His father was Elek (Aleksije) Vrhovac, border captain, and his mother was Antonija Znikija. He studied theology at the Croatian College in Vienna. He was professor of dogmatism at the Zagreb Academy and the vice-rector of the Theological College in Zagreb, then - after the College in Zagreb was abolished (as well as other theology studies at the Diocese and Archdiocese) – Emperor Joseph II appoints him in 1786 the rector of the Central Theological University in Pest, one of the most important institutions that were supposed to ensure the victory of Josephinismus; In this service he remained until 1787 when he was appointed bishop in Zagreb. In the history of Zagreb diocese he remained recorded as the youngest ordinariate (he was inaugurated with the age of 35), with the longest “mandate” (40 years).

He is one of the ideological founders of the Croatian National Revival, in 1794 he founded a printing house, which printed primarily titles in Croatian. He was the patron of many artists, always with the emphasis on the promotion of the "Illyrian" culture. Vrhovac’s enlightenment orientation is mostly emphasised in his tireless efforts for the collection of national intellectual wealth and distribution of the book in the Croatian nation. On his own, he collects everything that might contribute to the spiritual benefit of the people and the development of science among Croats. In 1808 he proposes to the Croatian Parliament to make his library available to the public. In 1827 he founded the Association of harmonic voices for Croatia, which since 1925 operates under the name Croatian Music Institute. Vrhovac tried to write the Bible in the national language, to translate the Holy text into the kajkavian dialect of the Croatian language respectively. In that plan the Zagreb priests participated, like Stjepan Korolija, Ivan Krstitelj Birling, Tomaš Mikloušić, Ivan Nepomuk Labaš, Ivan Rupert Gusić and Antun Vranić. They managed to translate some books of the Old and the New Testament, but when Vrhovac died, the program was discontinued. Afterwards Ignac Kristijanović tried to continue the translation of Kajkavian Bible, but at that time another option was already in place, in which the Croatian literary language continues to develop on the basis of stokavian dialect.