Priest and Missionary
O'FLYNN (FLYNN), JEREMIAH FRANCIS (1788-1831), Roman Catholic priest, was born on 25 December 1788 in County Kerry, Ireland. He studied with the Franciscans at Killarney before entering a Cistercian monastery at Lulworth Abbey, Dorset, England, where he became a monk of the La Trappe reform, which had taken refuge there after its expulsion from France in 1790.
In 1813 O'Flynn was ordained deacon and went with other Trappist monks to establish a mission in the West Indies. He quarrelled with the abbot but, when the mission was expelled from Martinique by the British governor, O'Flynn was allowed to remain as pastor of Santa Cruz.
In April 1816 he was charged with intrusion and incompetence by Archbishop Neale of Baltimore, who held ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the Danish islands of the West Indies, and went to Rome to answer these charges. This he succeeded in doing and secured approval for an appointment to another mission in the West Indies. However, he came under the influence of Father Hayes, the representative of the Irish Catholic Association in Rome, whose brother, Michael Hayes, a convict transported to New South Wales, had urged him to secure priests for the Irish convicts in the colony.
O'Flynn was persuaded to seek appointment to a mission there; he was duly securalised, authorized as prefect-apostolic to 'Bottanibe' and given money for his expenses. He went to Dublin in November 1816 to seek additional help from the Irish bishops, and with two other Irish priests petitioned the Colonial Office for permission to proceed to New South Wales. When no reply was received O'Flynn left for London in January 1817 to plead his case, but Bathurst refused O'Flynn's request on the grounds of his insufficient education and poor command of English, an opinion with which Dr Poynter, the London vicar-general, concurred.
His Arrival in Australia
Undaunted, O'Flynn sailed in the Duke of Wellington and arrived at Sydney on 9 November 1817. He told Governor Macquarie that he had Bathurst's permission to serve as a priest in the colony, but since he had no proof Macquarie ordered him to leave in the same ship, feeling that he might incite the lower orders of Catholics to resist the government. By promising not to carry out his functions as a priest O'Flynn persuaded the governor to allow him to remain until he heard from London.
He may have genuinely believed that his mission would be officially sanctioned, but meanwhile he did not keep his pledge, for he performed many baptisms and marriages as well as celebrating Mass secretly in private homes. Macquarie had suspected O'Flynn's story, and when he began to hear of many converts being made to Catholicism and when the Catholic soldiers of the 48th Regiment petitioned that O'Flynn be allowed to stay, Macquarie again ordered him to leave, arrested him and placed him forcibly in the David Shaw.
He sailed on 20 May 1818, though four hundred free Catholics and some leading Protestants petitioned Macquarie to allow O'Flynn to remain. When he reached London in November he again appealed to Bathurst for permission to go to New South Wales, but was again refused.
O'Flynn returned to Ireland and thence to the West Indies. He was banished from San Domingo and in 1822 arrived in Philadelphia, only to become embroiled in schism. He went to San Domingo in 1823, was again expelled and returned to Philadelphia, where in 1825 he was invited to minister to Irish Catholics in Susquehanna County. There he spent his last years and died on 8 February 1831.
Simple but impulsive, Jeremiah O'Flynn managed to conflict with authority wherever he went, yet his clash with the Colonial Office helped to publicize the needs of Catholics in New South Wales and to influence the British government in 1820 in allowing the first official Roman Catholic missionaries to be sent to Australia.
- P. F. Moran, History of the Catholic Church in Australasia (Sydney, 1895)
- J. G. Murtagh, Australia: the Catholic Chapter, 2nd edn (Sydney, 1959)
- E. M. O'Brien, Dawn of Catholicism in Australia, vol. 1-2 (Sydney, 1928)
- F. Watson (ed.), Historical Records of Australia. Series I. Governors' Despatches to and from England. 1788-1848, Library Committee of the Commonwealth Parliament (Sydney, 1914-1925)
Copyright © V. Parsons Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2