MURPHY, Francis (1795-1858)

MURPHY, Francis (1795-1858)
first Roman Catholic bishop of Adelaide
was born at Navan, Meath, Ireland, on 20 May 1795. Educated at the diocesan seminary and Maynooth college, he was ordained deacon in 1824 and priest in 1825, and worked for four years at Bradford and for about seven years at St Patrick's, Liverpool. At Liverpool he met Dr Ullathorne (q.v.) who enlisted him for the Australian mission. He arrived at Sydney in July 1838 and his influence was immediately felt in the diocese. There was much sectarian feeling at the time, and Murphy showed himself to be an able defender of his Church. In November 1840, when Bishop Polding (q.v.) left Sydney on a visit to Europe, Murphy was appointed vicar-general of the diocese during the bishop's absence. On 8 September 1844 he was consecrated first bishop of Adelaide at St Mary's cathedral, Sydney, and in the following month went to Adelaide.
When Murphy began his work he had no church, no school, no presbytery; and only one priest to assist him. At this stage he was advised that a Mr W. Leigh of Leamington, England, had given over £2000 for the use of the Adelaide diocese. This money was invaluable at the moment, and though the adherents of the church were few in number and their means were mostly small, in less than two years there were three churches, and an additional priest had arrived. In common with the other sects the Roman Catholics were allotted a small government grant for five years from 1846, and in that year Murphy visited Europe, returning in 1847 with two additional priests. In 1849 Murphy felt it necessary to renounce the government grant on account of the conditions imposed with it. The gold rush to Victoria in 1851 very nearly emptied Adelaide and the diocese was in great difficulties. One of the priests, however, followed his flock to the diggings, and succeeded in raising £1500 which was spent on land as an endowment for the diocese, and soon afterwards Mr Leigh presented it with a farm of 600 acres near Adelaide. Murphy was untiring in his work, travelling and preaching in all the settled parts of the colony, and his diocese gradually prospered. At the time of his death there were 21 churches and 13 priests. His amiable character led to his being asked on more than one occasion to act as mediator when difficulties arose in other dioceses, and while on a mission of this kind in Tasmania in connexion with the unfortunate differences between Bishop Willson (q.v.) and Arch-priest Therry (q.v.) Murphy contracted a severe cold which developed into consumption. He died at Adelaide on 26 April 1858 and is buried in the cathedral.
Murphy was a tall, fair, active man, simple in manner and tastes, and though sometimes hasty tempered, of so kindly a nature that he was universally beloved. He had a good voice, was an excellent preacher, and was eminently fitted to be the pioneer bishop in a colony where his co-religionists were comparatively few in number.
Cardinal Moran, History of the Catholic Church in Australasia; H. N. Birt, Benedictine Pioneers in Australia; The Adelaide Times, 27 April 1858.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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