30 July 2023

Richard Comerford (1911-1970),
an Australian Jesuit priest
who studied in Dublin

Rathfarnham Castle, the former Jesuit house of studies in Dublin … Richard Comerford was a student from 1929 to 1932 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The Revd Richard John Comerford (1911-1970) was a Jesuit priest and teacher who spent most of his ministry and teaching career in Sydney. He was from an Irish family that emigrated from Dublin to New South Wales in the 1830s, and he returned to Ireland for part of his studies in Rathfarnham Castle and University College Dublin, from 1929 to 1932.

Father Richard Comerford was a near contemporary but a generation younger than Father James Comerford (1885-1963), from Ballinakill, Co Laois, the Irish Jesuit missionary in India I was writing about yesterday, who had once been at school with James Joyce.

Richard Comerford was born on 7 January 1911 in Chiltern, Victoria, Australia. His father was Joseph Richard Comerford (1880-1953); his mother was Mary Elizabeth (Walsh) Comerford (1889-1978).

His family can be traced back to Patrick Comerford (1730-1795), who married Mary Harty (1770-1865), and they were the parents of:

James Comerford (1769-1839), who seems to have lived most of his life in Dublin. He married Mary Lowan, and they were the parents of:

Patrick Comerford (1792-1855). He was born in Dublin on 11 November 1792, and was baptised in Saint Michan’s Parish, Dublin (sponsors: Matthew and Mary Ryan). He married Jane Pigot (1810-1870). In 1834, he emigrated through Liverpool to Australia, and was followed by his wife and Dublin-born children.

Patrick and Jane Comerford were the parents of eight children:

1, Teresa Comerford (1828- ), born Dublin, baptised Saint Nicholas Parish 19 October 1828.
2, James Charles Comerford (1830-1907), born Dublin, October 1830.
3, Patrick Peter Comerford (1834-1902), born Dublin, 1834.
4, John Comerford (1836- ), born New South Wales, Australia, 1836.
5,Jane Mary Comerford (1839-ca 1849), born New South Wales, 1839, died before 1849.
6, Richard Comerford (1841-1892), born West Maitland, Australia, 1841.
7, Rebecca Clara Comerford (1842-1918), born Maitland, New South Wales, 9 August 1842.
8, Jane Ann Comerford (1849-1903), born 9 February 1849, George Street, Sydney.

Patrick Comerford died in Sydney on 28 March 1855; his wife Jane (Pigot) Comerford, died Chiltern, Victoria, on 24 October 1870, and was buried in Melbourne General Cemetery, Carlton North, Melbourne City. Their eldest son:

James Charles Comerford (1830-1907), was born in Dublin in 1830, and was baptised in Saint Nicholas Parish 25 October 1831 (priest: James Rickard; sponsors: John and Rebecca Pigott). He was an infant when he emigrated from Ireland to Australia with his family. He married Mary Horn (1858-1893) in Chiltern, Victoria, on 4 November 1877. They were the parents of two children:

1, Jane Anne (1878-1958), married Alfred Blackney (1875-1956) Cootamundra, New South Wales, in 1896.
2, Joseph Richard Comerford (1880-1953).

James Charles Comerford died on 29 May 1907, aged 75. His only son:

Joseph Richard Comerford (1880-1953) was born 6 September 1880 in Chiltern, Indigo Shire, Victoria. He married Mary Elizabeth Walsh (1888-1978) and they were parents of eight children, one son and seven daughters:

1, (The Revd) Richard John Comerford SJ (1911-1970), born on 7 January 1911 in Chiltern, Victoria, Australia.
2, Kathleen Clare Comerford (1913-1932).
3, Sheila Comerford (1916-1916), twin.
4, Joyce Comerford (1916-1916), twin.
5, Eileen Mary Comerford (1918-1920).
6, Maureen Beatrice (1920-2003), married Francis Joseph Patton (1921-2002).
7, Patricia Wilma (1923-2004), married Martin Francis Reidy (1924-1981).
8, Carmel (1928-2012), married Patrick Simon Ryan (1930-2014).

