History - Archdiocese of Brisbane


The first Mass celebrated in Brisbane was in mid-May 1843, and was presided over by Archbishop Polding in a temporary chapel in what is now Elizabeth Street.

The Archdiocese of Brisbane celebrated its 150th year in 2009. Snapshots of our story are provided below in the sections on history and recent history highlights.

History of the Archdiocese of Brisbane

History of the Archdiocese of Brisbane

In 1823, the Governor of New South Wales, Thomas Brisbane, instructed a new northern penal settlement be developed in the Moreton Bay district. Convicts began arriving from 1824 and free settlement was permitted from 1838. Catholics certainly featured among the European population from the outset but they were not catered for pastorally, with Sydney Archbishop John Bede Polding expressing concern to the New South Wales Governor as early as 1836 that the faithful in Moreton Bay could only occasionally receive spiritual help from Sydney. The situation had not seen any improvement by 1842 when he wrote to a cousin in England regretting that many of the people in this northern part of the New South Wales colony had not sighted a priest for near on twenty years.

The first Mass celebrated in Brisbane was in mid-May 1843, and was presided over by Archbishop Polding himself in a temporary chapel in what is now Elizabeth Street. Later in the month the Archbishop also celebrated Mass on Stradbroke Island, where he was determined to establish a Mission to the Aborigines, numbering approximately 300 at the time, under the care of the Passionist Fathers. Four Passionist priests, three Italian and one Swiss, had arrived with Archbishop Polding during this May 1843 visit and soon set about founding their mission in a disused government building at Dunwich.

The Passionists endeavoured to get to know the language and culture of the local indigenous community and in this they were allied to Archbishop Polding, who did not share in the prevailing prejudices against Aborigines. Indeed he thought they displayed a great degree of natural intellect, and that no people could possess finer feelings of sensibility. In his view, they also possessed a natural propensity for music, and hoped that some greater good could come by cultivating their affinity for it.

Yet unfortunately the loneliness, privation and insecurity of the Mission soon took its toll, and the Passionists reluctantly left Dunwich, three of them in 1846 and the last in 1847. The descendants of the peoples they ministered to, the Quandamooka, are still resident on and integral to the life of Stradbroke Island.

Despite withdrawing from Stradbroke Island, the Church was to remain in Brisbane.

The first parish priest of Brisbane town, and as he modestly but accurately portrayed himself, the “parish priest of Queensland”, Father James Hanly, arrived as a seminarian in Sydney from Ireland in March 1843. Archbishop Polding had assiduously recruited him, ordaining him in Sydney in September 1843.

Father Hanly and Father John Kavanagh arrived in Brisbane by boat in December 1843 to serve the town and outlying districts.

In 1845 Brisbane’s first school was established in a slab hut.

Monsignor Hartigan (John O’Brien) recorded that Father Hanly attended a Synod held in Sydney in 1844. To get there, he rode on horseback all the way from Brisbane town to Sydney, completing the journey in a week in a feat of stamina and navigation as remarkable today as it was back then.

In 1850 the Moreton Bay Courier reported that Archbishop Polding was expected to go to Brisbane to consecrate St. Stephen’s Church; but it was to be eight years before the Archbishop’s return to Brisbane in 1858. By this time, the push for the establishment of a separate colony, had come into full blossom.

The Diocese of Brisbane started with the colony of Queensland in 1859. It then covered the whole of Queensland, a vast diocese with few people. The first bishop, James Quinn, organised an immigration scheme which brought thousands of Irish, establishing the style of the Church for a century.

While some Catholics were well off, the majority were not. Church policy was to raise their economic and social status in a Catholic atmosphere.

Education was the means. In 1880 government funds were withdrawn from Catholic schools and it was impossible to maintain the lay-run schools.

A century of dependence on Religious to run schools began. At first there were only the Sisters of Mercy, the Irish Christian Brothers and, for a while, the Sisters of St Joseph, including St Mary of the Cross MacKillop (Mary MacKillop) for a period of around 18 months. The characteristic of the Diocese was the struggle for Catholic schools.

Bishop Quinn died in 1881 and was succeeded by Robert Dunne who became first Archbishop of Brisbane in 1887. Northern and Central Queensland were excised from the Diocese, since closer settlement made the colony too large for management. Where Quinn had laboured for churches and schools, Dunne put his faith in Catholic family settlement. In the 1880’s the Queensland government heavily subsidised migration, and a steady flow of Irish fixed the Hibernian character of the Brisbane Church.

