Ch. 11: The progress of Catholic lay action in Sydney: 1936-39

At the time the National Secretariat of Catholic Action in Melbourne was getting into its stride, the breakaway Catholic Action movement in Sydney was making a faltering start. The play of forces which determined its early development can be appreciated if the progress of Sydney lay activism is traced from the beginning of the Spanish War era.

By comparison with Melbourne, the Spanish War controversy in Sydney was subdued. There was no Great Debate, no fierce ideological skirmishing, no surge of popular militancy. At Sydney University, pro-Republican lectures were featured occasionally by the Student Christian Movement, the Free- thought Society, or the Socialist Club (successor to the Labour Club); but even these elicited merely routine academic interest from the students.1 There was no Catholic intellectual presence on the campus, although the Campion Society was inordinately proud that some of its members asked critical questions of speakers at ‘opposition’ meetings.2 The most adventurous actions undertaken by Sydney Campions during the dispute occurred early in 1937, when Des O’Connor, Damien Parer and Ted Burke ‘infiltrated’ a Communist youth camp at Katoomba, and surreptitiously distributed copies of the A.C.T.S. pamphlet For God and Spain; and later that year, when O’Connor and Harry Sivertsen did the same at a Workers’ Educational Alliance camp.3

The Catholic Press, unlike the Advocate, gave little space to news from Spain. However, it showed a much heightened concern at the expansion of Communism in Australia; and this reaction was evident also in other sectors of Sydney Catholicism. In October 1936 the Catholic Evidence Guild (hitherto the Catholic Speakers) decided to include Communism among its topics for pitch-lectures. Deferring to the fact that it had long previously been forbidden to speak on social questions, it asserted casuistically that Communism ‘was now virtually a “religion” ’, and that it therefore came ‘within the scope of apologetics’.4 In mid-1937 the Guild celebrated the release of Divini Redemptoris by conducting a lecture-series in the (K.S.C.- owned) Austral Salon on the theme, ‘Atheistic Communism and World Peace’. This proved so successful that after the initial seven talks had been completed, an extra four were added in response to public demand.5

Archbishop Kelly, his aged mind remote from the issuew’f the moment, had nothing significant to say on either Spain or Cor y However, Coadjutor Archbishop Gilroy, although himself not accustomed to commenting on social questions, warned in September 1937 that ‘The plague of Communism is eating into the very vitals of our society’. He saw the remedy to the situation in Catholic Action.6 Even the Sydney Catholic schools, for the first time in the decade, began to interpret their roles in a world context. The 1936 Annual for St. Joseph’s College, Hunter’s Hill, pointed to ‘the world’s chaotic situation’, and called for an enthusiastic response to the pope’s calls for Catholic Action. The 1936 Annual Report of Waverley College spoke similarly of a world ‘Permeated… with militant materialism, held in the dread grip of shameless irreligion’; and it maintained that ‘Perhaps at no period in the history of Catholic education’ had the inculcation of sound principles into the minds of the young been more urgently required. At St. Aloysius’ College, Milson’s Point, during 1937 a sodality of senior pupils was given a series of lectures on Communism, and most of the members made a study of Divini Redemptoris.7

In Sydney as in Melbourne, the sense of crisis among Catholics occasioned by the Spanish War resulted in an unprecedented surge of interest in the Campion Society. In the two years between its foundation and Easter of 1936 the Sydney Campion had quietly grown to five groups;8 and during the remaining months of 1936 it gained two new branches, one at Newcastle and one at St. John’s College at Sydney University.’ In 1937, the crucial year of the Spanish controversy, so great an influx of new members occurred that the Society almost doubled in size, gaining six new Sydney groups and others in the Newcastle area.10 The following year there were a dozen Sydney branches, and groups at Lithgow, Goulbum and Queanbeyan.11

The outside work of the Sydney Campion Society also indicated that it had found a new acceptability in the archdiocese. The Society’s first venture into external activities had occurred in November 1935, when Des O’Connor had written an article for the Catholic Fireside on ‘Sane Censorship’. Campion articles regularly appeared in the magazine thereafter, and in 1937 a Campion member, Brian T. Doyle, an individualistic young Arts graduate, was appointed editor of the Fireside.12 Further to this, during 1937 the Campions gave twelve lectures as part of a mission to non-Catholics; they addressed various parish groups; they took catechetical classes at Sydney Boys’ High School;13 and they increased the Sydney sales of the Catholic Worker to 14,000.14 One person who appreciated the work they were doing gave them £150 with which to buy books.15

By mid-1937 the Sydney Campions had gained sufficient confidence to seek Archbishop Kelly’s official episcopal approval for their Society. The old man had been unaware of the Campion’s existence; but as he received a favourable report on the Melbourne Society from Archbishop Mannix, who chanced to be visiting Sydney at the time; and as he had known and respected Des O’Connor’s father, on 12 June he gave the Sydney Campion his blessing. He intimated his desire to appoint as chaplain a certain trusted Monsignor (in Campion eyes, one of his anti-intellectual clerical strongmen); but the Campion- ,Vlo had anticipated difficulties in this regard, persuaded him to accept instead their nominee, Father Joseph Bowers, a gentle and well-read ex-Manly Professor.’*

Yet however much it prospered in its own terms, the Sydney Campion Society did not exert an influence in any way comparable to that of its Melbourne parent society. Whereas the Melbourne Campion had established a presence in all key points of influence in the Victorian Church, the other was as yet an obscure association on the periphery of Sydney Catholicism. It had no voice in the Catholic schools, on the Catholic radio station 2SM, in the Catholic Press or the Freeman’s Journal, or in Manly Seminary Its thought had not permeated the most important N.S.W. lay organisation, the Knights of the Southern Cross, as that of the Melbourne Campions had permeated the Victorian C.Y.M.S.; and it was insignificant as a force at Sydney University. It did not enjoy the patronage of Archbishop Kelly or of anyone close to him; and it was unknown, disregarded, or disdained among the parish clergy.”

