Patrick Moran (bishop)

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Patrick Moran (24 May 1823 – 22 May 1895) was Vicar Apostolic of Eastern Province of Cape Colony in South Africa (1856–1869) and the first Roman Catholic Bishop of Dunedin, New Zealand (1869–1895).

Early life[edit]

Moran was born at Rathdrum, County Wicklow, Ireland, and baptised there on 24 May 1823. He was the son of Anne Doyle and her husband, Simon Moran, a farmer. Privately tutored until the age of 12, Patrick attended the Vincentian school in Dublin; St Peter's College, Wexford; and St Vincent's College, Castleknock, Dublin. He studied for the priesthood at the Royal College of St Patrick, Maynooth, from 1841 to 1847; during this time he spent three years as a senior student at the Dunboyne Establishment studying metaphysics and theology. He was ordained in 1847 and served in Dublin parishes from 1848 to 1856.[1]

Cape Colony[edit]

On 30 March 1856 Moran was consecrated titular bishop of Dardanus by Paul Cullen, Cardinal Archbishop of Dublin, and appointed Vicar Apostolic of the Eastern Province of Cape Colony in South Africa. He was possibly the youngest Catholic bishop in the world at the time. He remained for 13 years, during part of Sir George Grey's governorship there. He was based at Grahamstown. He built several churches, presbyteries and schools allowing no post to be more than a day's ride distant from another, opened a seminary, and introduced Dominican nuns from Ireland as teachers.[1]

Bishop of Dunedin[edit]

Bishop Moran's name on St Patrick's church in Saint Bathans

In 1869 Moran was appointed bishop of the newly created diocese of Dunedin, New Zealand. This diocese embraced the provinces of Otago and Southland. Leaving South Africa early in 1870 he went to Rome to attend the First Vatican Council. From Rome Moran went to Ireland to recruit staff before heading for New Zealand. He reached Port Chalmers in the SS Gothenburg on 18 February 1871, accompanied by 10 Dominican nuns and a priest, William Coleman. They were enthusiastically welcomed by their compatriot co-religionists.[1]

Catholicism in Otago and Southland was mainly a product of the gold rushes. Between 1858 and 1864 the number of Catholics rose from 140 in a population of 7,000, to 7,500 in one of 57,000. Their first pastors were mainly itinerant French Marists, diverted from their primary task of evangelising the Māori. Moran was a very energetic bishop. By 1895 the diocese boasted 43 churches and a cathedral. The latter, designed by F. W. Petre and opened in 1886 in the presence of Cardinal Patrick Francis Moran of Sydney cost £22,000 and was debt free by the end of 1889.


Moran also promoted Catholic schooling. Within two days of arriving in 1871 the Dominican nuns opened a school for girls, and in 1876 the Irish Christian Brothers set up a boys' school. By 1895 the diocese had 27 Catholic schools catering for 2,000 children. Besides his own diocese, Moran also had temporary oversight of Wellington (1872–74) and Auckland (1875–79). In 1889 two of his nieces, Sarah and Kate Murphy, came to Dunedin to become Dominican nuns.[1]

In addition to building schools Moran campaigned strenuously, but unsuccessfully, for the state to subsidise them. From the principle of distributive justice he argued that the Catholics, as taxpayers, were entitled to have the education of their children paid for from public funds even if the children attended non-government schools. He reinforced his demands with a relentless attack on the public school systems, which he alleged were hostile to Catholics. From 1871 to 1877 he assailed the Otago provincial education system on the grounds that through its text books and the saying of class prayers it was a vehicle for the teaching of Protestantism. He had similar objections to the secular spirit which underlay the Education Act 1877, which established a national system of secular education.[1]

Publishing and politics[edit]

In 1873, after engaging Thomas Bracken to raise funds for the venture, Moran founded the New Zealand Tablet to carry his views beyond the pulpit, and beyond his diocese. It published his sermons and he regularly wrote the editorials. He also tried to mobilise Catholic voting power and in 1883 even stood for Parliament against William Larnach. At the nomination meeting, Bishop Moran received the highest number of votes,[2] but at the election, he was last of the three candidates.[3] Whilst soundly defeated, he claimed success in that he had obtained a public hearing on the schools issue.[1]

In leading his diocese Moran assiduously identified 'Irish' and 'Catholic'. One reinforced the other. He often spoke of the Irish tradition of suffering for their religion, and the Tablet carried much Irish news. It also served as an instrument for fostering support for the Irish Home Rule movement. Moran believed that his diocese was a branch of the Irish church, and also that it was unnatural for an Irishman not to be a nationalist.[1]

Catholic identity[edit]

In his often belligerent stand on educational issues Moran attracted much hostility from supporters of the state system and from members of other denominations. He did little to integrate Catholicism into the wider community. But then that was not his aim. Rather, he aimed to imbue New Zealand Catholicism with a strong and cohesive sense of identity. In that he would appear to have succeeded. Insofar as he was an articulate, consistent and widely heard opponent of the increasing power of the state over the lives of its citizens, he was also significant as the expounder of a political message that had relevance beyond his own following and his own time.[1]


"In spite of his penchant for conflict and controversy and his occasional displays of petulance, however, Patrick Moran was a great bishop who performed near-miracles of organisation in his diocese. He also ensured that the issue of religious education was publicly debated, even if the result he sought was not achieved by the Church in New Zealand for another 100 years (i.e. by the passing of the Private Schools Conditional Integration Act 1975)".[4] "His home being right in the centre of the city, he [became] a familiar figure to the majority of the people of Dunedin, respected for his learning and his formidable debating skill by the university people, admired for his kindness to the poor and lowly, consulted by many on the affairs of the city as well as the Church. He was always a man of plain and direct speech, speaking his mind honestly, and this was a characteristic which rather endeared him to the predominantly Scottish people of Otago. It was especially during [the] last years of his life that many of his former and current opponents in the education debate became his firm friends".[5]


Moran died in Dunedin on 22 May 1895.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Hugh Laracy, Moran, Patrick, from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 30-Oct-2012 (Retrieved 16 November 2015)
  2. ^ "The Peninsula Election". Manawatu Standard. 3 (44). 16 January 1883. p. 2. Retrieved 28 June 2012. 
  3. ^ "The Peninsula Seat". The Press. XXXIX (5405). 23 January 1883. p. 2. Retrieved 28 June 2012. 
  4. ^ Michael King, God's Farthest Outpost: A History of Catholics in New Zealand, Penguin Books, Auckland, 1997, p. 99.
  5. ^ E. R. Simmons, A Brief History of the Catholic Church in New Zealand, Catholic Publication Centre, Auckland, 1978, pp. 67–68.


Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Aidan Devereaux
Vicar Apostolic of Cape of Good Hope, Eastern District {Capo de Buona Speranza, Distretto Orientale}, South Africa
Succeeded by
James David Ricards
Preceded by
New title
1st Bishop of Dunedin
Succeeded by
Michael Verdon