Fr Mahony’s sacrifice for the people of East Maitland

Here is the story of Fr Edmund Mahony, whose sacrifice set a standard for the future priests of Australia.

Fr Edmund Mahony was born in Cork, Ireland and undertook his religious studies at Maynooth Seminary. Fr William Bernard Ullathorne, the vicar general of the Australia Catholic Mission, visited Maynooth as part of a journey he was undertaking to encourage the Irish clergy to travel to Australia and minister to the Catholic population of whom mostly were Irish.  The President of the Maynooth College invited Dr Ullathorne to give a retreat to the students in preparation for their ordination. Deacon Edmund Mahony was among the attendees of the retreat and volunteered to accompany Dr Ullathorne on his return to Australia. He was in fact ordained in Sydney by Bishop Polding.

Fr Mahony arrived in East Maitland in September 1838 and together with Fr Lynch immediately began to comb the area for the practising and non-practising Catholics. Fr Mahony concentrated on and about East Maitland and the lower Hunter, while Fr Lynch ministered to the west and the interior.

“The glory of Father Mahony’s ministry in East Maitland is one of devotion to duty, of self-sacrifice, and of utter disregard of self in the discharge of the onerous duties which slowly undermined his health. There are records of sick calls through the trackless bush to places on the Paterson and the Williams Rivers, and to the out-stations of the A.A. Company in the Gloucester district, of long rides to farmhouses, day after day, for the celebration of Mass for his scattered flock, of his ministrations to the wretched convicts on assignment or in the stockades, and generally of a wonderfully edifying and exemplary life.” Dan J. Ryan. Op.cit. “Sentinel”1932

Between 5  September 1838 and 14 January 1844, a period of 64 months, Fr Mahony recorded 453 baptisms and 120 marriages.

In his first year at East Maitland he was attending six stations, each once in six weeks.

By 1840, Fr Mahony had set about erecting chapels at three of these Mass stations, Hexham, Raymond

Terrace and Dungog.

In the Dublin Catholic directory of 1842, the following entry appears: “East Maitland, in charge of Rev Edmund Mahony, included William’s River, 50 miles distant, Cooly Camp, 60 miles and Dungog, 80 miles. There was a Gothic Church at Maitland, where the total number of Catholics was 600. About 450 assisted at Mass, and there were 30 monthly communicants.”

In January, 1844 Fr Mahony was sent to Adelaide to help with the establishment of the new Diocese of Adelaide. He came home to Maitland in early 1845, suffering with tuberculosis. His last Baptism in the East Maitland register is recorded on April 13, 1845. He took to his bed on April 19 and died on April 24, aged 33 years.

From the Morning Chronicle (Sydney, NSW: 1843 - 1846), Saturday 10 May 1845.

THE LATE REV. EDMUND MAHONY. The premature and almost unexpected death of this truly beloved and lamented gentleman and exemplary pastor, which occurred on the 24th ultimo, has been already noticed by us; but we feel it to be a duty which we owe to departed worth to offer our readers the few following observations relative to this most excellent man.

Fr. Mahony was a native of the county of Cork, and was educated at Maynooth. He arrived in this Colony on the 15th July, 1838, in company with the Rev. Fr. Murphy, now Bishop of Adelaide, and several other clergymen, having embarked in London on the previous St. Patrick's Day.

Soon after his arrival he was ordained priest in St. Mary's Cathedral, along with, we believe, the Rev. Fr. Slattery of Windsor; and immediately afterwards was stationed at Maitland, where he continued exercising the duties of his ministry and labouring with the most ardent zeal and untiring energy for the salvation of those committed to his charge, until the 10th of January, 1844, when he was temporarily called away from his beloved flock to proceed to Adelaide, South Australia.

He remained at this latter place until Christmas last, and by his mild and urbane demeanour, his charitable disposition, and indefatigable exertions for the spiritual welfare of the Catholics of that Colony, he won for himself "golden opinions from all sorts of men." His departure from Adelaide was deeply regretted by all who knew him, and a large number of the principal inhabitants of that city, of every creed assembled on the day of his embarkation to bid him farewell. The Rev. gentleman arrived in Sydney from Adelaide on the 9th of February last, and three days afterwards returned to his previous charge at Maitland, where his presence was hailed by his beloved people with the most heartfelt joy and satisfaction.

The district over which Fr. Mahony had charge was a most extensive one, and comprised a large though scattered population, and his duties were consequently of a very severe nature; but his piety and zeal were of that ardent nature that no obstacles or difficulties were too great to be surmounted by him in the faithful discharge of his pastoral duties.

