Brian Condon: Letters and Documents in 19th Century Australian Catholic History

FINAL REPORT of the Apostolic Commissioners Daniel Murphy (Bishop of Hobart-town) and Matthew Quinn (Bishop of Bathurst). 10 July 1872


[Source: Archives of Propaganda Fide, Rome: SOCG 1873 vol. 1000, 1359-1377v. Original in Italian and Latin. {1359-1375 form a series numbered 1-17 at top. 1376-1377 completes body of report on a different (and mauve!) paper type. This type of paper ends with 1382. BC}]


FINAL REPORT of the Apostolic Commissioners Daniel Murphy (Bishop of Hobart-town) and Matthew Quinn (Bishop of Bathurst) regarding Bishop Sheil of happy memory, Bishop of Adelaide, and the Sisters of St. Joseph and other matters to which the Holy See has been pleased to draw their attention in this Diocese. 10 July 1872



Previously elected as Secretaries:

R.P. [Reverendissime Pater: Reverend Father] Maher, for English language

R.P. John Nepomucene Hinteroecker SJ, for Latin,

(who having unfortunately fallen ill):

R.P. Antony Strele SJ


Your Eminence,

We had the honour of sending to Your Eminence by the last post to Europe a brief report of the Investigation held by us by order of the Holy See, and of the actions which produced certain discontent among the faithful of the Diocese of Adelaide and of their causes. Today we are sending a full report of our investigation, together with the evidence taken by us.

The actions which caused the discontent mentioned are: 1) The formal excommunication of Sr. Mary, Superioress of the Institute of St. Joseph by Monsignor Sheil. 2) The expulsion of the Sisters from their convent. 3) The dispersion of the said Sisters and, in consequence, the privations to which some of them were exposed. These facts are public and admitted by all.

As regards the causes which led to these facts, we are of the opinion that they are to be found in the hostility among some of the priests of the Diocese against the Institute. Having contemplated the suppression of it, they were able likewise to influence the mind of the Bishop and to lead him to carry out their plans.

In the investigation we have examined those we believed most suitable to give us information: those who were opposed to the Institute, and those who were in favour. The result is as follows.

The Institute of the Sisters of St. Joseph was founded with the approval of Bishop Sheil, by Fr. Julian Woods, priest of the Diocese, in January 1866, for the purpose of giving a Catholic education to the children of the poor people of the Diocese, there being no other means of opposing a dangerous system of public education introduced by the Government.

Sr. Mary [MacKillop], a lady of talent, education and virtue, was the first member and the first Superioress of the Institute; and the aforementioned Fr. Woods (a priest truly disinterested, pious and zealous) the spiritual director of it until July 1871.

After two years of trial the rules were approved by the Bishop and under his protection and stimulus, the Institute grew in 5 years to 120 members and reached in an honourable way the object for which it was established, the Sisters having under their direction 35 schools, attended by 2,500 boys and girls, an orphanage, a place of refuge for fallen women and a place of reform for women given to intemperance.

A great good gained for education and religion from the teaching and the edifying life of the Sisters was frequently recognised and praised by the Bishop both in public and in private. He held the Sisters in such great esteem that he recommended their introduction into other Dioceses of Australia; in fact, he sent a Community to Brisbane and he was preparing to send another to Bathurst. Such were the dispositions of the Bishop up to about 5 months before his death.

The hostility of the local priests to the Institute became evident during the absence of the Bishop at the General Vatican Council. It appears to have had its origin in the spirit of revenge nursed by Fr. Horan against Fr. Woods, because the latter had been the means by which the Vicar General had become aware of the intemperance and immorality of a religious, Fr Keating, who was dismissed from the Diocese for these offences. Keating was a companion and great friend of Horan and a member of the same Order. Horan was heard to say more than once that he would cause the ruin of Woods through that of the Sisters of St. Joseph.

Soon after the return of the Bishop from the Vatican Council, a Memorial was presented to him (it is to be found among the Evidence under the letter A). He received this memorial with open displeasure. Moreover he personally examined some of the schools and, having found that the allegation of inefficiency and ignorance had no foundation, in a pastoral letter issued about this time he praised the system of Catholic education "established in the face of so much difficulty" and condemned the secular system of the Government, saying "Until now we did not have our own system to take its place. I delayed taking the necessary steps to oppose it in a more efficacious way. But now, seeing we have our own schools established in almost all the districts of our Diocese and well patronized by the faithful, I declare that no Catholic can be admitted to the Sacraments who participates in the Government system either as a teacher under the Central Board or as a pupil, or by sending children to it."

