twenty-four when this photo was taken, and within either a few days or weeks of it being taken he was dead. Like Ambrose he died of typhoid.

There is an empty chair there which could have been intended for Br Sylvester Harmey. He was in the community at the time but not in the photo. Sylvester disappeared from the records sometime in 1888.

This article was first published in the March 2013 edition of The Breastplate, the newsletter of the Patrician Brothers' Australian and Papua New Guinean Province.