Bishops of Armidale Diocese

IT O’Mahoney 1871-1877
IIE Torreggiani 1879-1907
IIIPatrick Joseph O’Connor 1904-1932
IVJohn Aloysius Coleman 1932-1947
 VEdward John Doody 1948-1968
VIJames Darcy Freeman 1968-1971
VIIHenry Joseph Kennedy – retired 1972-1991
VIIIKevin Michael Manning DD 1991-1997
IXLuc Matthys 1999-2012
XMichael Kennedy 2012- Present

Patron Saint of the Diocese of Armidale

Our Lady of the Rosary


Vicar General:

  • Mgr Francis P Ryan 1997-2000
  • Rev Fr Gerard Hanna 2001
  • Rev Mgr Wayne Peters

Ecclesiastical Organisations in the Diocese:

  • Diocesan Consultors Pontifical Mission Society
  • Council of Priests Australian Catholic Relief
  • Diocesan Commission for Ecumenism Diocesan Vocations Team
  • Catholic Schools Office Diocesan Finance Committee
  • Armidale Diocesan Investment Group Diocesan Commission for Liturgy and Sites
  • Mass Media Committee Ministry to Priests

Diocesan Office:

Chancery Office, 128 Dangar Street, Armidale

Boundaries of the Diocese of Armidale

As constituted in 1869, the diocese was bounded on the East by the South Pacific Ocean, from Point Danger to the Hastings River, on the North by the Queensland border from Point Danger to Angledool, on the West by a line from Angledool to the Barwon River at a point 16 km west of Walgett, then by the Barwon and Namoi Rivers, on the South by the Namoi and Hastings Rivers. Area: 120,000 sq km.

Since the dismemberment of the Diocese in 1887, when its coastal area (28,500 sq km) was erected into the Diocese of Lismore, and the re-arrangement consequent thereon, whereby the northern extremity of the Maitland Diocese – consisting of the two Parishes of Tamworth and Gunnedah – was incorporated into the Diocese, the boundaries have been, and are:-

On the east the Diocese of Lismore, from the western slopes of Mt Lindesay along a line running west of Urbenville between Tabulam and Drake, the banks of the Henry River at Newton Boyd, Hemani and Ebor. George’s Creek and the Chandler River to Mt Seaview;

On the north, the Queensland border from Mt Lindesay to Angledool;

On the west, a line from the border east of Angledool and Lightning Ridge to the Barwon River at a point 16 km west of Walgett and continued in a south-easterly direction past Baradine to Apple Tree Mount on the Warrumbungle Range, which it then follows between Coonabarabran and Rocky Glen, Coolah and Blackville to the Liverpool Range;

On the south, the Liverpool Range which first runs due east, then turns north-east between Murrurundi and Ardglen to its junction with Mt Royal Range, and there from a straight line passing south of Nowendoc to Mt Seaview.

Area: 91,500 sq km.

Religious Orders

History of the Diocese

A condensed history of the Catholic Church in Armidale to the Year 2000

In the early eighteen-thirties, pastoralists arrived to settle in and around the district, but it was not until 1839 that Mr G J McDonald named the settlement “Armidale.”

As Catholics started to settle in the New England area, priests from Singleton and Maitland to the south, and from Ipswich to the north, came to minister to them.

The first church (also presbytery) was built on the present site of O’Connor Catholic College (formerly De la Salle College). The cruciform structure was of wood measuring 18x25ft. Rev Dean Lynch, Father Tim’s successor also lived in the presbytery, name “Florence Court”, as did Bishop O’Mahoney.

The Catholic Diocese of Armidale was created in November 1862 and in 1869 Bishop Timothy O’Mahoney was consecrated the First Bishop of Armidale. He resigned the See in 1877. His successor, Dr Elzear Torreggiani of Italian birth, arrived in Melbourne in November 1879, taking up his appointment as Second Bishop of Armidale two weeks later. He died on 28 January 1904, aged 73.

The Third Bishop of Armidale, Patrick Joseph O’Connor DD held this office from 1904 to 1932. His successor was Dr John Aloysius Coleman (1932 to 1947). Bishop Edward John Doody DD was Fifth Bishop from 1948 to 1968. Bishop James Duggan Freeman DD resigned as Sixth Bishop of Armidale (1968 to 1971) to take up office as Archbishop, and later as Cardinal, in Sydney. Bishop Henry J Kennedy DD as Seventh Bishop from 1972, accepted medical retirement in 1991. His successor Bishop Kevin Michael Manning DD was appointed Eighth Bishop of Armidale in 1991. He resigned in 1997 to undertake his appointment at Bishop of Parramatta. Early in 1999 Rev Dean Luc J Matthys DD accepted his appointment to Armidale. He was consecrated Ninth Bishop in May 1999.

The first Cathedral, St Mary’s was erected on land donated by Joseph Daly at the corner of Dangar and Barney Streets and opened on Friday, 2 February 1872, feast of The Purification. This cathedral stood on the site until completion and opening of the new Sts Mary and Joseph’s Cathedral, alongside it in October 1912. Demolition then occurred and materials were utilised in the construction of anew parochial school.

The decorative base supporting the statue of St Peter located in the present cathedral grounds, which oversees Bishop Doody’s grave, is a remnant from the first cathedral, which stood on this site. Bishop O’Connor, in consultation with the builder, Mr George Nott, decided to extend the length of Sts Mary and Joseph’s Cathedral beyond the original plans drawn by John Hennessey of Sydney, necessitating an additional set of triple windows in the clerestory – an increase from seven to eight on each side.

The enlarged cathedral of Sts Mary and Joseph, costing £28,000 ($56,000) was opened free of debt on 6 October, 1912. Cost of the magnificent stained glass windows was £2,200 ($4,400). At least three artisans were engaged in construction of the original windows – sadly they, their talents, or their origins are not identified in records available to the authors.

Fr Tim McCarthy, Dean of Sydney. Excerpt from “the history of the parish written by J L O’Sullivan and Ballyhead Parishioners”. (copy sent by Fr O’Malony PP of Ballygarvan)

In the churchyard of the Catholic Church in Ballyheeda, Ireland, stands a hundred headstones. In the third row from the Western wall of the Church you could not possibly overlook a tall, tapering, four faced memorial carried on a plint, surmounted by a cross and enclosed by an iron railing which is now in a state of decay. On the headstone is a lengthy inscription which is as follows:

“Sacred to the memory of the Very Revd Timothy McCarthy late Dean of Sydney. Having been ordained a Priest in the year 1852, he selected as the scene of his missionary labours the distant colony of Australia where he spent 26 years of his life, having by his indefatigable energy and perseverance, gained many erring souls to Christ. But owing to constant labour and fatigue, his health which was robust, strong and vigorous, became impaired and at the advice of his medical attendants, he returned to his native land for change of air fully determined to go back again, but Providence willed it otherwise. He died on the 25th day of August 1879 aged 52 years surrounded by his sorrowing brothers and sisters and relatives who now mourn his timely end. His remains lie buried under the shadow of the Church of his native parish. May he rest in peace, Amen. To the casual beholder, it might not be immediately apparent that this is where all that is mortal of one of the most beloved Priests ever to labour on the Australian Mission, was interred. Yes, this is indeed the last resting place of the famous ‘Fr Tim’.”

Tim McCarthy grew up in the industrious home of a local tenant farmer. He was very strong and sturdy and spent his growing up years working on the land, and studying books. The idea of a missionary career in Australia was very strong in his mind. He went to study in Carlow College and it was here he was ordained in 1852 at the age of 23. In October that year, he submitted himself to the long sea voyage that ended with his arrival in Port Jackson on the following March 2nd . After an introductory spell in Sydney he was put in charge of a territory that had Armidale as its centre. Father Tim’s Parish embraced all the countryside to the Queensland border and even extended to the Pacific Ocean. It had to be traversed periodically and a single visit usually saw the Priest absent from his headquarters for three or four months at a time. The only transport was the horse and many a time must the lone wayfarer have thanked his boyhood training for his skill in handling the various animals he used. In his travels from one outpost to another, baptising, catechising, hearing confessions, saying Mass, arranging prayer meetings, consoling the sick, and carrying out the hundred and one other responsibilities of his vocation, he would be supplied with food, drink and a change of horse at each place of call. His arrival was always met with welcome by Protestants and non-believers, as well as by his own co-religious for, as well as being a dedicated man of God, he was the harbinger of general news and a raconteur of no mean ability. In 1863, he was transferred to Caroar in the diocese of Bathurst. In terms of work, danger and responsibility, he was out of the frying pan into the fire. The district was then in the throes of a gold fever, and the riff-raff of the world had gathered there seeking what they might find and marking whom they could waylay. Fr Tim was instrumental in persuading Vane leader of the Ben Hall gang to give up his outlawry, submit himself to justice, suffer his punishment, and on release turn over a new leaf. He agreed and served a long served a long sentence, becoming thereafter a model citizen until the day he died. Fr Tim became entitled to £1,000 reward for the apprehension of a criminal which was offered by the Government, but he declined to receive it. One further incident involving Fr Tim in a brush with a bandit may be cited. Following a raid on one of the Western Mails, the highwayman got away with £2,000 in notes. In this particular case, Fr McCarthy was instrumental in having the stolen money recovered. A reward of £100 offered by the bank involved was turned down by Fr Tim and again for the same reason as the Vane reward. In 1865, Fr Tim was called back to Sydney. As Senior Priest of St Benedict’s Church, he must have found the regularity and routine a relief after the torrid reality of the bush. Five years of this smooth placid life went by and then he was promoted to St Mary’s Cathedral, aspiring to be Dean of the Chapter in 1874. But the days of his earthly usefulness were trudging to a close. His years up country had wrought havoc with his strength and on medical advice it was decided to send him home to Ireland to recuperate. He died there the following year.

