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John Bede Polding

(1794—1877) Roman Catholic archbishop of Sydney


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(1794–1877), Catholic bishop, was born at Liverpool, England, and entered the Benedictine order, in which he became a novice-master and subprior. He arrived in Sydney in 1835 as Australia's first bishop. Displaying enormous missionary zeal, he heard confessions from the convicts, and sought to remedy the shortage of priests by attracting other English Benedictines to join his ministry. The success of his early ministry was evident in the substantial increase in building works and church attendances. In 1842 he was appointed archbishop of Sydney and metropolitan of Australia. Polding was responsible for planning and overseeing new hierarchical structures for the Catholic Church in Australia. This role was constrained by his own failings as an adminstrator, and his long-held dream to found a flourishing Benedictine monastery in NSW was never realised. His monastic school struggled in a Catholic community that was predominantly Irish and working-class, whose members distrusted what they perceived as the authoritarian manner and elitist interests of the English Benedictines. When the pope refused to declare Sydney a strictly Benedictine diocese, Polding resigned. His resignation, however, was rejected. Criticism of Polding's leadership, voiced most strongly by Sydney laity in the Freeman's Journal, came to a head in a debate over lay versus clerical leadership of St John's College at the University of Sydney in 1858, when Polding's ambition for a key role in governing this centre of Catholic cultural and intellectual activity was ultimately frustrated. He attended the First Vatican Council of 1870. The fate of the ‘Benedictine dream’ embodied in Polding's career has been a subject of sustained debate among Catholic historians, most notably Patrick O'Farrell.

From The Oxford Companion to Australian History in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Australasian and Pacific History.


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