Desmond O'Grady is the son of Edward and Winifred O'Grady. His great-grandfather, James O'Grady, was an Irish mariner who married Elizabeth McSweeney in Cork before coming to Melbourne in 1858. His father's mother, Florence Tomb, who had come to Melbourne from New Zealand in 1888, was of English stock. O'Grady grew up in a third generation Irish Catholic Labor-sympathising family in Middle Park, Mosman, East St Kilda and East Malvern. He went to secondary school with Barry Oakley (q.v.) who planned to leave with him for Europe on a working holiday but married instead. O'Grady was a classmate of journalist and jazz musician Richard Hughes (q.v.) and a friend of Vincent Buckley (q.v.). He studied English literature at the University of Melbourne and was involved with the Catholic Worker newspaper at this time.
O'Grady became a school teacher and left for Europe in 1955, breaking an Education Department bond. He returned to Australia in 1957. O'Grady worked briefly for Weekend before becoming a feature writer and reviews editor for the Observer and 'Red Page' editor for the Sydney Bulletin. (O'Grady succeeded Douglas Stewart (q.v.) as literary editor of the Bulletin.) Five years later O'Grady returned to Italy for family reasons (he had married an Italian), and to cover the Second Vatican Council. He settled in Rome where he became an author, news correspondent and journalist although he made regular return visits to Australia. O'Grady contributed to publications in many countries including Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom and Italy. These publications include Corriere della Sera, Il Mondo, Internazionale and Epoca in Italy; the New York Times, Washington Post, New Leader and Commonweal in the USA and the London Sunday Times, the London Daily and Sunday Telegraph, the Guardian and the Spectator in the United Kingdom.
O'Grady is as well known for his biographies, history, journalism and religious studies as for his fiction. These other works include Eat From God's Hand : Paul Gauthier and the Church of the Poor (1965), The Victory of the Cross: A History of the Early Church in Rome (1992), The Turned Card : Christianity before and after the Wall (1995), Rome Reshaped : Jubilees 1300-2000 (1999) and Beyond the Empire : Rome and the Church from Constantine to Charlemagne (2001).
Sources: Desmond O'Grady, 'Memoir: At Home in Both Places', Griffith Review 6 (Summer 2004-2005): 223-235, and additional information supplied by the author.