Patrick Francis Moran

Paddy Neary (2019)

Patrick Francis Moran, was the third Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sydney and the first Cardinal appointed from Australia.

The Cardinal was born in Leighlin Bridge, County Carlow on September 16th 1830, the youngest of five children to Patrick and Alicia Moran. His mother died when he was just fourteen months old by his eleventh birthday his father was also dead along with three of his siblings. He was cared for by his Cullen relatives before being placed with his mother’s stepbrother Cardinal Paul Cullen who was rector of the Irish College in Rome. Living under the Cardinal’s care in Rome, Moran proved to be an adept diligent and industrious student who by age 15 he was fluent in Italian and Latin. Over the next ten years he became fluent in German, Spanish, French and Irish as well as learned in Hebrew and Greek. Entering the Seminary under the Jesuits to study Theology, he was considered so intellectually bright he gained his Doctorate by acclamation.

Moran was ordained a priest at 23 years of age on the 19th March 1853 and would later become Vice Rector of the Irish College. In 1866 he was appointed Secretary to his uncle Cardinal Cullen of Dublin, Moran was also appointed Professor of Scripture at Clonliffe College, Dublin. He accompanied Cardinal Cullen to the First Vatican Council in 1869. He was appointed coadjutor Bishop of Ossory and was consecrated on 5th March, 1872. On the death of Edward Walsh, he succeeded as Bishop of Ossory in August 1872.He championed Home Rule and was consulted by W. E. Gladstone prior to his introduction of his Home Rule Bills. After moving to Kilkenny, he visited each of the forty one parishes at least twice in his first three years. He concentrated on raising the educational standards of the Clergy strengthening their discipline and reorganising the local Seminary, St. Kieran’s College, reviving liturgy, increasing the numbers of nuns, and establishing the industrial schools. He strongly advocated total abstinence, a policy he pursued vigorously in his early years in Sydney, but later moderated. He inherited a serious situation in Callan where the learned but eccentric parish priest Robert O’Keefe had defied suspension measures launched civil actions against the old Bishop, and added further libel actions against Moran and Cullen. The legal saga ended in 1875 with O’Keefe’s defeat, setting precedents for church state relations in Irish law. Many of the Irish bishops regarded Moran with suspicion because of his close relationship with Cullen, but most bishops especially the Roman officials recognised his competence. He was several times authorized by Rome to mediate in disputes between Irish bishops and clergy and over land agitation, and to negotiate with the British Government on educational reform. Some clergy and laity mistakenly regarded both Moran and Cullen as favourably disposed towards British Rule both had a strong sense of Irish Nationality but condemned Fenianism on the practical grounds that it would only result in increased British repression

In these years, Moran became more and more convinced of his missionary vocation and this underlined his willingness to travel to Australia to continue his ministry in the fledging colony. Personally chosen by Pope Leo X111 to head the Archdiocese of Sydney he arrived at Botany Bay on 8th September 1884 and was created Cardinal the following year. At 6ft 3ins tall and 55 years of age Cardinal Moran was an impressive figure. But he was also reserved, shy and seemingly aloof, to the Australians this was probably due to his early childhood. As one of his priests would later say, Cardinal Moran was “very much respected, a good deal feared, but little loved”. Despite his appearance his health was never robust and was continually afflicted by bronchitis and congestion of one lung. His settling in was disrupted in 1885 when he was summoned to Rome, convinced he would be offered the see of Dublin but determined to urge Leo XIII to allow him return to Sydney. On arrival, he was informed he was to be made a Cardinal. Far from a consolation prize this was both a confirmation of Moran’s high personal standing in Rome and an affirmation of Leo’s belief in the importance of the new worlds.

Before Moran’s arrival, Australia had been heavily dependent on migrant priests. He soon commissioned a Seminary and official residence completed in 1886 in Manly. St Patrick’s College intended to provide priests was opened in 1889. He contributed a library of several hundred books, a collection of medieval manuscripts and items for a museum. Moran began transforming the Sydney St. Patrick’s Day festivities by inaugurating celebration of a Solemn High Mass in St. Mary’s Cathedral on St. Patrick’s Day in 1885. Over time the day’s event changed from an Irish nationalist and political day into an occasion “for the demonstration of Irish Catholic power and respectable assimilation as well as for the affirmation of Irish Catholic solidarity”

Within two years Moran had visited every one of the forty six parishes of his dioceses. In 1887 he sailed to Brisbane and Adelaide to confer the pallium on two Archbishops and to Perth to consecrate a bishop. Before his death he had visited almost every diocese in Australasia including Western Australia in 1887, New Zealand three visits between 1885 and 1908. He made five journeys to Rome on Church Business between 1885 and 1903. Moran was determined to have all Catholic children in schools staffed by religious Orders. By 1911, more than three quarters of the Catholic children in Sydney of primary school age were in his system, and he had laid the basis for a similar system for Secondary schools. He almost trebled the number of teaching brothers and more than trebled the number of nuns. On the twentieth anniversary of his arrival he noted he had blessed eighty eight foundation stones for churches or schools in his diocese and authorised the expenditure of £1,250,000 on building schools churches and institutions. The largest building project was the near completion of St. Mary’s Cathedral, he had finished the Northern end and then built the central section including the Cardinal’s Tower, and by 1900 was able to consecrate it all debt free.

Australia had a long history of sectarian conflict before Moran’s arrival exacerbated by disputes over education in the 1870s and 1880s, his Irish experience made him distrustful of other denominations. In the 1890s he increasingly believed that Catholic’s political and civil rights were threatened and in 1896 saw deliberate discrimination in a situation “where no office of first or even second rate importance is held by a Catholic.” In 1901 he refused to attend the official inauguration of the Commonwealth because precedence was given to the Church of England. As his public role developed, he made numerous enemies for himself and his church by his attacks on other denominations. In deliberating developing an active public role Moran acted on the assumption that in colonial society leadership was needed, he became one of the best known public figures in Australia. In 1897 he agreed to stand for election to the Australasian Federal Convention, and when sectarian feeling erupted he persisted in his candidacy believing that the civil rights of Catholics were an issue. But failed to win a position in the New South Wales delegation of ten. In the 1900s he advocated an independent defence and foreign policy, repeating earlier calls for a separate Australian navy and supporting military training programmes.

There was an unconventional side to Moran, in the 1880s and 1890s Moran denounced anti Chinese legislation and defended Chinese migrants, though pilloried in front page caricature by the right wing magazine Bulletin as” The Chows Patron” He paid a sympathy call on the chief Rabbi of Sydney after pogroms in Russia. His increasing public support for trade union movement, for the new Labour Party alarmed conservative Catholics. In 1890 he supported the trade union cause in the maritime strike.

In August 1911 after a visit to Perth, Moran retired to Manly, Sydney for a few days rest. He was found dead in his room on the morning of August 16th. A quarter of a million people witnessed his funeral procession, the largest crowd in Australia until that date. He is buried in the crypt of St. Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney.


  • Canon Carrigans: History of the Diocese of Ossory
  • Web site: Diocese of Sydney, Australia.