FR. JAMES DIXON

Interred at Crossabeg Church

 

James Dixon was born in Castlebridge in June 1758, son of John Dixon. He studied under Fr. John Sutton, P.P. Oylegate and then continued to Salamanca in 1778 and lastly to Louvain where he completed his studies in 1784.

 

James returned to the Diocese of Ferns in 1785 and having assisted in various parishes was appointed CC to Crossabeg in 1794 to assist Fr. Redmond Roche, PP.

 

In May 1798 Fr. Dixon was denounced to the Authorities as "a United Irishman" and he was arrested May 26th 1798, summarily tried, convicted and sentenced to transportation, being sent to Duncannon Fort to await transport to Botany Bay.


Following the suppression of the rebellion Fr. Dixon was retried but again found guilty and in September 1799 was transported aboard the "Friendship" arriving in Botany Bay on January 16th 1800.

 

Fr. Dixon was allowed remain in Port Jackson (now Sydney) and in 1802 was accorded leave to "afford Spiritual consolation to the Catholic convicts" and celebrated the first public Mass on Australian soil on May 15th 1803 at Port Jackson, followed by Mass at Parramatta on May 22md and at Hawkesbury on May 29th.

In 1804 the Holy See appointed Fr. Dixon as 'Prefect Apostolic' of New Holland (now Australia) and thus Fr. Dixon became the founding father of Australian Catholicism and also the first formal Ecclesiastical appointment by the Holy See to Australia.

 

In 1809 Fr. Dixon returned to Ireland , was appointed CC to Dean Chapman in New Ross in 1810 and in 1811 as CC in Crossabeg becoming P.P. following the death of Fr. Redmond Roche, PP. in April 1819 where he remained until his death on January 4th 1840. Fr Dixon's remains were buried under the floor of the chapel in Crossabeg, but were exhumed and reburied in the Priests plot in the new church grounds on December 13th 1912.

 

Fr. Dixon's grave has become a 'must visit' site for all Australian Catholics visiting Ireland and in the past , two Archbishops of Sydney - Michael Kelly and James Patrick Carroll - and Archbishop Daniel Mannix of Melbourne (1925 ) and Arthur Francis Fox, bishop of Melbourne (1976) have visited Fr. Dixon's final resting place in Crossabeg. The bi-centenary celebrations held on May 15th 2003 to mark the 200th anniversary of Fr. Dixon's first Public Mass in Australia were attended by Bishop David Cremin representing Archbishop Pell and the Archdiocese of Sydney.

 

It was Fr. Dixon's privilege to say this Mass in Australia. To have a man of his fame, stature and international recognition buried among us is the privilege of the people of Crossabeg Parish.

 

During a visit to Ireland in 2009 the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pel, visited the grave of Fr. Dixon.  This was a very historical moment in which the leader of the Church in Australia visited, for the first time, the grave of the 'convict priest' who celebrated the first Mass on Australian soil.