Fr. John Therry was born in Ireland and educated privately and at St Patrick’s College, Carlow. He was ordained Priest in 1815 and was assigned to parochial work in Dublin, then Cork, where he became secretary to the Bishop, Dr Murphy. His Bishop recommended him for work in Australia, calling him a “capable, zealous and ‘valuable young man’”. He sailed from Cork, with Fr. Philip Conolly on the Janus, which was carrying over 100 prisoners. They arrived in Sydney in May 1820.
Both priests were authorized by both the Church and the Government, but Gov. Macquarie laid down conditions under which they must work. Fr. Therry said his first Mass on Australian soil on 8 May, 1820. Fr. Conolly went to Van Diemen’s Land in 1821, leaving Fr. Therry as the only Catholic priest in the mainland Colony. In one of his letters to the Governor he stated:
I have to celebrate Divine Service and give public instruction at Parramatta or Liverpool once and in Sydney twice on every Sunday, frequently to visit the hospitals and attend all persons professing the Catholic religion who may be in danger of death within a circuit of about 200 miles. In order to discharge these and other duties I have frequently been obliged to secure three or four horses in one day.
On 29 October, 1821 Fr. Therry obtained a land grant for St. Mary’s Cathedral, and later Gov. Macquarie laid the foundation stone.
After Gov. Darling arrived in NSW in December, 1825, life for the Catholic’s living in the Colony became difficult. Due to a misunderstanding in the press, Fr. Therry was removed from his official situation as chaplain and his salary withdrawn. His re-instatement did not occur until 1837. He was not deprived of his priestly functions but he was treated as an outcast, was forbidden to lead his flock or to enter gaols alone.
Fr. Therry recorded that on Tuesday 16 July, 1833 he held Mass at Prospect, in Mr Hyland’s residence.
On Thursday, 19 July, 1855, Fr. Therry assisted Archdeacon John McEncroe when he laid the Foundation Stone of St. Brigid’s Church, Prospect.
Source: ‘Faith of our fathers, living still’, Pamela Tromp
Fr. Therry established the colony’s first Catholic School in Hunter St., Parramatta
The first Mass celebrated in the Illawarra was conducted by Fr. John Therry on Wednesday 17 April, 1833. On that occasion Fr Therry celebrated Mass at a military barracks in Wollongong under the control of Captain Allman. He also baptised five children and solemnized two marriages and so the Catholic tradition commenced in the Illawarra.
In 1835 he became the parish priest at Campbelltown, then in 1838 Bishop Polding sent him to Van Diemen’s Land as the vicar-general. In 1846 he was parish priest in Melbourne, then back to NSW as parish priest at Windsor in 1848. After this Fr. Therry again worked in Van Diemen’s Land for six years before coming back to NSW to the Balmain parish in 1856. During his time at Balmain he became the Spiritual Director of the Sisters of Charity at St Vincent’s and became an Archpriest in 1858. In 1859 he was elected a founding fellow of the Council of St. John’s College, within the University of Sydney.
Fr. Therry remained at the Balmain parish until he died on 25 May, 1864. His remains are now in the crypt at St Mary’s Cathedral, where the Lady Chapel was erected as his memorial.