Book launch on John James Sheehan (SPC 1925-1932) biography

May 6, 2024

Steve Bracks AC with Mark Sheehan at the book launch.

Former Victorian Premier Steve Bracks AC recently launched a biography of Old Collegian John James Sheehan (SPC 1925-1932), focusing on his special connection to the Ballarat community, education, politics, and the Catholic faith.

John Sheehan.

Sheehan’s son Mark Sheehan (SPC 1969-1977), wrote the book, which began as a research project and evolved into a biography acknowledging his father’s contribution to Ballarat’s history.

The book was launched recently at the Peacock Hall at Ballarat High School on Tuesday, 16 April 2024.

Steve Bracks AC (SPC 1968-71) praised Mark’s biography and acknowledged its accuracy in describing the tumultuous political landscape of the 1950s. Bracks commended the book ‘Once Upon A Time In Ballarat’ for its concise depiction of Ballarat’s political era during John James Sheehan’s tenure to the Victorian Legislative Assembly as the Labor member for Ballarat between 1952 and 1955.

This significant biography emphasises the turbulent years of politics in the 1950s when the Liberal government formed the Country Party, the DLP was formed, and the Labour Party was split in 1955.

It describes how Henry Bolte, a former Ballarat Grammar Student, brought a no-confidence vote in 1955 that brought down the Labour government. John James Sheehan lost the election on preferences and was briefly appointed Housing Minister in 1955.

It wasn’t until 1982 that Labour regained the seat in Ballarat after 27 years of being held by a Liberal government. Unfortunately, John James Sheehan wasn’t here to see the continued Labour wins for the next 31 years.

The biography describes a man who commenced his articles as a Clerk at the law firm Baird and Baird, now known as Baird and McGregor.

John was a member of the Literary Society Committee at SPC during his time as a student.

He then went to Melbourne Teachers’ College to educate and lead secondary schools at Ballarat High School and briefly at Ballarat East High. John James Sheehan became Vice Principal between 1968 and 1972 and Principal between 1972 and 1976 of Ballarat High School. Upon retirement, John James Sheehan continued working in education and was appointed a consultant in the Regional Office of the Education Department until 1981.

He served in the Australian Imperial Forces during WWII between 1942 and 1946 before returning to Ballarat and joining the Old Collegians Association in 1949 to raise funds for the Memorial Chapel. Later, he delivered a speech at the College’s Diamond Jubilee and opened the Memorial Chapel in 1953.

Mark Sheehan with College archivist Halina Sztynda at the launch of the book ‘Once Upon A Time In Ballarat’.


He was a great orator whose qualities emerged during his schooling at St Patrick’s College when he debated and joined the Literary Society with a continued passion after leaving school. Many praised his exceptional oratory skills, including opposing political leaders.

During his St Patrick’s College education, he became a member of a select few, the Sodality of Our Lady, a group focused on devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. His devotion to the Catholic faith continued throughout his life.

A man dedicated to many causes within the Ballarat Community, he gained recognition, respect, and connections, including his appointment in 1950 on the committee for Ballarat’s Mentally Retarded Children Association, which assisted in forming McCallum House. In 1957, he joined Legacy in some of his community-focused leadership roles.

In June of 1984, John James Sheehan’s state funeral was held at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Ballarat, with the flags flown half-mast on buildings. A guard of honour was formed at the Cathedral grounds of St Patrick’s College and Ballarat High School students, a mark of respect for a man who had given so much to his community.

Mark Sheehan brings his father’s story into our history, which would otherwise be forgotten. St Patrick’s College congratulates Mark for his research and for writing a biography that will resonate with the Ballarat community and beyond.

St Patrick’s College also thanks our College Archivist, Halina Sztynda, who uncovered parts of history that were unknown before, which Mark Sheehan acknowledges in his book.

Copies of the book can be purchased through the Ballarat Mechanics Institute.