One of the most scholarly bishops ever to be involved in the care of an Australian flock, Michael Sheehan was born on 17th December, 1870 at Waterford in Ireland. he was educated St. John's College Waterford before going on to Tertiary studies at Oxford, the University of Grufswold and the University of Bonn.

His studies for the Priesthood were undertaken at Maynooth-Mother of so many Priests who built up the Church in Australia. he was ordained Priest on16th June, 1895. Great scholar that he was, he joined the professorial staff of Maynooth and became Vice-President of the Seminary in 1919. He was a leading activist in the restoration of the Gaelic language, as well as being a Latin and Greek scholar.

At 51 years of age he was appointed Co-Adjutor Archbishop of Sydney and consecrated on 28th May, 1922 cum jure successionis to Archbishop Kelly

The more robust Archbishop Kelly
What a remarkable apostolate was his during the 15 succeeding years in Australia. The hallmarks of his episcopal labours in Australia were his love of the Holy Mass and the Blessed Sacrament, his energetic , systematic and scholarly care for truly Catholic education and educators, his marvelously successful books for faith education and his constant care for the spiritual welfare of the Priests of the Archdiocese. He was keenly involved in the developing of the Australasian Catholic Record and the Catholic Evidence Guild and the great 1928 International Eucharistic Congress in Sydney.

His work in Education was constant, energetic and thorough. He organized, and addressed annual conferences for Catholic school teachers. He wrote hugely popular texts - the "Child Book of Religion" whose aim was not only to teach children religion, but also to teach them to be religious: not only to teach them what they must believe and do in order to be saved, but also to help them to love Our Lord and Saviour with a great, personal love, and to love the Church He founded."

The masterpiece of his writing was Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine" which became a standard work throughout much of the English-speaking world in upper secondary religious education, adult education and the instruction of converts as well as general readership.

This remarkable prelate was noted for his devout simplicity; a brilliant intellectual noted for his almost childlike love of God and after God, of the Blessed Virgin. It was said of him that "his manner was easy, but those nearest to him knew that his graciousness, though real and absolutely sincere, was the defense mechanism built by nature round a very shy and sensitive man. He would never spare himself for child, religious sister or teaching brother. He was the defender and sympathiser of all who, like him, we're exposed to rougher usage than nature meant for them."

In 1937 it was decided that the next Archbishop of Sydney should be Australian born. Our saintly scholar and energetic Faith educator found his right of succession at odds with the times. His resignation became effective on 1st July, 1937. He retired to Ireland where he died on 1st March, 1945 at the age of 74.

Archbishop Sheehan's legacy is no doubt his remarkable books and the faith of many of the generation of young Catholics who went to serve in World War II - the best educated young Catholics and most devout for generations. They were to have a significant impact on their comrades and anti-Catholicism, previously quite marked was thereafter much reduced.

In more recent years the brilliant Father Peter Joseph revised and expanded "Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine", bringing it up-to-date with Conciliar and Magisterial teaching and cross referencing it to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Archbishop Sheehan's advice to Priests was consistently the same: "Attende Tibi"- "look after yourself"- spiritually, the prerequisite to looking after the spiritual welfare of others.

This item is adapted from an article I wrote for THE PRIEST the journal of the AUSTRALIAN CONFRATERNITY OF CATHOLIC CLERGY and which was published in the Autumn/Winter 2000 Edition.


rainbow said…
Thanks he was my great great uncle.

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