Solid progress on historical mission

30 Apr 2008

By The Record

By Matthew Biddle
A young historian from the University of Notre Dame has made a bright start to his research project on the second bishop of the Archdiocese of Perth.

Odhran o’Brien with some of the ancient letters he’s using to piece together Bishop Martin Griver’s life to compile a biography and thesis. Photo: Matthew Biddle

Odhran O’Brien began work on the historical biography of Martin Griver – the Bishop of Perth from 1873 to 1886 – in August last year and has since made solid progress.
It was then that he was commissioned by the Archdiocese of Perth to complete the project as part of his master’s thesis and given a three-year research grant.
His first task is to complete his master’s thesis, after which he will produce a separate, larger biography for the Church.
The body of Bishop Martin Griver, along with that of Bishop Matthew Gibney, was exhumed from St Mary’s Cathedral in 2006 after the incredible discovery.
The 23-year-old said he had always had a keen interest in history which was enhanced when he began studying the subject at Notre Dame.
But in particular it was his involvement in the exhumation which created a strong internal desire to find out more about Bishop Griver.
“I started researching the two bishops that we exhumed and I discovered there was very little written about Griver, so that’s when I got an interest in him,” he said.
“Until the exhumation in 2006 of Griver … I think a lot of people had forgotten about him, so this is going to try and bring new light to his story.”
One of the only sources of information on Griver’s life was a booklet written by Archbishop Goody, but its contents were limited.
“It’s a good read, but it really only gives a very brief overview of Griver’s life,” Mr O’Brien said.
“This will be a much larger, detailed account of his life and we’ll try to make sure that it corrects some of the errors.”
The research project involves translating piles of letters written by Bishop Griver in Latin, Italian, Spanish and French.
But the task has been made much easier by the help of numerous volunteers.
“There’s a large amount of people involved, its not just me, its almost a group project really,” Mr O’Brien said.
During the time already spent on the project, much has been achieved, but due to the volume of material there is still a massive workload ahead.
Mr O’Brien described the project’s progress as being only about “one or two percent” done.
He said he hoped the eventual book would renew interest in the life of Bishop Griver.
“That’s one of my main priorities, to have something that people will enjoy reading and therefore they’ll learn more about his life,” he said.
“I hope it also creates more interest in the history of Catholics in WA.
“We want to achieve greater awareness of how the Catholic Church was established.”
Mr O’Brien said he had already discovered an array of interesting information about Bishop Griver.
“He had a great resilience to the hard circumstances here and he was very passionate about spreading the Catholic faith within WA,” he said.
“He was also a doctor and there’s a lot of letters that showed he was treating a lot of people, including some of the indigenous people at New Norcia and lots of clergy members.
“He lived a pretty amazing life … and he worked as a clerk during his studies to become a priest.”
Although using documents almost 150 years old to write a biography has its challenges, Mr O’Brien said he’s enjoying the project.
“It does get stressful at times, there is a lot to get done, but the enjoyment overshadows that,” he said.
But in order to complete the project before his grant expires, the young researcher desperately needs some help.
“If anyone has a knowledge of Spanish and would be interested in doing some translations, I would be very grateful if they got in contact with me,” Mr O’Brien said.
“If we can’t find more translators then we’ve just got to prioritise and do whatever we can in the time that we’ve got, and we won’t be able to look at everything.”
If you can help Odhran O’Brien in his historic project, he can be contacted on 0415104889 or via email: