In his commentary today Dr Graham English shares some of his perspectives seen from North of the Murray River that divides New South Wales from Victoria. He explores some of the differences in outlook between the culture of Catholicism in NSW and Victoria and the different approaches taken by Bishops in the two States. It is perhaps ironic, given all the circumstances, that it was the partnership of a NSW Archbishop, in James Carroll, and a Victoria priest, in Frank Martin, that was largely responsible for the structure that eventually emerged firmly rooted in the forward-thinking, outwardly-oriented, spirit of the Second Vatican Council that was still ascendant at that time albeit even then under challenge by minority elements within the lay Church and the Bishops.
Catholic Education from 1963 to 1980, blazing a trail or a march into folly?
The world as it was...
Let me first express some personal interests because they will affect how I relate to Blazing a Trail.
My father, grandfather and great grandfather were farmers. They had a reasonable sized farm on the south west slopes of NSW. It is good country. My great grandparents began the farm in 1872. From then until 1940 three generations experienced droughts, bushfires, floods, two major depressions, wheat gluts, large families and all the other things that happened to farmers and families in Australia then. They were all deeply Catholic. In the 1950s when B. A. Santamaria came along with his Catholic Rural Movement that suggested we all live on small acreages like European farmers my family dismissed him out of hand. With the exception of a few romantics and several solicitors and other non-farming professional men in our town, so did the other farmers, share-farmers and working people who made up our church.
That my mother's family was full of strong Labor people made me surer he was wrong. So I grew up with a negative attitude to Santamaria.
When I began reading Santamaria later I decided that as I disliked him I had better find out what he was actually saying. I put my feelings aside as far as I could then read a lot of him and about him and I heard him speak on television and in the flesh. My opinion stayed the same only now it depended on more than his ignorance about life on the land in Australia. I decided he was often wrong and I knew why I thought he was wrong.
I also entered the Christian Brothers when I was fifteen and stayed for seventeen years, all but one of those years in the ACT and NSW. I spent one year in Victoria. The Christian Brothers were founded in Ireland by Edmund Rice in 1802. In Ireland the Brothers became fiercely independent because most of the Irish bishops were autocrats and wanted to control everything and body in their dioceses. The Brothers insisted on being a pontifical institute, not a diocesan one and took their case to Rome where they won. They did not trust bishops although they were usually polite to them. And when the National Schools began in Ireland the Brothers refused to be part of them. "We will run our own schools thank you." That was their modus operandi.
After leaving the Brothers I worked for thirteen years in the Sydney Catholic Education Office then taught for sixteen years at the Australian Catholic University in Sydney. Before I worked in the CEO I taught in one parish school and three independent Catholic schools, two Christian Brothers' schools and one owned by the Brigidine Sisters. They are good schools and I enjoyed working in them but I am essentially a systemic schools man. I believe that if the Church is involved in education its job is to see that all young people receive as good an education as possible, one that is not dependent on the wealth or otherwise of their parents and one that is not beholden to the parents' understanding or their lack thereof of education. Anne O'Brien's account in Blazing a Trail is of people like Father Frank Martin and Archbishop James Carroll ensuring that the ordinary Catholic schools flourished in spite of the will of a small section of the Catholic population. I agree with her that they did us proud.
In 1973 I was one of the foundation students at the National Pastoral Institute in Melbourne where the director was Monsignor J. F. Kelly. Kelly features in the early part of Blazing a Trail. He was an enigmatic and interesting man and as far as I could gather no disciple of Daniel Mannix.
When I was a novice Christian Brother I once expressed the opinion that if only the whole world were Catholic then everything would run smoothly. I did not drink alcohol at all until I was twenty seven so I know I was sober when I said this. So I can only plead ignorance or naivety brought on by being a boy from the bush with a very narrow education and a piety that until then had remained unexamined.
Catholics and politics...
I grew up in NSW. Santamaria had some affect here but it was minimal. He and his National Civic Council may have had a profound effect on priests and religious in Victoria and to a lesser extent Queensland but they were not nearly as powerful here. He did not have access to the seminaries or to the novitiates. He was resisted in the universities especially Sydney University. His News Weekly was sent free to all religious houses but it was not widely read. Beside its conservative politics I found it mean spirited. I am not sure of the reasons Santamaria had less effect in NSW. It was partly that NSW has usually been a Labor state where Catholics have regularly had political power. NSW is also more diffuse than Victoria. Particularly I suspect it was that James Carroll was Santamaria's match intellectually and his conqueror tactically and he was committed to the insights of Vatican II. And the then Archbishop of Sydney Norman Thomas Gilroy wasn't having a layman running anything in his territory. Santamaria might have been a proxy bishop in Victoria, as Gerard Henderson suggests but he was not one of any kind in NSW.
Gilroy was the first Australian born Archbishop of Sydney. His selection as archbishop was not welcomed by everyone. The Irish born archbishops of Melbourne and Brisbane, Daniel Mannix and James Duhig were angry. They had expected it would be the Tipperary born Bishop Sheehan who was elevated so maintaining the Irish ascendancy. But they met their match in the apostolic delegate who had decided it was time to establish an Australian born hierarchy. When Gilroy was made a cardinal rather than Mannix the anger was more widespread. Former Federal Labor Party Leader and Victorian Catholic, Arthur Calwell who should have known better went public with his disappointment. Ironically Calwell was one of Santamaria's and Mannix's victims at the Labor Split. His loyalty to his bishop got him nowhere.
