Australian Patrician History
The Background to the Brothers’ Arrival

The story of the Patrician Brothers coming to Australia in 1883 has its beginnings in Australia itself. White Australia began in 1788 as a penal colony for the British Government. From the beginning, relations between Church and State were somewhat strained, especially between the Irish Catholic Church and British State.

At first all education was provided at the expense of the State. All Government and Private schools were funded by the taxes of the people. For the Catholic Bishops of the infant Church community of New South Wales, the Catholic schools were the nurseries of the Church. The Government school system was seen as 'seed-plots of future immorality'. While there were a few Religious Congregations in the young colony to assist with the education of Catholic children, most teachers in Church schools were lay people. Their wages were paid by the Government.

The history of the early colony reveals many 'clashes' between the Irish and British. Education was to be one of the key points of conflict. In 1879 the New South Wales Government stipulated that if a school wished to continue to receive government support it must follow the new syllabus. The Bishops considered the new education syllabus as unsuitable for a Catholic education, for one thing the syllabus did not allow any religious instruction as such. The Bishops were determined to maintain a Catholic school system. Since this would mean that they would no longer have the finances to pay lay teachers, they began to appeal to Religious Congregations around the world to send members of their Congregations to run and teach in their schools.

In 1880 Bishop Murray of Maitland, and in 1882 Bishop Quinn of Bathurst and Bishop Lanigan of Goulburn (all of them rural areas in New South Wales) had been in touch with the Patrician Brothers in Ireland. A sponsorship scheme was set in place whereby these Bishops would pay for the training, transport, and accommodation of Brothers being prepared for the New South Wales missions.

The Early Years

The first Patrician Brothers arrived in Australia on the 7th of March, 1883. They were Dominick O’Neill and Fintan O’Neill. They began teaching in Bishop Murray's school in Maitland town on the 9th of April. For the remainder of the 19th century the Brothers mainly worked at setting up schools in the country areas surrounding Sydney: Maitland, Goulburn, Bathurst, Redfern (Sydney), Dubbo, Armidale, Albury, Wagga Wagga, Forest Lodge (Sydney), Ryde (Sydney), and Orange. By 1894 Ireland had sent thirty-nine Brothers to work in Australia.

The road was not a smooth one. There had been a significant number of deaths of the Brothers. Some through illnesses they had brought with them, others through unfortunate misadventures. Also, there were several conflicts with Bishops concerning issues of control and authority over the Brothers.

By the end of the first quarter of the twentieth century, the Brothers had withdrawn from all the country schools. With so few Brothers and with country schools isolating the Brothers from each other, it was decided to concentrate on setting up schools in the working class areas of Sydney: Waterloo, Wahroonga (formation house), Granville, Blacktown, Fairfield, Liverpool, Sefton, Narellan (1963, formation house).


From the late 1970s in Australia vocations to the religious congregations were few and far between. Fortunately this coincided with the government’s reintroduction of financial support to all schools, public and private. And so lay teachers were again able to become actively involved in Catholic education in schools. In the 1960s the ratio of Brothers to lay teachers in Catholic schools was around 3 to 1, by the 1980s it was 1 to 30, today it is very rare to find a religious Brother or Sister teaching in a school.


With lay teachers taking over the running of Catholic schools some Brothers moved into other ministries where they felt there was a real need. Also, many of the Brothers after retiring from the classroom after more than forty years decided too to move into other ministries. And so today we not only have Brothers in schools, we also have Brothers as chaplains in nursing homes, in hospitals, and gaols.

We have also had Brothers in Papua New Guinea since 1968. Again the primary ministry was education, but with Papua New Guinean men joining the Brothers it was decided to also move into health and parish work. Today (2020) there are four Papua New Guinean Patricians working in parishes and Patrician formation.

Further information on the history of the Brothers in Australia will be found on the “P-L Schools” page under “Links”.