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Patrick Tuomey (1885–1955)

by Anne-Maree Whitaker

Patrick Tuomey, c.1912

Patrick Tuomey, c.1912

Patrick Tuomey, Catholic priest and Irish community activist, was born on 11 September 1885 at Irramore, County Kerry, Ireland, the second of ten children of Michael Tuomy, farmer, and his wife Catherine (née Flavin).[1] He was educated at the Irramore national school and St Michael’s college in Listowel, before commencing priestly training at the age of 17 in Carlow College. From 1906 he attended the Irish College in Rome where he was ordained in May 1909 and awarded a doctorate of philosophy. He arrived in Sydney in November 1909 and was initially stationed at St Mary’s Cathedral for four months.[2]

In March 1910 at the age of 24 he was appointed Professor of Dogmatic Theology at St. Patrick’s seminary, Manly. He remained there for two years and it is from this period that his nickname ‘The Doc’ originated. Following the death of Cardinal Moran his next appointment was to St Benedict’s Broadway, where he served from 1911 to 1916. St Benedict’s was an inner-city parish with large congregations, active confraternities and a strong musical tradition. It hosted well-supported lay organisations such as the Catholic Federation and the Hibernians and Foresters fraternal societies. The priests and many of the parishioners were Irish, with strong nationalist sentiments.

In November 1915 Tuomey joined the newly-formed Irish National Association. Following the ill-fated Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916, he increased his involvement by joining the committee and giving a series of lectures on Irish history. He also celebrated a requiem mass for the participants in the rebellion.[3] His activism led to a clash with Archbishop Kelly, and in July he was summoned to an interview. Kelly insisted the priest resign from the I.N.A. committee and withdraw his support of its relief fund appeal. Tuomey agreed to the first demand but not the second, and as a consequence was ‘banished’ to the country parish of Bowral-Mittagong, 120 kilometres south of Sydney.[4]

Even though the Bowral-Mittagong parish had a resident Catholic population of less than 600, it was a favourite holiday destination for wealthy laypeople such as the Odillo Mahers, d’Apices and Freehills. Tuomey set about fundraising to build a new church at Bowral and a presbytery at Mittagong, with Mrs F.B. Freehill opening a bazaar and making a personal donation.[5] In addition Tuomey continued his Irish community activism, giving lectures on Irish history and the Easter Rising in Sydney.  One was to raise funds for the I.N.A. office-bearers interned without trial under the War Precautions Act.[6] Another, given to raise funds for the new church of St Francis at Paddington in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, gave rise to a charge of ‘having, by word of mouth, encouraged disloyalty to the British Empire’. Tuomey was convicted and fined £30; he contemplated serving two months gaol instead, but the fine was paid.[7]

Tuomey’s stint as parish priest of Bowral-Mittagong lasted from December 1916 until May 1922. In that period he spent approximately £4450 on the purchase of land, the building of extensions to the church and school at Bowral, and other parochial matters. The new presbytery at Mittagong cost £2100, and was built in the California bungalow style. An unusual feature was a ceiling to floor glass partition at the rear of the house, separating the priest’s residence from the housekeeper’s rooms. The presbytery was opened in December 1921, and the following year Tuomey was appointed parish priest of the inner-Sydney parish of Erskineville.[8]

Near the Eveleigh railway yards, Erskineville was a heavily industrialised area with most of the population living in rented terraces. Nevertheless Tuomey immediately started raising funds for a new presbytery, which cost £3350 and was completed in June 1923 when it was opened by Archbishop Kelly.[9] His presbytery was not just a residence for the priests, but functioned as a drop-in centre for those seeking help, housing or employment as well as spiritual comfort and advice. An Erskineville parishioner recalled that on one occasion during the Depression Tuomey came home without his shoes, having given them away. He was also remembered for always taking his dog with him on the basis that ‘if a place wasn’t good enough for a dog, it wasn’t good enough for him’.[10]

In March 1923 Tuomey received some shocking news from Ireland, with the death of his 21-year-old cousin Timothy Tuomey in the Ballyseedy Massacre. Timothy was one of eight anti-Treaty IRA prisoners who were taken from gaol, strapped to a landmine and blown apart. The incident has been described as the worst atrocity of the Irish civil war.[11] In the wake of this event Patrick Tuomey ceased his Irish political activism for nearly a decade, while continuing support for broader community initiatives.

In 1925 he travelled to Rome for Holy Year ceremonies, accompanied by Fr Patrick Sheehy who also originated from Listowel. They were part of a 70-member Holy Year pilgrimage group, the first to travel from Australia. Tuomey and Sheehy then visited Ireland where they  were present at the welcome to Archbishop Mannix and the Australian pilgrims on their arrival in Dublin, and later spent two months in Europe before attending the Eucharistic Congress in Chicago on their way back to Australia.[12] From the 1890s many of Tuomey’s family members had emigrated to Chicago, where his uncle Eugene Flavin became a police officer.[13] By 1925 Patrick’s brothers James and Michael had been ordained priests in Chicago and his sister Catherine joined the Holy Cross order as Sister Mary Dominic.[14] They were visited by Tuomey on each of his overseas trips.

