Bede Polding

John Bede Polding, OSB (18 October 1794, Liverpool, England  16 March 1877, Sydney, Australia) was the first Roman Catholic Bishop and then Archbishop of Sydney, Australia.

Early life

John Polding was born in Liverpool, England in 1794. His father was of Dutch descent and his mother came from the Brewer family, recusants since the sixteenth century. His family name was also spelled Poulden or Polten. His parents died and at age 8 he was placed in the care of his uncle, Father Bede Brewer, president-general of the English Benedictine Congregation. Polding was first taught by the Benedictine nuns of the Convent of Our Lady of Consolation of Cambray, who as refugees from revolutionary France were located at Much Woolton, near Liverpool. At 11, he was sent to St Gregory's Benedictine College, at Acton Burnell, near Shrewsbury, Shropshire. On 15 July 1810 Polding was admitted to the religious community, taking the name of Bede. He received minor orders in 1813 from Bishop Milner at Wolverhampton, was ordained priest by Bishop Poynter at Old Hall College on 4 March 1819.

Experiences in Sydney

Polding and party arrived first in Hobart on 6 August 1835 leaving a priest and a student there and arrived in Sydney on 13 September 1835. Polding travelled widely throughout Australia and was regarded as hard-working; a letter in the Weekly Orthodox Journal (1839) quoted a letter from Sydney: "His labors are incessant, his zeal unbounded, Protestants as well as Catholics revere him as a saint". Polding travelled to Europe in November 1840, during his absence Francis Murphy was appointed vicar-general of the diocese.

Polding was appointed the first bishop of Sydney on 5 April 1842, and Archbishop on 22 April 1842. Despite his many successes as a founding bishop, Polding experienced a degree of resistance from his largely Irish Catholic church in Australia. Even after the English Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829, the Irish understood any English leadership (even English Catholic bishops) in sectarian terms.

The British anti-clerical laws of the Reformation Parliament and the Act of Supremacy had bred deep resentment among the Irish of the English, and the consequences of the dissolution of monasteries during the English Reformation had left Polding deeply committed to the primary vision of restoring monasticism in English-speaking lands such as Australia. This was not a vision the Irish—who had managed with great determination to preserve a number of their monastic foundations as well as found the Irish College- necessarily shared as a priority .

Polding traveled again to Rome in 1846 hoping to obtain a coadjutor bishop and Benedictine nuns to help in his diocese. He was successful in these quests and also gained approval for the establishment of Melbourne as a separate see. He died on 16 March 1877 in Sydney, aged 82. His body was initially buried at the Field of Mars Cemetery, Ryde, with a contemporary, the Venerable Archpriest Samuel John Austin Sheehy, who died 11 September 1910.

Apart from the many churches he founded, Polding began the construction of the second St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney in 1868, where he was later re-buried. Polding also founded the Sisters of the Good Samaritan in Sydney.


    Catholic Church titles
    Preceded by
    New title
    1st Catholic Archbishop of Sydney
    Succeeded by
    Roger Bede Vaughan OSB
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