It does not appear that the Bishop paid any attention to the allegation that one of the Sisters had removed the consecrated host from the tabernacle. This matter appears shrouded in mystery. The Administrator believed it prudent to refuse to clothe this Sister again in the religious habit, together with another who had been said to be favoured with extraordinary gifts. We have approved this decision, at least for the present.

Fr. Horan was at the bottom of the business of the Memorial. It was he who composed it, but at his examination the Memorial was not produced (we found it afterwards): he produced a draft of it and told us it was written by himself.

Four or five of the more senior and respected among the priests did not suspect the intention of Fr. Horan to have the Institute suppressed when they signed the Memorial; they sought only an investigation whose purpose was to define the authority of the priests in charge of the country districts in regard to the Sisters, and to correct any abuses that they appeared to find there.

The goodwill of the Bishop towards the Sisters lasted until August of 1871, as appears from a conversation that he had with Fr. J. Tappeiner, a Jesuit, on the occasion of giving a retreat to the priests of the Diocese. According to Fr. Tappeiner (Evidence p. 12, letter B), this change took place as late as the 24th. of August: 'On the very day on which I had a conversation with the Bishop in the garden while we were walking together (the time of the priests' retreat), he spoke about the Sisters of St. Joseph with great praise. He related how much good they had done. In a laughing way he dismissed the objections he had heard, namely that the Sisters were not well enough educated. I well remember his words "Whenever I visit the schools, especially outside the city, I find that more than half the children cannot say their ABC or their daily prayers, but to teach such children no extensive schooling is required ." I replied, "That has always been my view, too: if one Sister in the school is well trained, that will suffice for the children." With all this he completely agreed, nor did he utter a word which would betray any misgivings or the least suspicion that he regarded the Sisters as incapable or lazy, as was later suggested.

Towards the middle of September, about 5 months before his death, a sudden and extraordinary change came over the mind of the Bishop, because it was then for the first time that he showed dissatisfaction with the Sisters and spoke of change and alteration in the Institute. At that time he began to grow weak in body and mind; his confidential advisors, with whom he passed a great part of the time in the city and in the country, were Horan, Nowlan and Murphy. Woods was absent in N.S.W.

It was precisely at this time that the active hostility against the Sisters was begun by Horan, Nowlan and Murphy and by some of the younger priests, about 10 in all. The more senior and respected, having guessed that Horan and Nowlan intended to bring about the suppression of the Institute, dissociated themselves from them and took up the defence of the Sisters. The Jesuit Fathers have been supporters of the Sisters from the beginning.

The allegations in the Memorial of ignorance, of fanaticism, of the burden the Sisters were to the Diocese and of the debts contracted because of them, were renewed and impressed on the mind of the Bishop, and to those was added a new one: a spirit of insubordination against the authority of the Bishop.

To Horan was given the task of examining the Sisters to determine their teaching ability. He went to the convent accompanied by Fr Murphy with that intention but, refusing to examine those Sisters who were trained to teach, he limited himself to those summoned from the Orphanage and from the Providence ("Home for women given to drunkenness"), and to some of the younger ones to whom was entrusted the teaching of infants. He then examined those who were occupied only in the domestic tasks of the convent, and some sick Sisters who hardly had the strength to come down from the dormitory; so hard was the manner of questioning that one of the Sisters rebuked this priest for his conduct as not worthy of a priest. The consequence was a report to the Bishop that most of the Sisters were incapable of teaching.

Sr. Mary asked that no change in the Rule would be made before the return of Fr. Woods. But this was represented to the Bishop as an impertinence. Then she begged, with the other Sisters, for a copy of the new Rule. This also was denied, and it appears that no such Rule was ever written. We have, however, in a command prepared with great care and given in evidence by Nowlan, the changes that they proposed for the Institute. The Sisters were to be divided into Choir Sisters and Lay Sisters. There was to be no General Superior of the Institute, no Mother House, no Model School for practical instruction in teaching, not even a Novitiate. Instead, the Sisters were to be placed in country schools in groups of two or three, subject entirely to the local priest, since the Bishop was their only General Superior. This was not just a major change in the Rule; as Fr. Tappeiner observes in his evidence, it would have ensured the total ruin of the Institute.

Finally Sr. Mary wrote a letter to the Bishop full of respect and submission, reminding him of the original Rule approved by him under which she had taken her vows, that the new Rule, insofar as she could understand it, differed essentially from it, and that therefore her conscience prevented her from accepting it, and that she would prefer to leave the Institute. The Bishop was induced to believe that this letter was not only lacking in respect for him but was subversive of his authority and, having determined to separate Sr. Mary from the other Sisters in the city, he ordered her to go immediately to a school fifty miles from Adelaide. Horan took this command to Sr. Mary; she asked to speak to the Bishop. Horan said he believed the Bishop would not wish to see her but that he would himself report what she wanted to say. Sr. Mary replied that she wished to see the Bishop personally, and that she wished to speak to him immediately.