Social outreach found expression through hospitals and orphanages; but in the political arena, the Church was largely conservative. When Pope Leo XIII initiated a new age of Catholic social teaching, the laity began a shift to the new Labour Party, but the Archbishop was more hesitant.

In 1912 James Duhig, Bishop of Rockhampton, returned to Brisbane as Coadjutor, succeeding as Archbishop in 1917. He is remembered as a builder and as a community leader. His Church was now Irish-Australian, and his great achievement was the integration of Catholics into the community.

In 1929 the Diocese of Toowoomba was created, making the Archdiocese more compact and manageable. Duhig expanded the activities of the Diocese, introducing many religious orders, building institutions of every kind, fostering the sodalities which geared Catholics up for action. However it was not clear what the action should be. He patronised Catholic Action, both the Cardijn and the Santamaria kinds.

In the years after World War II, Brisbane faced a flood of migrants, many of them from Catholic countries. The diversity of cultures was welcomed but not adequately understood. The Irish Church was swamped by Italian, Maltese, Polish, Dutch and many other nationalities. To the problem of pastoral care for the new Catholics, there was added the pressure of expansion of schools and churches. Despite the great number of vocations in the 1950s, the system of Catholic education was strained to the limit.

In 1949 Bishop Patrick Mary O’Donnell came as Coadjutor. It was he who attended the second Vatican Council, and after 1965, when Duhig died, had to begin the implementation of the changes in the Church. Although an Irishman of the old school, he found ways of introducing the new liturgy and the new diocesan agencies. It was an age when the laity emerged as the labourers in the vineyard. A new Church appeared.

In 1973 Francis Roberts Rush, Bishop of Rockhampton, came to Brisbane. He was thoroughly a man of the Vatican II Council. His insistent message to clergy and laity, especially the latter, was that they were the Church. It was a time of falling numbers of vocations and of the departure of priests and religious. Archbishop Rush’s emphasis on the laity brought about a new Church of apostolic laity. Pastoral councils began and flourished. The involvement of the laity in the liturgy inspired spiritual and pastoral renewal.

In 1989 Archbishop Rush called the Archdiocese into its first Assembly. With the help of Auxiliary Bishop John Gerry, Catholic Social Response (now Centacare) blossomed into a multitude of new caring ministries involving thousands of people across parish communities. Under the guidance of Auxiliary Bishop James Cuskelly msc, the Archdiocese became proactive in pastoral planning as it took up the challenge of revitalising personnel and resources for its mission in changing times.

Bishop John Bathersby of Cairns succeeded as Archbishop in 1991. He found a working diocese. He continued and expanded pastoral planning efforts. He added his own emphasis on spirituality, social justice and ecumenism as essential ingredients of being Catholic. He was passionate about the attractiveness of the Christian vision and power of Christ to transform people and the world into a civilisation of love. Thus, he promoted evangelisation as Christian engagement with the world, particularly the world of young people. With the assistance of Auxiliary Bishop Michael Putney, evangelisation took centre stage leading into and during the Year of Great Jubilee.

John Bathersby’s leadership reached a new milestone with the Synod. Continuing his predecessor’s collaborative style, he called forth the wisdom and energy of all Catholics to take Christ’s mission forward in the new century. He expressed his hope that the Synod would move the people of the Archdiocese into “mission mode”. His sights were set on both the urgency to get the Christian message “out there” now and the expectation that the Synod will impact on the mission of the Archdiocese for a long time to come. As part of the Synod process John Bathersby summed up his Christian vision for the Archdiocese using the words Jesus, Communion and Mission and announced this vision as part of the Synod promulgation along with nine priority areas for action. These directional keys from the Synod were then articulated with the assistance of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council in Let Your Light Shine: vision, priorities and planning for a vibrant local Church. It provided a ‘practical planning focus for our efforts to be a vibrant and evangelising local Church.’ (Let Your Light Shine, Foreword).

In 2002 and 2003, the Archdiocese received two new Auxiliary Bishops, Bishops Brian Finnigan and Joseph Oudeman, because Bishop John Gerry retired and Bishop Michael Putney was appointed as Bishop of Townsville.

In later years John Bathersby focussed his energy on renewal of the Archdiocese through prayer campaigns, especially Come Holy Spirit launched in 2005, the broad communication of the theology and spirituality of Jesus Communion Mission, outreach to young people particularly through events associated with World Youth Day 2000, 2002, 2005, 2008 and 2011, and calling all Catholics back to prayer and participation in worship with local parish communities. He purchased the Cenacle Retreat Centre at Ormiston and undertook to develop its facilities and programs as part of a project to establish an archdiocesan spirituality centre. The Santa Teresa Spirituality centre was blessed and opened in October 2009. He also presided over the building of the new Holy Spirit Provincial Seminary opened by Cardinal Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in April 2008.

