Item 16 - 'The Society of Jesus in Australia'

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'The Society of Jesus in Australia'


  • [1910] (Creation)

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(11 February 1845-02 July 1931)

Biographical history

Born: 11 February 1845, Athlone, County Roscommon
Entered: 02 November 1867, Milltown Park, Dublin
Ordained: 10 September 1871, Liège, Belgium
Final Vows: 21 November 1881
Died: 02 July 1931, St Vincent’s Hospital, Fitzroy, Melbourne, Australia

Part of the St Patrick’s College, Melbourne, Australia community at the time of death

Transcribed : HIB to ASL 05/04/1931

Educated at Summerhill College, Athlone and St Patrick’s College, Maynooth

by 1870 at Leuven, Belgium (BELG) studying
by 1872 at Leuven, Belgium (BELG) studying
Early Australian Missioner 1872

◆ HIB Menologies SJ :
Note from William Hughes Entry :
1872 He set out for Melbourne in the company of Christopher Nulty and Michael Watson

Note from Thomas Leahy Entry :
Early education at College of Immaculate Conception, Summerhill, Athlone. Here he had as fellow students, Michael Watson SJ, Sir Anthony MacDonnell who became Under-Secretary for Ireland and Mr TP O’Connor, later editor of “MAP” and other Journals.

Note from Francis Atchison Entry :
1901-1909 He was sent to St Patrick’s Melbourne, again as Assistant Director to Michael Watson of the “Messenger”, Reader in the Refectory and assisting in the community.

◆ David Strong SJ “The Australian Dictionary of Jesuit Biography 1848-2015”, 2nd Edition, Halstead Press, Ultimo NSW, Australia, 2017 - ISBN : 9781925043280
Michael Watson was educated at Athlone and at Maynooth, where he spent five years and was ordained sub-deacon the year he entered the Society, 2 November 1867. After his two year noviceship he studied two years of theology at Louvain and was ordained, 10 September 1871.
Watson arrived in Australia, 10 April 1873, and was assigned to St Patrick's College, East Melbourne. Here he taught, was founder-director of the men's Sodality of Our Lady from 1874, and in 1880 taught theology In 1877 he founded and edited the “St Patrick’s College Gazette”.
He spent a few years at Xavier College, 1880-81 and 1882-88, as minister and teaching Christian doctrine. However, he returned to St Patrick's College in 1888 and remained there for the rest of his life. He began editing the “Messenger” in January 1887, assisted with the Apostleship of Prayer and did pastoral work. He gave a talk to the boys every Wednesday, and celebrated benediction of feast days. He was a popular confessor. He was minister, 1888-91, and edited the “Madonna” from 1898. During this period he was for many years director of retreats in Victoria and South Australia. He ceased to be editor of the “Messenger” in 1919 and of the “Madonna” in 1923.
Watson was a very sound theologian: he was also very widely read in literature, and corresponded with such literary figures as Sir Aubrey de Vere. In his youth he was valued as a preacher and retreat-giver, but became totally deaf about 1885. For the greater part of his life, therefore, he had to work mainly through the written word. He was also the author of some pious books and pamphlets, and verses, which had quite a wide circulation. He contributed articles to the local Catholic newspaper, the “Advocate. Those who lived with him at St Patrick's College and those who knew him thought of him quite simply as a saint.

Note from John Ryan Entry
Finally, he had an eye to history, leaving excellent diaries and notes, encouraging Michael Watson to write a history of the mission.

◆ Fr Francis Finegan : Admissions 1859-1948 - Made his First Vows at Leuven, Belgium 13 November 1869

◆ Irish Province News
Irish Province News 6th Year No 4 1931
Obituary :
Fr Michael Watson
The Vice-Province of Australia (as well as the Irish Province) lost its oldest member when Fr. Watson died at Melbourne last July at the age of 86 years.

He was born 11 Feb. 1845, spent some time at Maynooth, where he read theology, and entered the novitiate at Milltown 2 Nov. 1867. When the noviceship was over he went to Louvain where. in three years he finished his theology, and immediately set sail for Australia in the year 1872.
He was stationed at “Melbourne College SJ” (St. Patrick's) from 1873 to 1878 as Master and Operarius. In 1879, still belonging to the College, he is described in the Catalogue “Doc. theol. dogm. in Sem., Oper”. Next year we find him Minister at Xavier, which had just been opened, a year at Richmond Residence followed, then Minister and Operarius once more at Xavier until 1888. In that year he went to St. Patrick's and never changed residence until his death in 1931. During that long period he was for 30 years Moderator of the Apostleship of prayer, and for 9 more Assistant Moderator. He edited the Messenger for 32 years, the Madonna for 27, adding on 9 additional as Sub-Editor. More remarkable still, perhaps, he was “Caller” for 22 years. The last time that “Excit.”appears after his name was in the year 1923 when he was 78 years old. He was also correspondent to the the, “Civilta Cattolica”, and in acknowledgment of the work he did for The Roman paper he was honoured by an autograph letter from the Holy Father.
“Cur val” does not after Fr. Watson's name until the very last year of his long life.

Irish Province News 7th Year No 1 1932
Obituary :
Fr Michael Watson (continued)
When Fr. Watson entered the hospital at Melbourne, 16 June, he was asked by a lay friend “Have you any premonition as to the day on which you will die?” He replied, “No, but it will be soon”. The friend again asked him “Is there any special day you would choose for your death?”. Fr. Watson took the calendar in his hands, and looked down the list stopping when he came to 2 July, the feast of the Visitation. “If God wills it, this is the day that I choose. Pray with me that Our Lady may come for me on her Feast Day”. Later he renewed this prayer, and got others to join with him. His request was granted. At 9.25 in the evening of the Feast of the Visitation he passed away.
For more than 45 years Fr. Watson was stone deaf. However he had a wonderful spirit of resignation to the will of God, and he did not allow his infirmity to interfere in the least with his activities. He had no hesitation in speaking in public, or in visiting very important persons, and he readily entered into conversation with casual acquaintances, varying from Anglican Bishops to swagmen, frequently failing to remind them that he did not hear a word of what they were saying. He radiated a genial holiness. He had the simplicity of a child, was rightly regarded as a saint, and was always ready to give his co-operation to any charitable movement, especially to the Foreign Missions, for which he did a great deal of useful work.
Besides editing the Australian Messenger and Madonna he wrote a number of books and ever so many pamphlets. Within the last two years the Holy Father himself sent a special letter to Fr. Watson to thank him for the contributions that he had been sending for 50 years to an Italian publication.
Most of the above has been taken from the Australian Madonna.
Fr. Watson was one of the most light-hearted men I have ever met. If a messenger from heaven revealed to me that Fr. Watson was the happiest man in Australia for the past 50 years, the news in itself would not surprise me. I should say, that's what I always thought. He was like a care-free child, abounding in mirth, and apparently living in perpetual sunshine
(Fr. Boylan, S. J.)
A lady friend resolved to make a pilgrimage to Lourdes for the cure of Fr. Watson's deafness. He heard of it and wrote “My dear friend. I thank you sincerely for your charity but beg of you to offer your pilgrimage for something else,I neither ask for nor desire any alleviation. God willing, I prefer to remain as I am. The graces I receive from my privation are so
great that I don't want any cure. So please do not offer your pilgrimage for the restoration of my hearing”.

◆ The Xaverian, Xavier College, Melbourne, Australia, 1931


Father Michael Watson SJ

On 16th June, Father Watson went into St Vincent's Hospital, as he needed more attention than we were able to give him at his own headquarters. A little over a fortnight later, on the 2nd July, he passed away.

On the day he entered the hospital (16th June) he was asked by a lay friend who has visited him practically every day for a year, “Have you any premonition as to the day on which you will die?” He replied, “No, but it will be soon”. The friend again asked him, “Is there any special day you would choose for your deatlı”? Father Watson took the calendar in his hands and looked down the list, stopping when he came to July 2nd, the Feast of the Visitation. “If God will it” he said, “this is the day that I choose. Pray with me that Our Lady may come for me on her Feast Day”. Later on he renewed this prayer and got others to join with him. His request was granted. At 0.25 in the evening of the Feast of the Visitation he passed away, the friend of whom I have spoken being with him during the last half-hour of his life. He was in his 86th year.

