The Prospect Heritage Trust Inc.

Mon J G Rigney

© Prospect Heritage Trust Inc.

Fr. Rigney (1814 - 1903) was born in Ballinasloe, Galway, Ireland on 18 January, 1814. He studied at Maynooth College and was ordained during the Ember Days in Advent, 1837. Just before his ordination he volunteered for the Australian Mission, and arrived in Sydney on the ‘Cecilia’ in July 1838. *

The Missionary District of the Illawarra was established in 1838 under the direction of Fr. Rigney.  He continued working in the district until 1845.

Whilst in the Illawarra district his average annual mileage on horseback was 3,252. He was very concerned about the welfare of the Aborigines, often bringing them together at Wollongong for what Archbishop Polding called ‘little tea parties’.

Dean Rigney was appointed to the Singleton parish in 1848. He sometimes travelled to Tamworth, where he celebrated the first recorded Mass in Tamworth in June, 1848 at the Robert Peel Inn, Ebsworth St., Tamworth.

The 1863 Australian Almanac, in Ecclesiastical Lists, page 119, lists Dean Rigney at Camden.,M1

8 March 1864 he is listed in the Western Post and Mudgee Newspaper as being a member of the Roman Catholic Church and receiving an allowance of 150 pounds per annum.

The fact that he was a very good horseman was beneficial during the fifteen years he was at Brisbane, Port Macquarie and Singleton, as during this time the Catholic people living in the settled areas north of Newcastle were attended by Dean Rigney and three or four other priests. He next spent time at Camden and Balmain before being appointed to the pro-cathedral with the responsibility, with the assistance of two other priests of supervising the rising walls of the new St Mary’s and its financial matters.  After three years in this position Archbishop Vaughn announced: “Archdeacon Rigney had been promoted to the office of head priest of the important mission of Parramatta”. He had been made an Archdeacon in 1868, after the death of Archdeacon McEncroe, and in 1887 he became a Domestic Prelate.*

Dean Rigney remained at Parramatta from 1874 to 1889.

On 10 November, 1878 Dean Rigney laid the Foundation Stone for the Pugin Tower, which was to be added to the existing St Patrick’s Church at Parramatta.

On his 75th birthday, Dean Rigney requested the Cardinal’s permission to exchange the large parish of Parramatta for the smaller parish of Prospect. Just before he took up his position at Prospect, St Monica’s Church,  North Parramatta, which Mons. Rigney had built, was opened by Cardinal Moran. On this occasion, Cardinal Moran said the following about Mons. Rigney.:


It was a consoling and beautiful thing to have still ministering at the altar one of the colonial priests who had watched the wonderful progress of the infant church in Australia, one who had been an active and successful worker during the eventful half century which had witnessed the growth and development of a Catholic community of a handful of settlers to one of the stateliest and more important of the Churches of Christendom. They honoured Monsignor Rigney not merely that he was a living witness of all this marvellous change, but because he had with his own hands laboured year after year, in season and out of season, both in laying the foundation and in building up the church which was now their pride and joy.

Our Dean, our Archdeacon, our Monsignor (he is all three), after all this eventful period of service possesses a reputation for zeal and devotedness without spot or blemish, and may I be permitted to add the hope that he may long remain among us as a link joining the past with the present, standing in our midst like some noble tree of the forest which preserves all its strength and stateliness, and is crowned in its age by the evergreen of youth and that he may continue to be in the future as he has been during the last fifty years, an ornament of our priesthood and a pillar of our Church.

By the time Dean Rigney (as he was known to the people of Prospect) came to St Brigid’s, the construction of the dam was complete and the main workforce had moved on, but the Catholic Church that had been known as the Waterworks Church remained.  It now became known as the Church of Saint Laurence O’Toole and Dean Rigney celebrated Mass there each week as well as taking charge of St Gertrude’s at Smithfield, which he had built in 1875.

In the Parochial Report of 1891 he reported that the Catholic population of the Prospect District was 189 and seventy five pounds was spent in building a new Sacristy.

In 1883 Dean Rigney had a Presbytery built next to St Brigid’s, in which he lived with his two sisters, who looked after him and helped him with his Parish work. The Presbytery was surrounded by a garden in which Dean Rigney grew many fruit trees. He kept three ponies, called Jenny, Mousey and Nanny, which he used to assist his travel around the parish.

In 1892, with the help of Mr Fitzsimmons, Dean Rigney started making plans for the building of St Patrick’s Church at Blacktown.  Work on the building commenced on 3 March, 1892, Dean Rigney laid the Foundation Stone on 25 March, the first Mass was celebrated in the new Church on 19 May and the Cardinal blessed the Church on 19 June, 1892.

In 1893 the Church at the Reservoir closed and in 1897 St Gertrude’s was transferred to the Liverpool Parish, so Dean Rigney only had to travel between St Brigid’s and St Patrick’s.

In 1903 he wrote in his diary: ‘Unable to say Mass this morning. Very ill all day. I fear it is the beginning of the end.’ He died on 9 May.  A Requiem Mass was held at St Patrick’s, Parramatta at which Monsignor O’Brien celebrated the Mass and Cardinal Moran preached the sermon.  The respect with which he was regarded by the community was evident by the fact that his funeral was the largest that had ever been held in Parramatta to that date.*

* Source: Faith of our fathers, living still,’ Pamela Tromp.