Dalton, Joseph (1817–1905), Jesuit priest and missioner, was born in Co. Waterford at Slieveroe or Glenmore 12 February 1817, third of two sons and four daughters of Patrick Dalton and his wife Mary Foley, who married on 15 January 1809. In 1841 they were living at 11 Michael St., Waterford. Dalton was educated by the Jesuits at St Stanislaus’ College, Tullabeg, 1833–4, and Clongowes Wood College, 1834–6. The fees for two years for the latter were £71. 0s.. 0d., indicating that the family was comfortably placed.
On completing his schooling, Dalton was admitted to the Society of Jesus by Fr Patrick Bracken, the Irish provincial, 16 December 1836. For the next two years he completed his noviciate at Hodder House, Stonyhurst, England, and on 17 December 1838 took his vows before the master of novices, Fr Thomas Brownbill.
Dalton was immediately sent to Clongowes Wood College as division prefect until 1846, when he went to France to recover his health and study philosophy at Lyons. Because of the revolution of 1848, he returned to Ireland and was ordained to the priesthood prematurely 2 June 1849 by Dr Daniel Murray (qv), archbishop of Dublin, at Maynooth. A further year of teaching grammar and algebra at Clongowes followed in 1851, before returning to England and St Beuno's, Wales, to complete his theological studies. In 1854 he returned to a non-teaching role at Clongowes, mainly administration, completing his tertianship in 1857. Dalton was appointed rector of St Stanislaus' College, Tullabeg, 9 October 1861. He remained there until October 1865, when he was nominated to the newly formed Irish Jesuit mission in Australia in his fiftieth year. His Irish colleagues of the time described him as a man of great energy and vision, who communicated a driving ambition for the success of any venture to which he committed himself.
He arrived in Melbourne, and resided in the parish of Richmond in 1866 as superior of the Jesuit mission in Australia, and remained superior until 1872. He was also rector of St Patrick's College, East Melbourne, 1867–71. He was superior of the mission again, from 1 November 1879 to 2 September 1883. The Jesuits worked the ‘Richmond mission’, which included the suburbs of Kew, Hawthorn, and Camberwell, from 1866, and Dalton began building the church of St Ignatius at Richmond, which was completed in 1870. The building of the church of the Immaculate Conception at Hawthorn was opened for worship in 1869, but did not become a separate parish until 1881. Dalton also bought sixty-nine acres of land in 1871 for Xavier College, which opened in 1878. The college has produced many distinguished alumni, especially in the medical and legal professions.
On 14 October 1869 Dalton accompanied the bishop of Melbourne, James Alipius Goold (qv), to New Zealand. Discussion took place with the bishop of Dunedin, Patrick Moran (1823–95), about the possibility of establishing a Jesuit college and parish. In the short term insufficient manpower prevented the establishment of St Aloysius' College, Waikari, and the parish of Invercargill, until 1878. Continuing manpower shortage resulted in the college closure in 1883, and the handover of the parish in 1889.
Dalton moved to Sydney in 1877, where he started St Kilda House (1879), later named St Aloysius' College, and was its rector for one year. He provided Jesuits for the parish of St Mary's, North Sydney, 1878, and established St Ignatius' College, Riverview, with its 118 acres, in 1880. He was its first rector until 1888, when he was 71 years old. During this time he also did parish work in Sydney. From then until 1893 he was the assistant to the rector, supervised the farm and garden, and was spiritual father to the community and the boys. From 1895 to 1903 he was assistant bursar and spiritual father. He did no teaching.
Upon his arrival in Melbourne, Dalton described the catholic population as very needy, not practising religion, and with slight education. He believed that they only thought of a priest at the hour of death. Later, he observed with concern that many catholic boys were educated in colleges run by ‘heretics’, which he considered was a great danger to the faith. Many Melbourne catholics had petitioned him for a boarding school, which was considered essential to prevent another generation of catholic youth being educated in non-catholic schools.
Dalton's former students, including Australian poet Christopher Brennan and Sir Mark Sheldon, revered him for his genial and warm-hearted character, unaffected manner, and gentleness. They were strongly influenced by his genuine concern for them as people. Fr Patrick Keating, later superior of the mission and rector of Riverview, wrote that ‘Fr Dalton is a man of most wonderful influence with outsiders. I don't think there is a priest in Australia who is more known and respected than he is . . .’ (Fr Patrick Keating to Fr Thomas Brown, 29 January 1885; RSJA general curial archives, Rome). Dalton's wisdom, tact, and common sense made him the friend and confidant of bishops, especially Bishop Murray of Maitland. He won respect from viceroyalty and members of parliament, including Lord Carrington, Sir Edward Strickland, and Sir Charles (qv) and Sir Frank Gavan Duffy, as well as distinguished overseas visitors such as William Archer Redmond (qv) (1825–80), home rule campaigner.
Dalton was not an innovator in education, nor a scholar or intellectual, but a simple, practical, and courageous man with extraordinary strength. He gave the four colleges he founded the traditional Jesuit character of the European model. He accepted existing standards of the educated catholic gentleman, and communicated these to others. His spirituality was pious and practical; religious beliefs demanded application to real life. He was concerned for the faith of catholic students, their academic progress and character development, keen that they be influential in the development of Australia. His educational views were religious and academic, intended to provide what was necessary for the sound development of students.
Dalton died of old age after many years of suffering from rheumatism at St Ignatius' College, Riverview, Sydney, 4 January 1905 New South Wales, aged 87, and plans were immediately accepted to build a chapel as his memorial. It was completed in 1909.