The following was prepared from the notes to which I spoke before the commemorative Mass celebrated in the Grotto at O’Connor Catholic High School in November 1998. I have since learned that the Parish at Singleton was established in 1845, with Father Michael Stephens as Priest-in-charge. He was replaced by Father Rigney in 1848. There is no evidence that Father Stephens travelled to Armidale during his time at Singleton. Noel Brennan.

My Friends,

I should preface what I have to say, by pointing out that this is not a public lecture based on extensive research. It is rather a reflection on the times and circumstances, and the people who brought about the establishment of our Parish nearly 150 years ago.

It’s worth observing that while precise dates and sequence of events, reference to learned works, and the citation of authenticated documents, are very important, even critical, to the historian, the context in which we are gathered here today is one of recognising the spirit of community and generosity and faith which prevailed among those who gathered at this site in 1948.

I’m looking at the Mass Sheet prepared by Karen, and which is intended not only to guide us through today’s celebration, but also to focus our thoughts backwards through those 150 years to the foundations of the Parish. And the symbolism of the footprints moving through the pages from that small and crudely built chapel to the Cathedral of today seems to me to be especially significant. For the journey is overlaid with the footprints of so many thousands of people who carried the message through the years.

It’s not true to say that the early history of our Parish is shrouded in mystery. But there is unfortunately an absence of documented historical records which enable us to be absolutely precise about the timing and circumstances of the event which we are commemorating today, and the other related events which preceded it.

We do know however, that by August 1948 there was erected on this site, a very modest weatherboard chapel which for more than 20 years was the focal point for the Catholics of Armidale and it’s surrounds.

The chapel itself is believed to have stood where the vestibule of the school now stands. It was not very large, 24′ X 18′ (8m x 6m), about the size of an average living room in a modern house. It faced eastward on to a road running north south. It’s entirely possible that the place where we’re now sitting was used to tie up a horse, or to park a sulky. Or perhaps it was here that we boiled the billy and shared that picnic after Mass. Of course, this is only supposition. But whether it was this precise location, or whether it was a stone’s throw from here, we’re clearly treading in the very footsteps of those first congregations.

It seems that the chapel’s location contradicted the first town plan of John Galloway, who surveyed Armidale and laid out the grid pattern for its streets. The chapel straddled one of the proposed streets, having been erected before the town plan was promulgated in 1948. The problem was overcome and the chapel remained firmly in place. However a consequence in part was that the proposed street which now terminated before it bisected the chapel, became known, and is still known as Chapel Street

The chapel was built on private land, belonging to one Patrick Kennedy, (The present Kennedy Street runs parallel and immediately west of Chapel Street), and adjoined land owned by John Donnelly, both of these being Catholic settlers in the area. It seems very likely that a third prominent Catholic, Joseph Daly, was involved in the construction of the chapel. Daly was the overseer of Tilbuster Station, but had previously been active in the Maitland parish. He was a good friend of Dean John Lynch, the priest in charge at West Maitland, and who until mid 1948 had the pastoral care of the Catholics of Armidale. (And indeed, of all Catholics north of Maitland). Daly had been instrumental in the erection of an earlier chapel under the direction of Dean Lynch, in the Maitland area. It seems most unlikely that he would not have had a heavy commitment to the chapel project in Armidale.