Gilroy, despite his Australian birth was not unlike Mannix and Duhig. He was an autocrat, he did not trust lay people, and he was not deeply educated in theology or scripture. He was not deeply educated at all. His rule in Sydney was not especially distinguished either. Sydney so far has not had a distinguished Archbishop in charge of the diocese. But he, with the intelligent and skilled operator Archbishop James Carroll as his guide saved Sydney from some of the divisions in the Victorian Church.
As a young Brother watching Gilroy and Carroll from the sidelines I realised that I was part of a very human institution and that if we ran the world it would be much as it is now. Being professionally involved in the Catholic Church for a while quickly cured my naivety. Blazing a Trail is an account that bears out my realization that Catholics play politics as all humans do. And we do not always do it well or kindly. Some do it much more productively than others. Some if left to themselves cause destruction. Some, ideologues usually, would destroy the Church if they only had their way though they would do it with the very best of intentions.
The march of folly...
Barbara Tuchman in her 1984 book The March of Folly investigates the propensity of so many political leaders throughout history to pursue policies contrary to their self interest. Kings have done it, popes have, dictators do it and are still doing it and they have been doing it for thousands of years.
What Anne O'Brien shows in Blazing a Trail is that in the period from 1960 to the 1970s had Santamaria and his loyal followers (several of them Victorian regional bishops) had their way Catholic schools, except for a few independent schools would have been destroyed in the name of ideology. It is a frightening tale.
Tuchman defines wisdom as "the exercise of judgment acting on experience, common sense and available information." And she defines self interest as "whatever conduces to the welfare or advantage of the body being governed; folly is a policy that in these terms is counter-productive."
Catholic schools and religious orders...
Catholic schools existed in Australia before the 1870s but what eventually became the Catholic schools that spread all over the country often in the remotest and smallest of villages as well as in the cities came from the time after the "free, compulsory and secular" moves of the colonial governments. The bishops' education pastoral of 1879 which called state run schools "seed plots of future immorality, infidelity, and lawlessness" set the scene and the free obedient labour supplied by religious sisters and brothers made them possible.
These schools were begun in a milieu where the bishops were authoritarian, the Catholic population was uneducated, poor and mainly of Irish descent and where group solidarity helped along by some anti-Catholicism in the mainly British formed establishment made it hard for ordinary Catholics to resist the bishops' insistence that they send their children to these new Catholic schools. The lack of education in the Catholic populace also made it virtually impossible for parents to judge whether the schools they were sending their children to were of high or even adequate educational standard. Some parents set their children back by sending them to Catholic schools. Oppressed minorities do things like that.
As there had been in Ireland so there was in Australia a struggle between some of the religious orders and the bishops about who would own the schools and who would be the final authority. Some orders, the Christian Brothers for example ran two kinds of schools. In some cases (I will use NSW examples because I know them best) the Brothers taught in parish owned schools: Paddington, Newtown, Young, Rozelle, Burwood for example. There were also schools the Brothers owned and ran: St Patrick's Strathfield, St Pius X Chatswood, and St Dominic's Penrith. In some places even in the one suburb they had a parish school, St Charles' Waverley, and an independent Brothers' school Waverley College. In the early days at least the Brothers' own schools had low fees and were just as open to the needy as their parish schools.
Some orders were split over whether they were pontifical orders, answerable to Rome or diocesan orders answerable to the local bishops. Some bishops would have only diocesan run sisters or brothers in their dioceses. The Sisters of St Joseph are a prime example with the 'Brown' Josephites being pontifical and spread all over Australia except some dioceses where the diocesan 'Black' Josephites were, for example In Goulburn, Bathurst and Maitland. This had happened to the Christian Brothers in Ireland where there are still Presentation Brothers, founded by Edmund Rice who are diocesan and Christian Brothers who are pontifical.
Catholic schools from the 1880s until the 1940s survived more or less. Some of them were good schools. Some did very well in public exams. Some were not good schools at all. The teaching staffs, almost all religious sisters or brothers by World War I were usually not well educated, they worked long hours, they were poor as were many of their students, and eventually they taught large classes. "As full as a Catholic school" became a euphemism for very drunk. A few schools were surviving quite well as they catered for the Catholic middle class. They were more likely run by the Jesuits or the Loreto Sisters or the Sacre Coeur Sisters.
By the late 1950s and early 1960s the majority of the Catholic schools were in crisis. In Sydney Cardinal Gilroy told his head of the Catholic Education Office Monsignor Slowey to draw up a list of one third of Sydney's Catholic schools with the intention of closing them.
CORRECTION: In the Catholica e-Bulletin yesterday the editor suggested that Archbishop James Carroll was only an Auxiliary Bishop. In fact he was made an Auxiliary Archbishop of Sydney in 1965 so the title Archbishop is correct. Bishop James Darcy Freeman, then Bishop of Armidale and a former Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney, was promoted over his head to become Archbishop of Sydney on 9th July 1971.
Dr Graham English. Submitted to Catholica on 17th April 2012.
What are your thoughts on this commentary?