In addition to his parish duties Tuomey engaged in wider devotional activities to promote the Catholic faith. Pope Pius XI had been deeply impressed by the Australian pilgrims’ commitment to travel such a long way for the Holy Year celebrations in 1925. He agreed that Sydney would be an ideal location for the 29th Eucharistic Congress, which was the first time that an International Eucharistic Congress had been held outside Europe or the United States. Tuomey organised a full rehearsal for the Eucharistic Congress, staging a procession and religious ceremonies at Erskineville which attracted 40,000 participants.[15] The Congress, held in September 1928 in Sydney, attracted clergy and laity from round the world and Tuomey played a prominent role with a talk promoting daily communion among older women.[16]

Tuomey made another trip to Rome, Ireland and the US in 1933, accompanied by Fr Thomas O’Farrell of Albion Park. In Washington Dr Tuomey was a guest of the Catholic University, which reportedly impressed him very much, and ‘heard a debate in Congress which did not impress him’.[17] After this trip he resumed giving talks on Ireland, concentrating on economic and social conditions and the places he visited, such as the pilgrimage site of Croagh Patrick in County Mayo and the grave of Matthew Talbot in Dublin.[18]

After 13 years at Erskineville Tuomey was transferred to the nearby parish of Dulwich Hill in 1935, where he was parish priest for the remaining 20 years of his life. Although not much further from the city centre, Dulwich Hill was less industrial and had many recent subdivisions which were largely owner-occupied. As a result the parish community was more prosperous, including professionals such as doctors and lawyers. The parish already had a church, school, convent, hall and presbytery, but there was always room for improvement and Tuomey set about fundraising to extend the presbytery.[19]

In late 1936 Tuomey gave another controversial speech which earned a rebuke from Archbishop Kelly. The occasion was the first annual communion breakfast of Catholic transport employees, and Tuomey’s address included wildly anti-Jewish statements which were condemned as ‘part of an old world “hate”’ which had no place in Australia. Kelly strove to distance the church from Tuomey’s rhetoric, assuring Rabbi Ernest Levy of the Great Synagogue that Tuomey’s statements ‘are considered by me as unwarranted and serious misrepresentation of Catholic reverence for those through whose hands Divine Providence has handed down His Revelation regarding our creation, the Ten Commandments, and the particulars of our Last End’.[20]

The year 1937 began with the news of the death of Tuomey’s mother Catherine at the age of 74. A requiem mass at Dulwich Hill was concelebrated by over 100 priests and attended by representatives of teaching orders, confraternities and local government.[21] At Easter he gave the oration at the annual Easter commemoration in Waverley cemetery, signalling a renewal of his interest in Irish history and contemporary nationalist politics.[22] The year concluded with the opening of the rebuilt presbytery at Dulwich Hill by Coadjutor Archbishop Norman Gilroy. The presbytery cost £4000 and the new school building, completed at the same time, £1200.[23]

Within the church Dr Tuomey was best known as a prodigious fundraiser, with one of his favoured causes being the Manly Bursary Fund to assist young men to train for the priesthood. As chaplain of the St Vincent de Paul Society’s Matthew Talbot hostel he also supported its fundraising by hosting annual reunions at Dulwich Hill. At the same time Tuomey raised funds for the extension of the convent for the Sisters of St Joseph at Dulwich Hill, which was completed in 1948.[24]

In 1948 Eamon de Valera, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland from 1932 to 1948, arrived in Sydney to begin a six weeks’ tour of Australia and New Zealand. He had accepted Archbishop Mannix’s invitation to attend the Melbourne Archdiocesan centenary celebrations. During his visit de Valera encouraged the establishment of the Australian League for an Undivided Ireland which aimed to campaign for the reunification of Ireland. Dr Tuomey was one of several Catholic priests who served on the League’s committee.[25]

After the death of Archbishop Kelly in 1940, his coadjutor Norman Gilroy succeeded as archbishop of Sydney. Gilroy seems to have been more favourably disposed to the sometimes controversial Irishman, and Tuomey was appointed a judge in the Tribunal for Matrimonial Causes. In 1950 he received further recognition when he was appointed a Privy Chamberlain with the title of Monsignor.[26]

Tuomey made his third trip home to Ireland in 1953, returning by plane via the USA. He resumed active duties, hosting visiting American priest Patrick Peyton on his rosary crusade in November 1953. His last public duty outside his own parish was the blessing of the new church at nearby Ashbury in 1955. After a short illness Dr Tuomey died in Lewisham Hospital, Sydney, on 18 February 1955.[27] His funeral in his parish church at Dulwich Hill was attended by Cardinal Gilroy, four Bishops, 300 priests, NSW Premier Joe Cahill and more than 3000 laypeople.[28] Over 50 years after his death, he was named by Father Edmund Campion SJ as part of the ‘apostolic succession’ of Irish priests in Australia.[29]

Footnotes 
[1] There is no civil registration of the birth, but his baptism is recorded in Lixnaw parish, no 78, KY-RC-BA-390560, https://churchrecords.irishgenealogy.ie/.