To this cause chiefly may be attributed his early and lamented death (the reverend gentleman being only in the 33rd year of his age), which has plunged in the deepest affliction the members of his own flock, and been a source of grief to all who had the pleasure of enjoying his friendship.

As a preacher, Fr. Mahony was mild, persuasive, and energetic, and though by no means an eloquent man, his preaching had that simplicity, earnestness and affection about it, which always made its way to the hearts of his hearers, and which caused deep and lasting impressions on their minds. The moral and spiritual reformation which under his ministry was effected in the district over which his labours extended, are almost incalculable, and there can be no doubt that the seed which lie scattered has taken deep and permanent root.

In private life Fr. Mahony was an agreeable and cheerful companion, an ardent and sincere friend, a gentleman and a scholar, and his hand and heart were ever open to assist the indigent whoever they might be.

We extract the following just tribute to the memory of this lamented pastor, from the Maitland Mercury of Saturday last:

To the Editors of the Maitland Mercury. Gentlemen, So unexpected was the summons which called away from an affectionate and improving people their beloved and zealous Pastor, that till now their only panegyric was the solemn silence of heartfelt grief. Your kind notice in last Saturday's Mercury of the Rev. Fr. Mahony's decease elicited their grateful acknowledgments, and induces them to request the insertion of the following tribute to his memory.

In July, 1838, the Rev. Edmund Mahony arrived in this colony, and within a few weeks received his appointment for Maitland. The generous sacrifice which he had made, in bidding adieu to parents, country, and friends, he still continued by his unceasing cares and anxieties for the spiritual and temporal happiness of his flock. With heroic fortitude he denied himself even the moderate use of those liquors, which (although to him innoxious, nay, at all times useful and necessary) he considered the cause of misery, degradation, and ruin to his people; and many now live to bless him, as being in the hand of Providence, the instrument of their regeneration. He was not many months returned from Adelaide where his piety, virtues, and zeal endeared him to persons of every denomination. At two o'clock on Sunday morning, the 20th April, he burst a blood vessel. Spiritual and medical assistance and comfort were promptly rendered, and so favourable a change took place, that the physicians entertained hopes of his recovery, but a second rupture about half past five o'clock on the evening of the 24th terminated his earthly career, and destroyed the fond confidence of his suffering friends. He remained in the church, at East Maitland, till Sunday the 27th April, when His Grace the Archbishop, assisted by the Rev. Messrs. M'Encroe, Lynch and Dowling, performed his obsequies; and in a vault, erected by his people, repose his mortal remains. His people take this opportunity of expressing their full sense of the courteous and humane feelings which prompted the attendance at his interment of so many, who, whilst they did not kneel at the same altar, came to shed a tear over his estimable qualities and worth.—I remain, gentlemen, your most obedient servant, HIS FRIEND. Maitland, May 1, 1845.

Three priests were there at the Requiem Mass for Fr Mahony: Fr Lynch, his shipmate and companion in the Hunter Valley, his friend Fr Dowling of Newcastle and Fr McEnroe came from Sydney. He was buried in the churchyard beside St Joseph’s Church. On the following Sunday, Archbishop Polding arrived from Sydney to console the sorrowing people of East Maitland.

The Archbishop preached in his homily “deplored the loss of one who had been gifted by God for great things, who had devoted himself wholeheartedly to his priestly duties, and whose memory would remain with them all as a holy benediction and an inspiration to continue the great work which he had begun.”

Dean Lynch preaching in Parramatta in July, 1883, 40 years later, could still remember: “…Dean Mahony was my colleague in Maitland, and the memory of his zeal and labours is still fresh among the people who loved and revered him.”

When the old St Joseph’s Church was demolished, the remains of both Fr Mahony and Fr Dowling (who was also buried in the churchyard some 28 years after Fr Mahony) were removed to a newly prepared grave under the floor of the present St Joseph’s Church.

To be continued……..


This is part of a series about the history of the church in the Maitland area:

Read Part One – The Catholic Church in Maitland

Read Part Two – Who was Fr Therry?

Read Part Three – Who followed Fr Therry to Maitland?

Read Part Four – Ship wrecks and close calls with cannibals

Resources used: Centenary-The Diocese of Maitland 1866-1966 by Rev Harold Campbell;

St Joseph’s Parish East Maitland 150 years 1835-1985;

Follow on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.