The Southern Cross The Southern Cross

Read the latest edition. Latest edition

Kindred spirits share faith and love of science


The lives of two well-known priest/scientists who ministered in South Australia in the mid-1800s will be the topic of conversation at Lefevre Catholic Community in July.

Print article

The ‘Science, Faith and Friendship’ presentation by parish priest Fr Roderick O’Brien will focus on Jesuit priest and naturalist Fr Johann Hinteröcker SJ and diocesan priest and geologist Fr Julian Tenison Woods.

Fittingly, the talk will be held on Sunday July 23 – the 150th anniversary of when Fr Hinteröcker’s remains were laid to rest in St Ignatius Church, Norwood. The first priest to be appointed at Norwood in February 1869, Fr Hinteröcker played an integral role in the building of the church and is the only person interred there.

To mark the significant anniversary, the 10am Sunday Mass at St Ignatius will be followed by a tree planting ceremony outside. Emeritus Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ, who is also researching Fr Hinteröcker’s life, will then speak about the popular Jesuit priest and historical items will be on display. The celebration will conclude with a cuppa and finger food in the hall.

Norwood parish priest Fr Chris Jenkins SJ said while Fr Hinteröcker was in South Australia for only a short time, he played a defining role in the early history of the parish.

“He was quite an important figure in the early church in Adelaide and by all accounts was considered a very intelligent, organised and popular priest,” he said.

“He was so popular here that nine months after his death his remains were brought back from Tasmania and interred in the floor of the church on July 23 1873.”

Fr Roderick has spent many years delving into the lives of Fr Hinteröcker and Fr Tenison Woods and has written several papers detailing their strong Catholic faith and achievements in the scientific world, showing that the two did not have to be exclusive of each other.

“In fact, it was not unusual for priests to be scientists back then,” Fr Roderick said, adding that he first became aware of Tenison Woods in 1989 when serving as parish priest in Naracoorte.

“They were celebrating the 100th anniversary of his death and I didn’t really know much about him so I got interested in researching his life.”

Having taught in China for seven years with the Columbans, Fr Roderick said he was particularly interested in discovering more about the time Fr Woods spent in Asia undertaking scientific research.

In a contribution to the journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society, Fr Roderick wrote how from 1857 Woods had a ‘fascinating career as an adventurous priest, a pioneer educator and a religious founder’. ‘The most noted of these foundations was the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart, with the young Australian educator Mary MacKillop,’ he wrote.

‘But he always sought to give an hour each day to science, and published regularly. In the course of his life he wrote more than 200 scientific papers on subjects as diverse as geology and palaeontology, marine biology, botany, and exploration.’

In his research, Fr Roderick also learnt about the achievements of Fr Hinteröcker.

Born in Austria, Fr Hinteröcker studied at the Jesuit college in Linz and was ordained in 1851. He applied to come to Australia and arrived to join the Jesuits at Sevenhill on February 1 1866.

“He was at Sevenhill a decade after Woods…when he got there he started a garden and had quite a menagerie of animals,” Fr Roderick said.

While accompanying Bishop Shiel on a pastoral visit to Penola in 1867, Hinteröcker met fellow priest and scientist, Tenison Woods, and Mary MacKillop for the first time. Mary later wrote of the two priest/scientists being part of a group that visited the Naracoorte Caves. She said the two men ‘became great friends…(they) were in many ways, kindred spirits’.

Both Hinteröcker and Tenison Woods supported Mary as she helped develop a Catholic school system and especially during the period when she was ex-communicated.

At the invitation of Bishop Murphy of Hobart, Fr Hinteröcker sailed from Adelaide in 1872 headed for Tasmania to preach missions and retreats.

On September 26 he left Hobart for Launceston to give a retreat to the priests, but on the way was struck down by pneumonia and died on October 10 at the age of 52.

A month after Hinteröcker’s death, Woods wrote of his friend: ‘With him the study of nature and the love of God went hand in hand…each new species of flower and insect was to him a new source of joy and thanksgiving to God.

He was a true Christian philosopher…but it must not be thought that while he was thus zealous in the cause of science that he was less alive to his duties as a mission priest. His zeal was, on the contrary, of the most fervent kind.’

Woods later took up Hinteröcker’s work in Tasmania, then moved to preach missions in the eastern colonies. He reignited his scientific work, accepting a request to undertake geological work for three years in Asia.

Returning to Australia in poor health, he remained an invalid in Sydney until his death in 1889 at the age of 56.

Science, Faith and Friendship, presented by Fr Roderick O’Brien will be held 4-5pm on Sunday July 23 at Lefevre Catholic Community, 253 Military Road, Semaphore. A Certificate of Attendance is available for Professional Development purposes. Enquiries contact Fr Roderick 8449 6378.

More Local stories

Loading next article