The Australian Scene

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The Australian Scene

The Catholic Church began in Australia on 26 January 1788, when the first Catholics arrived in Sydney Harbor with the first fleet. The first Catholics were neither priests, neither brothers nor nuns, in fact, they were no regular priests here for the first 38 years of European settlement. The first Catholics- English, Scottish and Irish- were lay people. From the beginning the Catholics were poor. They were migrants, usually uneducated and most were convicts. From the beginning in Australia the governors thought religion as a good idea because they thought that it would make people behave themselves.

The fact that many of the first Catholics in Australia were of Irish origin has had much to do with the kind of Catholic Church we have today. When the first Catholics came they were a minority group. About 75 percent of the people here were Protestants or non-Christians. The British of the time were very hostile towards the Irish as the British held Christian views, which ultimately lead to a rebellion in 1798 in Ireland. The governor was unsure about having a Catholic priest in the colony, as he feared it might encourage rebellion among the Irish settlers. However, three convict priests eventually arrived in the colony between 1800 and 1801, Father Harold, Father Dixon and Father O’Neil. Father James Dixon was the first to celebrate public mass in 1803, under the strict instructions that he not encourages rebellion. In 1804, 300 convicts created a rebellion, but lost. Father Dixon was blamed and left Australia soon after. In 1817, 7 years after the last priest, Jeremiah O’Flynn migrated to Australia. He was not allowed to preach in public, however did so anyway and went into hiding. 1820 saw the official arrival of Priests to Australia with Father John Therry and Father Philip Connolly.

The first Catholic bishop in Australia was John Bede Polding, who was an English Benedictine monk. Polding's dream was to establish a Church...
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