Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/John Bede Polding

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 12
John Bede Polding

by Gilbert Roger Hudleston


Archbishop of Sydney, born at Liverpool, 18 Oct., 1794; died at Sydney, 16 March, 1877. In 1805 he was sent to school at the Benedictine Monastery of St. Gregory at Acton Burnell near Shrewsbury (now Downside Abbey near Bath). In 1810 he received the Benedictine habit and made his vows the year following. He was ordained in 1819 and filled in turn the offices of parish priest, prefect, novice-master, and sub-prior in his monastery. In 1833 Propaganda selected Polding Vicar Apostolic of Madras, Bishop of Hiero-Cæsarea. It was pointed out, however, that his health could not stand the climate of Madras, and the Holy See accepted this excuse as sufficient. About this time an appeal was made to the pope to send a bishop to New South Wales. Polding was appointed to this newly-created vicariate which, besides New South Wales, included the rest of New Holland and Van Dieman's Land (now Tasmania). The consecration took place in London, 29 June, 1834.

Bishop Polding reached Sydney in September, 1835, and at once set to work to organize his vast diocese. He found only three priests in New South Wales and one in Tasmania; these with the three or four Benedictine monks whom he had brought with him constituted the entire force at his disposal. Then, and for many years afterwards, he worked like one of his priests, saying Mass daily in various stations, often in the convict prisons, teaching the Catechism, hearing the confessions of multitudes, and attending the sick and dying. He obtained permission to give retreats in the prison establishments, and between 1836 and 1841 no less than 7000 convicts made at least ten days' retreat under his guidance. The authorities soon realized the good effect his influence was having, and arranged that, on the arrival of every ship-load of convicts, all the Catholics should be placed at his disposal for some days, during which the bishop and his assistants saw each prisoner personally and did all they could for them before they were drafted off to their various destinations. In 1841 Bishop Polding revisited England and thence went on to Rome to report on his vicariate and petition for the establishment of a hierarchy, which was granted in 1842, the vicar Apostolic becoming first Archbishop of Sydney and Primate of all Australia. During this visit he was sent on a special diplomatic mission to Malta, and in recognition of his success therein was made a Count of the Holy Roman Empire and an assistant at the pontifical throne. In 1843 he returned to Sydney, taking with him a band of Christian Brothers, four Passionists, and some Benedictines. His return as archbishop aroused a violent storm among the Church of England party in the colony, but his gentleness and tact disarmed all opponents.

Two provincial synods were held, at Sydney in 1844 and at Melbourne in 1859; he founded the University College of St. John at Sydney and the College of St. Mary, Lyndhurst. He visited Europe in 1846-48, in 1854-56, and in 1865-68, returning on each occasion with new helpers in his work. In 1870 he started for Rome to take part in the Vatican Council, but his health failed on the journey and he returned to Sydney. In 1873 the Holy See appointed Dom Roger Bede Vaughan, another Downside monk, as his coadjutor with right of succession, and from this time he gradually withdrew from active work.

SNOW, Necrology of the English Benedictines (London, 1883), 171; BIRT, History of Downside School (London, 1902), 169, 198, 212, 273, 326; IDEM, Benedictine Pioneers in Australia (2 vols., London, 1911); Orthodox Journal, III (London, 1834), 14; The Tablet, XLIX (London, 1877), 406, 727; Catholic Times (London, 29 March, 1877); Melbourne Argus (Melbourne, 17 March, 1877); Downside Review, I (London, 1882), 91-102, 165-175, 241-249.

G. ROGER HUDLESTON.