(This incidentally, is the same Joseph Daly who later donated 10 acres adjacent to the chapel for use by Father Tim McCarthy, the first resident priest of Armidale; and who later still donated the land, or the funds to buy the land, upon which the present Cathedral now stands. The impact of Joseph Daly on the parish of Armidale was significant and merits special attention. But that’s another story).

We should perhaps go back a little further than 1848 to see the real beginnings of our parish!

White settlement in New England dates from the early 1830’s. Oxley and Cunningham had explored round the edges of the tablelands, and though they didn’t actually penetrate the plateau, they extended the boundaries. It didn’t take long for the squatters to push beyond those boundaries and to establish holdings dotted across the tableland. In 1839 George Macdonald was appointed Commissioner for Lands in New England, and he established his headquarters at Armidale. By 1843 there were between 80 and 100 people living in the settlement at Armidale, and a good few more in the surrounding areas.

The first priest to come to Armidale was Dean James Hanley, who made a very brief visit, probably in September 1344. He was stationed at Brisbane (Morton Bay), but was travelling to Sydney to attend an ecclesiastical conference. Apparently, he was unable to arrange passage by sea, and elected to go by horseback following little known tracks and not too sure of what he might find along the way. Keep in mind that at that time Armidale was equidistant from the parishes of Ipswich and Maitland, the two closest established parishes. Perhaps it was Dean Hanly’s objective in part to establish whether there was a need to provide pastoral care to the settlers of New England, and how this might be accomplished. But again, it’s only conjecture.

It is recorded that at Ben Lomond, Hanly baptised and officiated at the marriage of one John Trim. (I am assured that this is the same John Trim who was later a prominent businessman in Armidale, and who’s premises are now occupied by St. Vincent de Paul). Reaching Armidale he baptised Margaret Kennedy, reputedly the first European child born in Armidale. Remember that the Kennedy family owned this land in 1848. They may have owned it in 1844, and it is not unreasonable to suppose that this might have been the site of that first baptism in Armidale.

While it is clear that he administered the sacraments, there is no record that Dean Hanly celebrated Mass. Almost certainly he would have carried a Mass kit with him, and it’s hard to believe that he would not have said Mass along the way. But no evidence of this has yet come to hand. Be that as it may, he would have recounted what he found in New England, and the consequence was that over the next few years Dean Lynch incorporated the settlement into his pastoral district.

It is said that he visited Armidale two or three times. The records are sketchy. But there seems little doubt that it was Dean Lynch who instigated the building of the chapel here. He had already caused to be built a chain of chapels and churches up through the Hunter Valley, and it would have been most unusual and out of character if he had not acted the same way in Armidale, the most distant part of his pastoral district.

(It’s perhaps coincidence that Dean Lynch became priest-in-charge at Armidale in 1862, and that it was he who presided over the early stages of the first Cathedral from about 1869).

In 1848 Father John Rigney became priest-in-charge of the new parish at Singleton, and assumed the pastoral care of those places north of Singleton which had previously been the responsibility of Dean Lynch. It is by no means clear which of these men was the first to celebrate Mass in the new chapel. Certainly Fr. Rigney was in Armidale in June of that year, and returned again in September. But whether Dean Lynch had visited earlier in the year is not known.

But perhaps these names and dates are really immaterial. What is important is that each of us recognise the dedication, enthusiasm, perseverance and faith of that early Catholic community, the priests who served them, and the foundations they laid so that we could come today to practise our faith in relative ease and comfort.

The beginnings were very small, but in 1853, less than 10 years after those modest beginnings, and 5 years after the chapel had been erected, the first resident priest, Father Timothy McCarthy arrived in Armidale to find a thriving Catholic community. Growth over the next 10 years was spectacular; a presbytery was constructed to the west of the chapel, about 50 or 60 yards from where we are now, just down there among the elms. The chapel was enlarged by the addition of a portico. It was still very small, and I dare say it was more than a little cramped at times. But it served the growing Armidale community for more than 20 years until the first Cathedral was opened in 1872. It’s rather a shame that neither the chapel nor the presbytery has survived. But it is some consolation to know that we can still come to this place, walk in the footsteps of Dean Lynch and Father Tim, Joseph Daly, the Kennedy family and so many others, and reflect on the life and times and faith of those people who passed this way 150 years ago.

No further information has been provided at this stage. Please forward any information to the Catholic Schools Office


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