Martin Crane OSA

Martin Crane O.S.A. was born on in Ireland on 11th October 1818, six years after Bishop James Goold. He was the son of James Crane, a farmer, and was one of five sons who became priests in various religious orders, and his only sister was a Carmelite nun.

Martin Crane OSA 1818-1901.

The Augustinians sent him to Rome for the education necessary for Augustinian life and priesthood. He was ordained priest at Perugia, Italy, on 12th April 1841 and then returned to Ireland. He was back in Rome for some years as superior of the Irish Augustinian house, and in Ireland he was several times prior of the head house in Dublin as well as being twice elected provincial superior. In the latter role, in 1864 he re-introduced the Augustinian Order to England, where it had been disbanded by King Henry VIII in 1538.

His achievements in stone and mortar have caused him to be called a church builder; this refers to a large Augustinian church for Irish immigrants at Hoxton in inner London, and the magnificent church of St Augustine in inner Dublin, and finally Bendigo’s cathedral. He was in the United States collecting further funds for the final stages of the Dublin church when he received word of his appointment as the first bishop of Sandhurst (Bendigo).

Archbishop James Goold O.S.A. of Melbourne installed Crane as the first Bishop of Sandhurst (Bendigo) on 16th May 1875. His new diocese gave him charge of forty churches, many of them small and in poor condition, but only four parish centres and seven resident priests. He immediately decided to provide Catholic primary schools in as many districts as possible and, by a constant focus on education and much effort by local Catholics, had four new schools opened within four years. Even in the face of a continuous and sometimes bitter public debate about governmental/secular and church-based schooling, Crane eventually developed a network of thirty-one schools.

On a visit to Europe in 1882 Crane consulted a London specialist about his failing eyesight, but unfortunately what seems to have been a premature operation for cataracts resulted in total blindness. Further illness followed while he was away, and he arranged for the appointment of Stephen Reville, another Augustinian who had accompanied him to Australia, as his coadjutor-bishop. At the same time he completed arrangements for the Irish Augustinian Province to establish in December 1886 its first-ever community in Australia, and for this purpose he assigned them the Parish of Echuca on the Murray River.

Before leaving for Europe in 1882 Crane had already spoken of a plan to build a cathedral in Bendigo. When he returned to the diocese his loss of sight was an obstacle to his plans; however, its construction eventually began in 1896. He was present at the formal opening of the first section of this splendid building on 29th September 1901, but had to leave the ceremony because of illness. Only three weeks later, he died suddenly on 21th October at the age of eighty-three years, having been a priest for sixty years and a bishop for over a quarter of a century.

An energetic traveller throughout his territory and a capable administrator, he was ideally suited for the task of bringing a struggling diocese to a firm footing. He was honest and straightforward, devoid of jealousy, unconcerned about his own welfare. In his nineteen years of blindness he gave a wonderful example of patience and resignation and spent many hours each day in earnest prayer for himself and for his people.