Wagga’s 100 years

As neighbours, the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn (and the Diocese of Goulburn before it) have shared a close connection with the Diocese of Wagga Wagga. Next month the Diocese of Wagga Wagga will celebrate its centenary with Mass, a historical display and some ‘John O’Brien’ poetry recitals.

1917 was a year of big changes

BY DENIS CONNOR (Archdiocesan Archivist)

THE year 1917 was one of significant change for the then Diocese of Goulburn.

A brief issued from the Vatican on July 28, 1917 announced the erection of the Diocese of Wagga Wagga, which was to be created entirely from territory that until that time had been the southern and western regions of the Goulburn Diocese.

As we pass on our congratulations we can take time to reflect on how the creation of this new diocese changed the Goulburn Diocese significantly and permanently.

Father Brian Maher in his history of our Archdiocese Planting the Celtic Cross records that the changes resulted in the removal of 15 pastoral districts (parishes) from the Goulburn Diocese – Wagga Wagga, Albury, Balldale, Berrigan, Coolamon, Corowa, Ganmain, Henty, Holbrook, Jerilderie, Junee, Leeton, Lockhart, Narrandera and Urana – to the new diocese.

Along with the parishes, the existing clergy assigned to them were also transferred. These included the new Bishop, Rev Joseph Wilfrid Dwyer, formerly the parish priest of Temora, who was consecrated the first bishop of Wagga Wagga on October 13 1918, and Rev Michael Buckley, the parish priest of Junee, who became the new diocese’s Vicar-General.

In total 23 priests of the Goulburn diocese were transferred to the new diocese on its foundation.

A further NSW diocesan boundary change, announced the next year, added further to the changed appearance of the Diocese of Goulburn.

The South Coast region (from Milton to the Victorian border), and the Monaro, which had previously both been part of the Archdiocese of Sydney, were transferred to Goulburn.

Bishop John Gallagher (Bishop of Goulburn 1900–1923) was able to note the addition of 12 parochial districts – Araluen, Bega, Bombala, Braidwood, Bungendore, Cobargo, Cooma, Michelago, Milton, Moruya, Pambula and Queanbeyan – to replace the 15 that were lost to Wagga Wagga.

Importantly, too, he could note that the already proclaimed territory for the new National Capital was now wholly within his diocese. We can note a continuing close relationship between our two dioceses.

The Bishop’s Tree

BY DOMINIC BYRNE (Former Editor of Together)

BISHOP Dwyer, was, from his schooldays, a keen student of Australian flora. He was well-respected not only as a pastor, but also, in the scientific community, as an amateur botanist.

The red gum, eucalyptus dwyeri which he identified, was named for him. During his time as Parish Priest of Temora (1912-1916) he collected plants in an area between 10 and 15 miles wide on either side of the railway line between Wyalong and Stockinbingal.

To mark the centenary celebration, Fr James McGee, a retired priest of Wagga Wagga, collected seeds from the small grove of Eucalyptus dwyeri which was planted some years ago at Vianney College Seminary, supervised their germination, and is now growing them on as tube stock.

  • Eucalyptus dwyeri will be for sale at the centenary celebrations on July 28 to 30.

Astounding legacy of a priest-poet


Perhaps one of the more celebrated connections between the Archdiocese and the Diocese of Wagga Wagga is that of Fr Patrick Hartigan – aka John O’Brien.

Born at O’Connell Town Yass in 1862, Fr Hartigan is best known for his poetry where he took the pseudonym John O’Brien.. Two of his better known poems are Around the Boree Log and Said Hanrahan.

He also had a great love for cars and was the first priest in Albury to own a car. In 1910 he put it to good use when he drove from Albury up to the Kosciusko High Country east of Corryong in north-east Victoria.

He gave the last rites and took viaticum to Jack Riley, said to be the Man From Snowy River.

Fr Frank Bell, a retired priest of the Diocese of Wagga Wagga was an altar boy to Fr Hartigan during his time at Narrandera. Fr Bell currently resides in Narrandera. Queensland poet Noel Stallad will be reciting John O’Brien poetry in Wagga Wagga on July 28 this year as the diocese celebrates its centenary.

The Thurgoona Catholic Church at Albury is located in Hartigan Street, a further contribution honouring the poet priest.

Three builder priests


THE Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn and the Diocese of Wagga Wagga are greatly indebted to the work of three priests among many others.

After arriving from Ireland in the early to mid 1850s, Fr Patrick Dunne, Fr Michael McAlroy, and Fr Patrick Bermingham were initially appointed to the Western District of Victoria. There they developed reputations as fine church builders.

Years later they would reunite in the Riverina and South West Slopes region of NSW.

Fr Dunne, the first parish priest of Gundagai, Jugiong and Cootamundra was largely responsible for building the first Catholic church in Cootamundra (St Columba’s), as well as St Michael’s Cathedral in Wagga Wagga.

He is buried in the cemetery behind the old St John’s Orphanage at Thurgoona.

After moving from Victoria, Fr Bermingham, who was Fr Dunne’s cousin, was stationed at Yass with Fr McAlroy.

Fr Bermingham who organised the building of the Sacred Heart Presentation Convent in Wagga Wagga didn’t enjoy great health towards the end of his time in Australia and he returned to Ireland before dying in London.

Fr McAlroy is credited with building churches at Jugiong, Tumut, Gundagai, Wagga Wagga, Gunning, Binalong, Taralga, Breadalbane, Grabben Gullen, Corowa, Howlong and Albury, where he is buried in the crypt at St Patrick’s Church.

He developed a reputation as a fine priest and is remembered in those parts as the Great Apostle of the South. Wagga Wagga’s diocesan office is called McAlroy House, such was his contribution.


Fr Brian Maher

RETIRED priest of the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn, Fr Brian Maher was born at Balldale, near Corowa, but moved to Cootamundra, then Galong and Binalong when he was young.

His father was employed on the railway. A keen historian, Fr Maher wrote much about the Catholic history of the Archdiocese and the Diocese of Wagga Wagga in his book Planting the Celtic Cross.

Emeritus Archbishop Francis Carroll

ANOTHER man which both the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn and the Diocese of Wagga Wagga claim as their own is Emeritus Archbishop Francis Carroll.

Born into a large Catholic family at Ganmain, he was the bishop of Wagga Wagga between 1968 and 1983 and the Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn between 1983 and 2006. He now lives in Wagga Wagga and supplies in both dioceses. Carroll College at Broulee is named after him. He intends to be present for the centenary celebrations.

Archbishop Christopher Prowse

2016 (September) to current – ARCHBISHOP Christopher Prowse, has been Apostolic Administrator of the Wagga Wagga Diocese pending the appointment of a replacement for Bishop Gerard Hanna, the last bishop of Wagga Wagga.

How is the Diocese of Wagga Wagga marking the centenary?

Friday, July 28 to Sunday, July 30

  • Historical Display open for three days (July 28, 29 and 30) at St Michael’s Parish Centre, Church St Wagga Wagga.
  • 10am Sunday Mass on July 30 at St Michael’s Cathedral and BYO picnic lunch afterwards.