Throughout all of 2009, the Archdiocese celebrated its sesquicentenary, having separated from the Archdiocese of Sydney in 1859. A number of key events occurred to mark the occasion, including the announcement of Vatican approval to adopt Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop as the Archdiocesan patron; a visit by the Archbishop of Dublin (Archbishop Diarmuid Martin) commemorating the city where Brisbane’s first Bishop James Quinn was episcopally consecrated and the signing of the Anglican and Roman Catholic Covenant commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the Signing of the Common Declaration between the Anglican and Catholic Archdioceses by Archbishop Frank Rush and Archbishop John Grindrod.

In 2011, Archbishop Bathersby took great joy in touring the Archdiocese, along with his colleagues from the heads of other Queensland Churches, and presenting the ‘Living Jesus’ series of gatherings in a variety of ecumenical settings.

After attaining the retirement age for a Bishop of 75 years in July, Archbishop Bathersby received word from Pope Benedict XVI that his resignation had been accepted and came into effect on November 14, 2011. An apostolic administrator, Bishop Geoffrey Jarrett DD of Lismore diocese, was appointed to look after the Archdiocese until the selection of a new Archbishop for the vacant see.

Archbishop Mark Coleridge of the Canberra and Goulburn Diocese succeeded Archbishop Bathersby and was installed as Archbishop on May 11, 2012, thus commencing his episcopal ministry in the Archdiocese.

History of our Bishops

History of the Bishops of the Archdiocese of Brisbane


  • Most Rev Mark Benedict Coleridge, 2012 – present

Apostolic Administrator

  • Most Rev Geoffrey Hylton Jarrett, November 14 2011 – May 11 2012


  1. James Quinn, 1859 – 1881
  2. Robert Dunne, Bishop of Brisbane 1882, Archbishop 1887 – 1917
  3. James Duhig, 1917 – 1965
  4. Patrick M O’Donnell, Coadjutor Archbishop of Brisbane, 1949 – 1965, Archbishop of Brisbane 1965 – 73, d 1980
  5. Francis R Rush, 1973 – 1991, d 2001
  6. Most Rev John Alexius Bathersby DD, 1991 – 2011

Auxiliary Bishops

  1. Most Rev Joseph Oudeman OFM Cap, DD, 2003 – present

Predecessor Auxiliary Bishops

  1. Henry Kennedy, 1967 – 1972 (Appointed Bishop of Armidale 1972), d 2003
  2. Eugene James Cuskelly, 1982 – 1996, d 1999
  3. Michael Putney, 1995 – 2000 (Appointed Bishop of Townsville 2000), d 2014
  4. John Joseph Gerry,1975 – 2003
  5. Brian Vincent Finnigan DD, 2002 – 2015
Highlights from more recent history