In the second last column of the report of the celebrated funeral sermon, Horan tells how he reported to the Bishop the words of Sr. Mary: "I simply told her what the Bishop had ordered and she replied that she would not obey." At 10 o'clock that night Horan informed one of the Sisters that Sr. Mary would be excommunicated the following morning. The Bishop, accompanied by Horan and three other priests, went early in the morning to the Convent and, having called the Sisters together in the Common Room, about 30 of them, he discoursed on the virtue of Obedience and ordered them to go to the Chapel. Having taken his Crozier and Mitre, he ordered Sr. Mary to kneel before him and told her that he was about to excommunicate her for disobedience and rebellion. He read the sentence of excommunication over her from an open book and then said "Mary MacKillop, you are now free to return to the world, a great part of the iniquity of which you have, I fear, taken with you into the Institute." Some of the Sisters were so agitated and angered by this formal process that they cried out and wept; other Sisters followed Sr. Mary out of the Chapel. After the commotion had subsided, all were commanded to return to the Chapel. There the names of those who were destined to be Choir Sisters or Lay Sisters were called, but all refused to accept the new Rule. The Bishop dispensed four or five from their vows. Seeing that eleven stayed firm against this, he ordered them to return to their places, saying that he would teach them to obey their Bishop. He nominated Sr. Teresa as the new Superior.

Having received the order the previous day to leave the convent and to remove nothing from it, not even the sacred vestments and the altar furnishings, all the Sisters left in the course of the day, giving to Horan, who came to collect them, the keys of the convent. However, they left voluntarily, saying that the convent was too good for poor people like them. They went to an exceedingly modest house that they had rented; but, a little later, seeing that they could not pay the rent, they took up residence in a house given to them by a Jewish person. Their convent was passed to the Dominican Sisters, who very shortly took possession of it. Sr. Teresa, who had been named Superioress after Sr. Mary, was dismissed after three weeks and expelled for disrespect to the Bishop in having knelt with Sr. Mary during the excommunication. She had, indeed, been nominated Superior after this event; she protested that she had had no intention whatsoever of disrespect to the Bishop, but that she had acted in this way spontaneously, out of affection for her Superior, Sr. Mary. The Bishop appointed Sr. Monica to succeed Sr. Teresa as the Superior, but the same day she wrote to him for a dispensation from vows for herself and all the Sisters in the house where they were living, adding that they would continue to teach in the schools until others could be found to take their places.

The Bishop immediately informed the Sisters that they were dispensed from their vows. Some went to live with relatives, some took employment. Fifteen remained in community in the house that they had rented, but without their religious habits, and supported themselves with fancy needle-work and the charity of others. The Sisters who had care of schools in country districts were largely able to remain faithful to the observance of the original Rule without being troubled. Things remained in this state of uncertainty until after the death of the Bishop.

During his last illness, and about two weeks before his death, he spoke in the following terms to Father William Kennedy: "I am dying, my dear Father Kennedy, borne down with sorrow. Those in whom I trusted have contracted bad habits; I sometimes followed their advice, and this I bitterly regret; to err is human."

On the day on which he received the last Sacraments he commissioned Rev. Peter Hughes (an alumnus of Propaganda) to lift the excommunication on Sr. Mary, and expressed regret that he had not followed the representations of Fr Hughes and the other senior priests of the Diocese.

At about this time he appointed to be Administrator of the Diocese after his death Fr. Christopher Reynolds, who had remained with him constantly in his room for the last 8 days, and ordered him to reappoint Sr. Mary Superior of the Institute of Sr. Joseph. The Archbishop of Sydney, thinking that this oral appointment was not valid, formally appointed Fr Reynolds in writing, and we have confirmed him in the office of Administrator.

One of the first acts of the Administrator was to reappoint Sr. Mary and to re-admit, on their own petition, those who had been forced to leave the Institute; in effect, to put the Institute back on the same footing as before.

This decision led to the calming down of the discontent among the faithful and would have given universal satisfaction if it had not been for the conduct of Horan and Nowlan, who continued their hostility towards the Sisters.

Horan, without the knowledge of the Administrator and indeed in opposition to his instructions, mounted the pulpit in the Cathedral in Adelaide on the evening of Palm Sunday. He there delivered a funeral oration on the dead Bishop which was nothing but a defence of his own acts and a fierce attack against the Sisters; in it, he made use of private papers which he said he had taken from the Bishop's papers after his death. This sermon, a printed copy of which we forwarded to you, was followed by a publication of terrible calumnies against the Sisters in an Adelaide Protestant paper. To clear the Sisters' name a civil suit was brought by Mr. Woods, father of one of the Sisters, against the editor, who was eventually convicted for criminal libel with a penalty of six months in prison and a fine of fifty pounds.

