The curious case of Bishop Brady - A new perspective

Odhran O'Brien, University of Notre Dame Australia


John Brady is an enigmatic figure in Western Australian history. On 9 May 1845 Pope Gregory XVI appointed him as first Bishop of Perth. On return to the Swan River Colony, he was the first resident bishop of any denomination.1 During his episcopate Brady established Catholic schools, built churches, recruited religious orders, formed a productive relationship with the colonial government and was pivotal to the foundation of the Spanish Benedictine monastery of New Norcia. Yet these achievements, coupled with the complexity of being the founding bishop in a frontier society, have been understated by scholars who have written about Brady with an emphasis on his disagreements with religious orders and, in particular, his public battle with Bishop Jos Mar a Serra. Serra, who became Brady's long term rival, was one of the Spanish Benedictine monks who co-founded New Norcia. Brady's struggle to remain sole leader of the diocese left him in a state of anxiety, and the diocese in disarray. As a consequence, he was forced to resign as bishop of Perth. These tumultuous events have been reviewed by a small group of historians: Bourke, Covesi-Killerby, Dowd, Farrell, Garrad, O'Donoghue, Tiggeman, and Waldersee, who have focused their work on a narrow set of archival material.2 The overemphasis of ecclesiastical archives has resulted in little or no reference to state archives and their collection of colonial government papers which contain extensive correspondence to and from Brady.