Rev. John Joseph Therry


Parish Of Birth

Colleges Attended
St. Patrick’s College, Carlow Ireland

Details Of Ordination

Cathedral CC : 1817 – 1820

Ss. Peter & Paul’s CC : 1815 – 1817

The son of John Therry and his wife Eliza Connolly, John Joseph Therry was born in Cork in 1790. He was educated privately and at St Patrick’s College, Carlow. Ordained a priest in 1815, he was assigned to parish work in Dublin and then Cork., where he became secretary to the bishop, Dr Murphy.
Walking one day in the streets of Cork, a wagon of Irish convicts passed him. These he learned were being conveyed to Botany Bay, a penal settlement near the present city of Sydney. He resolved to follow them as their chaplain.
On the 5th December 1819, recommended by Bishop Murphy as a capable, zealous and ‘valuable young man’, Therry sailed from Cork under a senior priest, Father Philip Connolly, in the Janus, which carried more than a hundred prisoners. They arrived in Sydney, on the 3rd. May 1820. Unlike Father Jeremiah O’Flynn, who had previously arrived without government sanction. and had been deported (1818), the two priests were sanctioned chaplains with a salary from the government of £100 a year each.
Therry described his life in Australia over the next forty-four years as ‘one of incessant labour very often accompanied by painful anxiety’. Popular, energetic and restless, he appreciated from the beginning the delicacy of his role. He had to be at once a farseeing priest making up for years of neglect, a conscientious official of an authoritarian British colonial system, and a prudent Irish supporter of the democratic freedoms. Fr Conolly went on to Van Diemen’s Land in 1821 leaving Therry as the only priest on the mainland for five years. Articulate and thorough, he set himself the task of attending to every aspect of the moral and religious life of the Catholics. He travelled unceasingly, living with his scattered people wherever they were to be found, sometimes using three or four horses in a day. His influence was impressive among the Protestant settlers and outstanding among the convicts.
The building of a church in Sydney, planned from the first days of the chaplaincy, was one of Therry’s main preoccupations. He purchased the site on which the present St Mary’s Cathedral stands, and on it, largely by Irish convict labour he built the first permanent church in Australia. On 29 October 1821 the foundation stone of St Mary’s Church was laid by Governor Macquarie.
Due to perceived political interference, Therry was suspended from his position as Government chaplain in 1826 although he remained the chief influence on the colony. Father Therry was willingly appointed by the first Australian bishop, John Bede Polding, to Campbelltown in 1835 with an area that extended beyond Yass. He was reinstated as Government chaplain in April 1837. In April 1838, he was sent as Vicar-General(V.G.) to Van Diemen’s Land. He was then Parish Priest of Melbourne from September 1846 to April 1847. Therry left Melbourne to be appointed to Windsor, but a year later returned to Van Diemen’s Land. He was given the title of Archpriest in 1850. In May 1856 Father Therry returned to Sydney, and remained in Balmain the rest of his life.
Simple and unselfish, a firm democrat and a zealous priest, Therry was a man of large notions and considerable achievement. He was an unsophisticated man with no clear ideas of social systems or political reform. Yet his energy and persistence proved a continual source of trouble to those who opposed his ideas of what was right or possible. He died on 25 May 1864 aged 73. His funeral was ‘certainly the most numerously attended’ ever seen in Sydney to that date. His remains are now in the crypt of St Mary’s Cathedral, where the Lady Chapel was erected as his memorial.
Recommended reading:
a) The Life and Letters of Archpriest John Joseph Therry by Eris O’Brien.
b) The Fold, January 1973

Date Of Death

Place Of Death
Sydney, Australia

Place Of Burial
St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, Australia