[2] ‘Remarkable Irish Priest Mourned’, Catholic Weekly, 24 February 1955.

[3] ‘Irish National Association’, Catholic Press, 27 July 1916, p 21; ‘Irish National Association’, Catholic Press, 12 October 1916, p 27; ‘All About People’, Catholic Press, 13 July 1916, p 20.

[4] Patrick O’Farrell, ‘Archbishop Kelly and the Irish Question’, Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society, vol 4, pt 3 (1974), p 5.

[5] ‘Bowral Bazaar and Art Union’, Catholic Press, 11 March 1920, p 11.

[6] ‘Alleged Irish Conspiracy’, Catholic Press, 1 August 1918, p 27.

[7] O’Farrell, ‘Archbishop Kelly and the Irish Question’, pp 5–6.

[8] ‘New Presbytery at Mittagong’, Catholic Press, 8 December 1921, p 23; Wingecarribee Local Environmental Plan 2010, item I555.

[9] ‘New Presbytery at Erskineville’, Catholic Press, 28 June 1923, p 23.

[10] St Mary’s Erskineville website https://www.stmaryserskineville.org.au/history/.

[11] Timothy Tuomey, W2RB114, Military Service Pensions file, Irish Military Archives.

[12] ‘All About People’, Catholic Press, 3 September 1925, p 24; ‘Welcome home to Dr Tuomey’, Catholic Press, 18 February 1926, p 19.

[13] ‘Policeman, on force 20 years, dies in church’, Chicago Daily Tribune, 21 March 1921, p 21.

[14] ‘Requiem for Pastor’s Brother’, Catholic Weekly, 10 January 1952, p 10.

[15] ‘Glorious profession of Catholic faith at Erskineville’, Freeman’s Journal, 8 March 1928, p 22.

[16] ‘Daily Communion’, Sydney Morning Herald, 6 September 1928, p 15.

[17] ‘All About People’, Catholic Press, 8 June 1933, p 18.

[18] ‘In Ireland To-day’, Catholic Press, 11 January 1934, p 5; ‘More Facts about Ireland’, Catholic Press, 22 February 1934, p 6.

[19] ‘Dulwich Hill and its history’, Freeman’s Journal, 14 December 1933, p 17.

[20] ‘Sydney Day by Day’, Argus (Melbourne), 8 December 1936, p 8; ‘Priest’s Attack’, Sydney Morning Herald, 7 December 1936, p 13; ‘Defence of Jews’, Sydney Morning Herald, 8 December 1936, p 12.

[21] ‘The Late Mrs C Tuomey’, Freeman’s Journal, 21 January 1937, p 26.

[22] ‘Irish National Association’, Catholic Press, 18 March 1937, p 21.

[23] ‘Dulwich Hill’, Freeman’s Journal, 25 November 1937, p 30; ‘What Catholics have done at Dulwich Hill’, Freeman’s Journal, 6 November 1941, p 6.

[24] ‘Remarkable Irish Priest Mourned’, Catholic Weekly, 24 February 1955; ‘Hostel aids scores of needy men’, Catholic Weekly, 2 September 1948, p 3.

[25] Patrick O’Farrell, ‘Irish Australia at an end: the Australian League for an Undivided Ireland, 1948-54’, Tasmanian Historical Research Association Papers and Proceedings, vol 21, pt 4, 1974, pp 142-160; ‘Undivided Ireland League formed’, Catholic Weekly, 2 September 1948, p 5.

[26] ’17 New Monsignori named for Sydney’, Catholic Weekly, 25 May 1950, p 1.

[27] NSW deaths 3710/1955.

[28] ‘Remarkable Irish Priest Mourned’, Catholic Weekly, 24 February 1955.

[29] Edmund Campion, ‘Homily for Father O’Sullivan’, https://tintean.org.au/2019/08/07/fr-micheal-osullivan/.

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Citation details

Anne-Maree Whitaker, 'Tuomey, Patrick (1885–1955)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/tuomey-patrick-33558/text41945, accessed 20 May 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Patrick Tuomey, c.1912

Patrick Tuomey, c.1912

Life Summary [details]

Birth

11 September, 1885
Irramore, Kerry, Ireland

Death

18 February, 1955 (aged 69)
Lewisham, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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