Father Watson was born at Athlone in Ireland on 11th February, 1845, and received his early education there, having as schoolmates T P O'Connor, who later became famous as a journalist and as the doyen of the House of Commons; and also Anthony McDonnell, afterwards - Sir Anthony, Chief Secretary of Ireland, and distinguished in other Imperial posts. He entered the seminary of Maynooth for Rhetoric in 1862; was ordained sub deacon at the end of the second year's Divinity, 1867; entered the Jesuit Novitiate at Dublin on 2nd November, 1867, and was ordained priest at Liege, Belgium, on 10th September, 1871. He set out for Melbourne on 16th December, 1872, in a sailing ship, and began an apostolate in Australia which ended 59 years later. He founded the Sodality of Our Lady in St Patrick's College in 1874, the first Sodalist to be received being John Norton, the late Bishop of Port Augusta and a sincere friend of Father Watson's to the end. The branch of the Sodality for adults became very famous and is still fiourishing, the actual president being Mr. Benjanin Hoare, an old and dear friend of Father Watson's, and now in his 89th year. Mr Benjamin Hoare is one of the Most distinguished journalists of Australia, being leader writer of the Melbourne “Age” for more than 30 years. He is still a daily Communicant and has not missed the annual Retreat of the Sodality for 44 years.

The “Australian Messenger of the Sacred Heart” was founded on 1st January 1887, by Father John Ryan, with Father Watson as first Editor. He occupied the editorial chair for 30 years and saw his beloved magazine attain to a wonderful degree of popularity in Australia and New Zealand. He founded the “Madonna” as a quarterly in 1897, and continued to edit it for more than 30 years. He celebrated the Golden Jubilee of his life in religion in 1917, and next year resigned the editorship of the “Messenger” to the present editor, but continued to edit the “Madonna”, which was issued as a monthly in 1920.

The year 1921 was the joyous occasion of Father Watson's Golden Jubilee of Priesthood, and he received a great amount of congratulations. At the time of his Golden Jubilee of Priesthood, Fr Watson was 76 years of age and enjoyed remarkably poor health. He was full of vitality, full of good humour, and always as busy as a bee. He wrote, preached, gave numerous religious conferences, in convents especially, and gave an occasional retreat; but three years ago, when in his 83rd year, he showed the first signs of breaking up. He partly recovered and seemed to have regained a fair measure of his energy, but last June twelve months, having said Mass one Sunday at the Carmelite Convent, he very rashly tried to walk back to the College, a distance of three miles, the effort proving too much for him. He had another break-down the following day and from that time slowly but surely faded away.

Father Watson spent five years at Maynooth. After his entrance into the Society of Jesus he studied at Louvain, in Belgium, and then, as already mentioned, worked for 50 years in Australia.

For more than 45 years Father Watson was stone deaf, being cut off from even the faintest perception of sound, and living in a world of absolute silence. This must have been a great trial for a man of his extremely sociable disposition. However, he had enormous strength of mind and a wonderful spirit of resignation to the Will of God, and through his vigorous resolution he did not allow his infirmity to interfere in the least with his activities. He was a very busy man, of extremely cheerful disposition, and occupied himself continually with writing, lecturing and preaching He was of an exceptionally social disposition, extremely popular, and became a very well-known figure in Melbourne religious life. For a brief period he was Minister at Xavier College, but most of his time was spent at St Patrick's.

He is the author of the following books: “For Christ and His Kingdom” (a volume of sonnets and lyrics), “Within the Soul”, “The Story of Burke and Wills” (a volume of historical sketches and literary essays), “Pearls from Holy Scripture for Our Little Ones” (a series of scriptural essays), “Lyrics of Innocence”, as well as many pamphlets, articles and poems.

Father Watson was entirely free from shyness. In the discharge of his duties he had no hesitation in speaking in public or in visiting important persons such as tire Postmaster-General, or the Commissioner of Railways, or Managers of banks, and he readily entered into conversation with casual acquaintances, varying from Anglican Bishops to swagmen. He chatted with everyone, frequently failing to remind them that he did not hear a word they were saying. Despite his complete deafness he made a very good impression on everyone he met. He radiated a genial holiness. He had the simplicity of a child, was rightly regarded as a saint, was entirely devoid of fear, and was always ready to give his co-operation to any charitable movement, paying special attention to the needs of the Foreign Missions, for which lie did a great deal of useful work.

The Requiem Mass and Office took place at the Church of St Ignatius, Richmond his first residence in Australia. His Grace, Dr Mannix, was present, and afterwards assisted at the graveside. I will conclude with the words with which his Grace ended a touching address on the life of Father Watson: “For over forty years Father Watson had been completely cut off from all the pleasures of sound. He is now listening to the joyous songs of the Angels”.

Eustace Boylan SJ

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Book entitled 'The Society of Jesus in Australia.'

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