Highlights from more recent history

  • Vatican II: Liturgical renewal
  • Ecumenical movement begins
Commencement of Catholic Education Council
Formation of catechists
Appointment of Archbishop Rush
  • Archdiocesan Pastoral Council established
  • St Thomas More College at Sunnybank begins as the first lay administered archdiocesan college
Adult Education Office established
  • Beginnings of the Catholic Social Welfare Vicariate (later Catholic Social Response, then Centacare)
  • Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults begins
Mission ‘80s Parish Study
Assembly of Priests
  • Deaneries established
  • Annual Conference of Religious Education began
Pastoral planning focus becomes a priority
Called and Gifted Parish Program
Mini Assembly of Priests
Archdiocesan Assembly/dd>
Appointment of Archbishop Bathersby
Consultation for and launch of Shaping and Staffing Our Parishes, an archdiocesan wide approach to pastoral planning
Archdiocesan Mission and Directions Statement
Shaping and Staffing Our Parishes project
Allocation of Clergy Schedule up to 2001
  • Year of Jesus
  • Taskgroup on the Participation of Women in the Life of the Archdiocese Reconciliation Through Education gathering sponsored by Catholic Education
  • Release of Appointment of Parish Pastoral Ministers: Principles, Policy and Implementation Guidelines
Year of the Spirit
  • Year of the Father
  • Hearts on Fire Evangelisation Conference
  • Preparation and launch of We Are One Body: Multicultural Pastoral Care in the Archdiocese of Brisbane
  • Year of Great Jubilee
  • Setting Hears on Fire – next phase of archdiocesan life & mission
  • Launch of PrayerFire to pray for the renewal of the Archdiocese
  • Commission for Evangelisation & Pastoral Planning established
  • Archbishop’s Pastoral Council established
  • Moderator’s position established
  • World Youth Day in Rome
  • Strategic Perspective for Catholic Schools 2000-2011
  • Advent Pastoral Message – outline of Archbishop’s vision of Church
  • Synod consultation begins
  • Jubilee Primary School, Gaven, the first ecumenical primary school sponsored by Brisbane Catholic Education
  • Strategic Renewal Framework for Catholic Schooling 2002-2006
  • Synod preparation and assemblies of key groups
  • Synod membership chosen and 1st Preparation Day for Synod Members
  • World Youth Day Toronto
  • Archdiocesan Synod in May
  • Promulgation of Synod Outcomes in October, establishing Jesus Communion Mission as the vision for the Archdiocese and nine areas for priority action (Priorities)
  • Archbishop Bathersby and Archdiocesan Pastoral Council launches Let Your Light Shine: vision, priorities and planning for a vibrant local Church in light of Synod Promulgation
  • Archbishop Bathersby releases Decisions Supporting parishes and Deaneries realigning Archdiocese from 23 pastoral areas and 10 deaneries into 13 deaneries
  • Deanery becomes a key base for pastoral planning
  • Deanery grants scheme commences to promote Synod implementation Visit of Fr Paul Mc Partlan, the Archbishop’s first invited international speaker to promote an aspect of the Jesus Communion Mission vision
  • Catholics Returning Home introduced to the Archdiocese
  • Commencement of Faith & Life Vicariate
  • Archbishop renews the prayer campaign for the Archdiocese under the name Come Holy Spirit
  • World Youth Day Cologne
  • Let Your Light Shine Review
  • Bishop Tom Wright seminars (Archbishop’s second invited international speaker)
  • Brisbane World Youth Day Secretariat established
  • Archdiocesan launch of WYD preparation
  • Archbishop Bathersby announces a three year strategic focus on ministry with young people
  • Stewardship introduced to the Archdiocese
  • Journey of the Cross and Icon
  • Archdiocesan WYD training days
  • Professor Larry Hurtado (Archbishop’s third invited international speaker)
  • Opening of the Holy Spirit Seminary by Cardinal William Levada
  • Development of Santa Teresa – the Archdiocesan Spirituality Centre
  • World Youth Day 2008: Days in the Diocese and Pilgrimage to Sydney
Yearlong celebration of the Archdiocesan Sesquicentenary (150th Anniversary) including among other highlights:

  • Announcement of Blessed Mary MacKillop as the patron of the Archdiocese
  • A visit by Most Rev Diarmuid Martin (Archbishop of Dublin) representing the diocese where Brisbane’s first Bishop James Quinn was episcopally consecrated and the signing of the Anglican and Roman Catholic Covenant commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the Signing of the Common Declaration between the Anglican and Catholic Archdioceses by Archbishop Frank Rush and Archbishop John Grindrod
Archdiocesan patron, Blessed Mary MacKillop, is canonised in Rome on October 17. She is now known as St Mary of the Cross MacKillop
  • Archbishop Bathersby’s initiative “Living Jesus” tours the Archdiocese in a series of ecumenical gatherings, co-hosted with the heads of other Queensland churches
  • Archbishop Bathersby retires on November 14 and is replaced by an Apostolic Administrator, Bishop Geoffrey Jarrett of Lismore Diocese, until a new Archbishop is appointed to the vacant see
Archbishop Mark Coleridge, formerly Archbishop of the Canberra and Goulburn diocese, appointed by Pope Benedict XVI as the new metropolitan Archbishop of Brisbane
Publications about the local Church’s story

Publications about the local Church’s story

    • The Foundation of the Catholic Church in Queensland
      1998 ISBN: 876194, Church Archivists’ Press
    • James Duhig – a biography of James Duhig
      St. Lucia, Australia: University of Queensland Press. 1986; , 1871-1965, Archbishop of Brisbane.
    • Robert Dunne, 1830-1917: Archbishop of Brisbane
      University of Queensland Press, 1991; a biography of Robert Dunne, Archbishop of Brisbane 1887-1917.
    • From a Suitcase on the Verandah, Brisbane Catholic Education
      David Lovell Publishing, 2005; tells the story of Fr Bernard O’Shea and the development of Catholic Education in Brisbane Archdiocese 1943-1983.
    • Good Shepherds 1859-2009 – The Catholic Bishops of Brisbane
      Published by Archdiocesan Archives 2009; a biographical reflection of all Bishops and Archbishops of Brisbane up until the time of Archbishop John Bathersby (1991 – 2011)
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