Joseph Richard Comerford died on 26 July 1953 in Kew, Victoria, at the age of 72, and was buried in Fawkner, Victoria.

Richard John Comerford was born in Chiltern, Victoria, on 7 January 1911. His early education was at Saint Patrick’s College, Melbourne, before entering the Society of Jesus or Jesuits in Loyola College, Greenwich, Sydney, on 2 March 1927.

After his first vows, he was sent to Rathfarnham Castle, Dublin, at the age of 18 in 1929 to begin his Jesuit studies and to study at University College Dublin. His contemporaries at Rathfarnham Castle and UCD included the Jesuit brothers from Bunclody, Co Wexford, the Revd Brendan Comerford Lawler (1909-1993) and the Revd Donald Joseph Comerford Lawler (1911-1984) The Revd Donald Joseph Comerford Lawler (1911-1984)During his time in Dublin, Richard had an accident. Although there was no lasting damage, he received quite a shock, and he returned in 1932.

On his return to Australia from Dublin, Richard was sent to teach in Saint Aloysius College, Milson’s Point, Sydney, from 1932 to 1936 where he also assisted the Prefect of Discipline. Then in 1937, he studied philosophy in Canisius College, Pymble, Sydney, and Loyola College, Watsonia, Melbourne.

He was back in Saint Aloysius College, Milson’s Point, for a year in 1939-1940, and then studied theology in Canisius College in 1941-1944. His ordination group in 1944 was the first group of Jesuits to be ordained in Sydney, and he was ordained priest on 8 January 1944, alongside the Revd Donald Comerford Lawler from Bunclody. Richard was back in Loyola College, Watsonia, in 1944-1945, and took his final vows on 15 August 1946.

He returned to teaching in the junior school at Saint Aloysius, and also taught science in the middle school (1946-1961). His greatest work was the annual production of a Gilbert and Sullivan opera in co-operation with William Caspers. It was said later that these operas were one of the great highlights of the college each year, ‘and were most professionally produced. They were his crowning glory.’

However, Richard Comerford became one of the casualties of the visitor’s changes within the Jesuit Province in Australia in 1961. He was sent that year to Saint Ignatius College, Norwood, Adelaide, where he taught Religion, English, Physics, Chemistry and elementary Science for some years. Ill-health, however, finally reduced him to working in the tuck shop.

The Rector of Saint Aloysius College, Milson’s Point, Father Vincent Conlon, finally succeeded in gaining Richard’s return to the college in 1967. On his return, he taught Religion, Geography and elementary Science. But his health did now allow him to resume his production of Gilbert and Sullivan operas. He looked after the bookshop in 1968.

Richard Comerford has been described as ‘one of nature’s real gentlemen, a man of great courtesy who respected the dignity of each individual. He was also a most genuinely humble and self-effacing person. He was easily upset by student immaturity, but was much appreciated by those whom he taught and those who worked with him in opera productions. He had great creative talent, was a good teacher of English, spoke polished English and had a fine singing voice.’

It was said ‘his practice of personal poverty was obvious to all, and he was most faithful to his ministerial duties as priest.’

He died on 14 September 1970, at Saint Aloysius College, Milson’s Point, after a stroke and heart complications. He was 59. His funeral mass in the college chapel was attended by his widowed mother and his three surviving sisters, Maureen Patton, Patricia Reidy and Carmel Ryan, Archbishop Eris O’Brien of Canberra, four former rectors, and many former parents. The Mass was sung by the college students, who also formed a guard of honour outside.

His mother, Mary Elizabeth Comerford, died on 21 April 1978 in Kew, Boroondara City, Victoria.

It is said that all who knew Father Richard Comerford held him in high esteem.

This posting is now available on the Comerford Genealogy site as part of the series of Comerford Profiles HERE

For a posting on Comerford missionaries, visit HERE

The north side of Rathfarnham Castle … Richard Comerford was a Jesuit student in 1929-1932 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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