Finally, we see no other obstacle to the restoration of peace and harmony and trust in the ecclesiastical authority in Adelaide than the presence of Nowlan and Horan, whose immediate recall by their Superiors we recommended in our first letter to Your Eminence.

The last act of these priests, while we were still in Adelaide, was to accept an Address from some lay people commiserating with them about the withdrawal of their faculties and thereby giving further testimony to their own insubordination and to their support among some of the laity. We forward a printed copy of this Address, and of the reply from Horan, with which Nowlan said he agreed completely, and which was almost as violent as his funeral oration.

At the meeting where this Address was presented, Nowlan expressed his intention to go by this post to Rome to complain to the Holy See against the decisions of the Administrator. Horan - who in fact desires to remain in the Diocese - was immediately advised by us to accompany him.

Your Eminence also directed our attention to the disquiet of the laity at not having been informed of the disposition of a large sum of money (7,000 pounds) provided to the Bishop for religious uses, and of the position of trustees. Having asked the priests for the account books, we have the honour to say that they informed us that such books did not exist, and that they could not give any information about that money. However, we interviewed two of the lay people (Woods and Fox) who signed the Memorial sent to Your Eminence, and asked for an explanation. Their reply, given first orally in our presence and then in writing by Mr. Woods, is as follows:-

1) That the spending of the money (the sum resulting from the collections up to 1861 for the building of the Cathedral) did not indeed concern the Bishop, who in fact did not take up his position until [blank]

2) As regards the disposition of this money Mr. Woods can say only that it has been asserted and believed that all that was disposable had been applied to the foundation and establishment of other missions that were in need of help.

3) We refer to the allegation made by the memorialists concerning the two legacies to the Diocese of Adelaide: that they have been sold, and the price made over to the credit of the Bishop. On examining the finances of the Diocese and the personal accounts of the Bishop, we find no foundation to this allegation. Furthermore, we find that a part of the legitimate finances of the Bishop was applied to the general interests of religion.

4) We regret, however, to be compelled to observe that the debts of the Diocese, which on the arrival of the Bishop were very small, increased during his administration to between 10,000 to 11,000 pounds. These were accumulated through the building of churches and schools, by paying the expenses of priests and religious from Europe to Adelaide, and in other uses with regard to religion and education. To secure this it was necessary to mortgage (not 'sell', as the Memorial states) the lands belonging to the Church which had been acquired during the episcopate of Bishop Murphy, the first Bishop of Adelaide. The mortgage for this purpose realised the sum of 6,000.

As regards the nomination of trustees, this usage currently prevails in the Diocese, and no ecclesiastical property can be legally sold or mortgaged or otherwise alienated without the consent of each of the trustees expressed in their signatures. The Bishop is the head of this institution. The law of the colony gives him unlimited power to nominate members from amongst the priests or from lay people or from one or from the other (the current trustees are all priests). He has likewise the power to dismiss them at will, on the condition that others are appointed in the place of those dismissed.

During the time of Bishop Murphy and during the Administratorship of V. Rev. Fr. Smyth a custom prevailed in Adelaide of publishing periodically the monies received from the people for special purposes and the manner of applying them. This custom (which exists in many Dioceses to great advantage, because it gives the people an assurance that their money is not being squandered) was not observed during the time of Bishop Sheil nor of his predecessor Bishop Geoghegan. This is one source of the complaints in the Memorial.

To conclude: we have been working with the best will in the world and have spared neither time nor trouble in driving ourselves to complete the important duties of the commission which the Holy See has been pleased to entrust to us, we are, however, all too conscious of the shortcomings of our work. We pray that Your Eminence will attribute them to our inexperience in this matter, rather than to any lack of application. Many other matters in the Evidence should have been incorporated in this report for Your Eminence's information. We therefore beg to draw Your Eminence's attention especially to that of Rev. Fr. Tappeiner, of Fr. C. Reynolds, and of Sr. Mary: they will be found in the Evidence under B, C and D.

On our knees we implore the blessing of the Holy Father and, asking that the Lord may long preserve Your Eminence for the good of the Church, we are Your Eminence's most humble and devoted servants.


Given at the Bishop's Palace in Melbourne, 10 July 1872.


+Daniel Murphy

Bishop of Hobart-town

+Matthew Quinn

Bishop of Bathurst


To His Eminence,

Cardinal Barnabò,

Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda Fide


Adelaide, 17th. June 1872


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