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Hegarty, James Laurence (1847–1925)

After a protracted illness, the Very Rev. Dean [James Laurence] Hegarty, P.P., V.F., D.D., one of the most widely known priests in Victoria, died on Wednesday morning of last week at St. George's Presbytery, Carlton (Vic). The late Dean Hegarty was the last surviving member of a party of pioneer priests, who made the big sacrifice for religion over half a century ago, when they left Ireland and their friends for Australia. The late Dean had been ailing with heart trouble for about three months, and his end was not unexpected. Nevertheless, it created widespread sorrow throughout the State, in which he was known in many parishes. He was a brilliant scholar, and a congenial priest, whose indefatigable efforts will be long remembered. Dean Hegarty received his primary education at Cork from the Vincentian Fathers and Christian Brothers, who, together with his parents, encouraged him in his early desire to devote his life to religion. Entering All Hallows College, Dublin, he had a brilliant ecclesiastic course. He was ordained on June 24, 1871, and, in the following year he left for Australia, where he was attached to the Archdiocese of Melbourne, with which he has been associated ever since.

Dean Hegarty's first career was at St. Francis' Church, the oldest Catholic church in Victoria. He was afterwards assistant priest at Geelong, under the late Archdeacon Slattery, who came into prominence by his denunciation of the Education Act. The late Archpriest McKenna was also a curate at Geelong at that time. In those days the Geelong mission extended beyond Little River on one side, and Winchelsea and Queenscliff on the other sides, and the curates had to spend a good deal of time in the saddle visiting the outposts. The Dean, however, was a good horseman, and revelled in constant effort. No obstacle proved insurmountable. He was quickly singled out for preferment, and was appointed parish priest at Meredith, which lies between Geelong and Ballarat. The district in the forties and fifties was widely scattered, and the Catholic people were few and far between. Dean Hegarty had a difficult task attending to his large mission, but his solicitude for the people and genial nature made him a great favourite with all classes. For years the older parishioners in the district spoke in the most affectionate terms of the Dean and the many kindly acts he performed.

His next sphere of activity was at Sale, where he took charge as parish priest. The Dean was now in one of the most picturesque of parishes, but also one of the most difficult to travel. Dean Hegarty did the great bulk of the spade work in the Gippsland district, prior to the establishment of the Diocese of Sale in 1887. With the establishment of the new diocese, he transferred to St. Kilda East, where once again his work was marked by untiring efforts. On the death of Dean Geoghegan, Dean Hegarty transferred to Kyneton, where for a quarter of a century, he attended zealously to the spiritual welfare of his parishioners, and built up the Catholic institutions of the parish. He was loved not only by his own people but by the whole community, and the news of his death was received with the utmost regret throughout the Kyneton district.

In 1920 Dean Hegarty succeeded the Very Rev. Father J. H. O'Connell, as parish priest, at Carlton, where the Dean continued his activities till his illness overtook him. The Dean did not live to see the official opening of the Carlton boys' school, which was destroyed by fire towards the end of last year, but was quickly re-built. It will be re-opened by his Lordship Bishop McCarthy of Sandhurst, on the 24th inst.

The Dean celebrated his Sacerdotal Golden Jubilee on June 24, 1921, and the occasion was marked by religious ceremonies and festivities. Presentations of addresses and suitable gifts were made to the jubilarian, and Hierarchy, clergy, and laity testified to his grand work. He was specially honoured by his Holiness Pope Benedict XV., who conferred on him the dignity of Doctor of Divinity in recognition of his priestly zeal and great learning. In one of the courses of Cathedral Hall lectures, Dean Hegarty lectured on 'The Sacramental Systems.'

There was a crowded congregation at the obsequies of the late Dean Hegarty at St. George's Church, Carlton, on Friday morning. The senior pupils at the parish schools, conducted by the Sisters of Charity and Christian Brothers, were present, and representatives of the various Sisterhoods were in the gallery. The sanctuary, altar, and pulpit were draped in black. More than a hundred of the regular and parochial clergy from the Archdiocese of Melbourne attended, as well as clergy from the Dioceses of Sandhurst, Sale, and Ballarat. Among those present were the Bishop of Sandhurst (Dr. McCarthy), Monsignor Shannahan (Hamilton), the Very Rev. Father J. Lonergan (Adm. of St. Patrick's Cathedral), Dean Carey (West Melbourne), Dean Martin (Kyneton), Dean Benson (Geelong), the Very Rev. Father J. Murphy, S.J. (Rector of Newman College), the Very Rev. Father E. Frost, S.J. (Rector of Xavier College), the Very Rev. Father J. S. Bourke, S.J. (Rector of St. Patrick's College), Archpriest Quilter, Dean Coyle, V.G. (Sale), the Rev. Fathers M. Daly (Nhill), W. O'Connor (Bairnsdale), G. O'Farrell, O.P., J. Kennelly (Colac), P. McGrath, S.J., A. Kelly, C.S.S.E., and J. A. Kindelan, O.C.C.

The chanting of the priests was led by the Rev. Fathers P. O'Brien, J. F. Egan, W. Ebsworth and T. B. Walsh; and Bishop McCarthy was assisted in the Requiem Mass by Deans Carey and Benson, and the Rev. Fathers J. Manly, F. Greenan, and J. McNamara.

The last Absolution was pronounced by Bishop McCarthy, who, in the course of a panegyric, said that Dean Hegarty had laboured with great earnestness and untiring zeal for 54 years in the priesthood. In his early career as a priest, he had done remarkable work in Gippsland, where he frequently had to ride long distances through bush country in visiting the outer parts of his widely-scattered parish. His name was deservedly honoured in Gippsland, and he had left a fine example to the younger priests by his devotion to duty and love of souls. In Kyneton, where he was stationed for 25 years, he gained the love of his parishioners and the esteem of the whole community. His works would follow him, and priests and people would remember him in their prayers. At the close of the impressive ceremonies the organist played the 'Dead March' in 'Saul.' The body was sent to Kyneton for burial. All the parish organisations were represented in the funeral from St. George's Church to Spencer-street Station, and many of the clergy proceeded to Kyneton to assist in the final obsequies. — R.I.P.

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Citation details

'Hegarty, James Laurence (1847–1925)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/hegarty-james-laurence-17529/text29209, accessed 26 January 2022.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2022

Life Summary [details]

Birth

1847
Ireland

Death

6 May 1925
Carlton, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation