Darwin celebrates centenary of "Bishop with 150 wives"

The Darwin diocese is celebrating the arrival one hundred years ago this week of the first apostolic administrator and later bishop, Francis Xavier Gsell, known as the "Bishop with 150 wives" for his efforts to save aboriginal girls from involuntary marriages.

A French missionary, Bishop Gsell later wrote a book whose title made reference to the 150 "wives" for whom he paid a bridal price and then allowed them to be free to marry a man of their own choosing.

A centenary Mass was yesterday celebrated at the Darwin Catholic Cathedral which commemorates Fr Gsell's disembarkment in Darwin on 15 August 1906.

His arrival followed two earlier missionary efforts to establish the Catholic Church in the Northern Territory, where a diocese, named "Victoria," had been established as early as the 1840s.

The first missionary in the Northern Territory was Don Angelo Confalonieri, who went to the settlement of Victoria at Port Essington in 1846, and died there two years later.

The second missionary effort was made by the Jesuits, who came to Darwin in 1882, and worked in Darwin, at Rapid Creek, and at the Daly River, before finally withdrawing in 1902.

Then in 1904 the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart were given responsibility for the Church in the Northern Territory, and Fr Gsell was appointed as Apostolic Administrator, arriving in 1906. In due course he would become the first bishop of the re-named Diocese of Darwin.

Bishop Gsell was born in the Alsace region of France in 1872 during the Franco-German war in which Germany annexed the French province. As a young Missionary of the Sacred Heart, Fr Gsell was sent to Rome where he also studied with Eugenio Pacelli, later Pope Pius XII.

The celebration this year of the Gsell Centenary marks 100 years of continuous ministry and service by the Catholic Church in the Northern Territory.

Gsell Centenary (Media Release 11/8/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Catholic diocese of Darwin
Gsell Centenary (Darwin diocese)
Missionaries of the Sacred Heart Australia
Uniya Mission (Wikipedia)
Northern Territory Government's Heritage Register - Uniya Station

16 Aug 2006