James Alypius Goold OSA

Bishop (later Archbishop) James Alypius Goold O.S.A. was the first Catholic bishop in Melbourne from 1848 to 1886. He came to Australia to serve for ten years, and had no expectation of becoming a bishop and of spending the rest of his life there.

He is most often described by adjectives such as pious, emotionally contained, private, energetic, self-motivated, driven, authoritative, conservative, practical, unyielding, orderly – and very much a patrician figure and a lone eagle.

James Alypius Goold OSA, 1812-1886.

Goold tackled administrative tasks with an elan that awed some but disconcerted others; had instead he become a merchant in the Goold family business in Cork, he certainly had the qualities with which to do it well. He demonstrated his mettle during the Eureka rebellion in 1854. Five days before the bullets began flying, he rode throughout the night from Melbourne to Ballarat in order to reach the angry miners. At the parish of Keilor (now Moonee Ponds parish) en route he picked up Fr Matthew Downing O.S.A., who in January 1849 had come to Australia to be the Government Chaplain to Convicts in Tasmania; only weeks earlier Goold had transferred Downing from Ballarat to Keilor, hence he knew many of the miners. These priests and clergymen of other denominations attempted to be mediators, but no resolution of the issues resulted.

The rebellion erupted. Goold returned there sixdays after the Eureka Stockade was stormed and lives were lost, bearing government concessions to offer to the miners. Downing later spoke at the commission of enquiry that essentially had the government concede to the minors’ grievances, and Goold submitted a witness statement in writing.

The final paragraph in his entry in the prestigious Australian Dictionary of Biography opines: “Throughout his episcopate he had been an unyielding but sincere prelate whose first concern was his church and its interests. He had no broad views or scholastic achievement and ruled his archdiocese with the conservatism and single-mindedness of an Irish bishop in an Irish see. He died after a heart attack at Brighton on 11th June 1886. He was buried within St Patrick’s Cathedral, the building of which was perhaps his greatest triumph.”

A contemporary obituary was more critical of Goold. It appeared in Illustrated Australian News (Melbourne) on Saturday, 26th June 1886. It ended thus: “Archbishop Goold may have been a man of pious zeal and a good organiser for the church in its early days in this colony, but he was not a man of broad views, not yet of high scholastic achievements, and his claims to remembrance will rest chiefly on his success in organising the church in its early days in the colony, when for a long time the difficulties were great and the materials to work with were unpromising.”

He achieved the construction of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne, even if correctly but in the face of inevitable severe criticism he razed the walls of a smaller cathedral that he had already begun to erect on the site.

In his History of the Catholic Church in Australasia in 1895, Cardinal Moran (who only became a fellow-member of the Australian episcopacy in Goold’s second-last year of life) described Goold thus, in what, probably more rightly than wrongly, has ever since been etched into Catholic history as the standard pen portrait of Goold: “In private character, Dr Goold was of an amiable, but retiring, disposition. His daily life was most simple, pious and edifying. Towards his people he was reserved, towards his clergy he was a strict disciplinarian. Possessed of no brilliant qualities as an orator, he was essentially a man of action, and, as an administrator, the opinion of both friend and foe alike was that he governed his diocese with singular prudence and success.”

Goold was the product of an introverted personality and a conservative background. He had been raised within a relatively prosperous merchant family in Cork, Ireland, attended an Augustinian school there, completed his novitiate at Grantstown, Wexford (which he revisited for spiritual retreat when subsequently en route to five ad limina visits to Rome), educated in theology in an Italian Augustinian seminary at Perugia, and appointed to assist at the Irish Augustinian student house in Rome. He had never served as a priest in Ireland, except briefly in his hometown of Cork after his ordination in Rome.

At death he had personal savings of £12,358 pounds, which he bequeathed mainly to the Church, Catholic charities and his carers during the final years of his life.