Further to this, the Sydney Campion was but a shadow of the Melbourne Society in intellectual vigour, imaginative drive, and quality of leadership. It had its share of intellectually gifted members,” but these were never bonded together into a cohesive leadership group. Campion articles were featured frequently in the Catholic Fireside, but they were generally sober dissertations on immediate issues, and lacked the vitality and romanticism of Melbourne Campion writings. Moreover, the majority of the Campion’s Fireside essays during 1936 and 1937 were written by Des O’Connor and Patrick Moran, which suggests that the other intellectually more able members were disinclined to do anything more demanding than attend their group meetings. This helps explain why, by the end of the decade, the Sydney Campion leadership was made up almost entirely of non-University men.

On the positive side, the Sydney Campions appear to have had a closer rapport with the everyday Catholicism of those around them than had their more brilliant, more elitist, more glamorised Melbourne comrades. They cultivated a sound spirituality, with the result that by the end of 1937 five of their number had left to study for the priesthood,” to be followed early in 1938 by Des O’Connor himself, who entered the Jesuits. Furthermore, the Sydney Society appealed to a more representative section of the Catholic young men than did the Central groups of the Melbourne body. Its very popularity was a source of embarrassment — in 1938 Damien Parer was complaining that certain ‘misguided enthusiasts’ were seemingly trying to introduce into its ranks ‘every male between the ages of 17 and 30’.” In fact, the Sydney Campion appears to have catered for the intelligent rather than the intelligentsia, and thus to have served a function more akin to that of the Victorian C.Y.M.S. Legion than to that of the Melbourne Campion Society. In this lay both its strengths and its weaknesses: it was broadly- based; but it had little influence outside its own ranks.

In 1936 another European-orientated Catholic actionist movement, in some ways similar to the Campion Society, made its appearance in Sydney, in ‘the Grail’. This was an intensely apostolic girls’ movement which had originated in Holland in 1922. In that year Father Janies van Ginniken, S.J., Professor of Philology at the Catholic University of Nijmegen, had founded three Lay Institutes (organisations akin to Religious Orders) to perform Catholic Action work. In 1929 one of these bodies, the ‘Women of Nazareth’, had been asked by the Bishop of Haarlem to see to the establishment of Catholic Action among the women and girls of his diocese. The girls’ movement which had subsequently been formed was known as the Grail; and within four years it had spread all over Holland, and to Germany and England.

Seeking to match the popularity of the Communist, Nazi and Fascist movements which were making such headway among the youth of Europe at the time, the Grail set out to introduce into the lives of young people new dimensions of purpose, romance and camaraderie, all integrated within a Christian vision of reality. It specialised in magnificent dramatic spectacles, and also organised folk-dancing, singing, hiking, film-making, and courses of all kinds, ranging from foreign languages to First Aid. In 1932 two hundred Grail girls from Holland demonstrated their colourful, highly choreographed form of drama at the Dublin International Eucharistic Congress; and in 1936 1,200 of them took part in a dramatisation of Francis Thompson’s ‘The Hound of Heaven’ in London’s Royal Albert Hall.2-

One prelate who was present at the 1932 Dublin Eucharistic Congress, and who was greatly impressed by the Grail, was Bishop James Dwyer of Wagga Wagga. Upon returning to Australia he began campaigning among his fellow bishops to have the movement invited here;22 and in September 1936 his efforts were crowned with success when five Ladies of the Grail, led by Dr. Lydivine van Kersbergen, arrived in Sydney.23 Archbishop Kelly gave them an impressive welcome; and he mobilised his Sydney Catholic ‘establishment’ — Monsignors, doctors, lawyers, businessmen, Ministers and ex-Ministers of State, and leaders of lay societies — to form an Establishment Committee to acquire a residence suitable for the Grail headquarters.2* A house at Springwood in the Blue Mountains was donated in December 1936;25 and the following March a permanent training-house was opened. This was a one-time Jesuit novitiate, ‘Loyola’, a mansion set in spacious grounds in the fashionable Sydney suburb of Greenwich.26

During 1937 the Ladies of the Grail concentrated on establishing contacts among the clergy, the religious, and the laity, and on finding girls with the attributes to become leaders in their movement. Their operations began in earnest in January 1938, when thirty-seven girls from all the mainland States and from New Zealand underwent an eight-day training programme.27 During the succeeding twelve months their activities in Sydney were prolific. They formed suburban branches, established a Drama Group,28 conducted a Folk-Dance Festival ” and formed a Campcraft Group.30 Grail lecture-series were conducted on Preparations for Marriage,31 on the Foreign Missions,32 and on ‘The Qualities Expected of a Leader’.33 A Grail Film Group sponsored a popular series of talks on cinematography, which included among its speakers some leading personalities of the Australian movie-film industry.34 The purpose of it all was to involve young Catholics, men as well as women, in a way of life which was joyful; productive and diversified, yet integrally Christian.

In September 1937, when the Plenary Council launched Australian Catholic Action, the Sydney Hierarchy had at its disposal only the Campion Society and the Grail as potential bases for an archdioceson Catholic Action movement. The Association of Catholic Action, for all its work in the State schools and other spheres, had little knowledge of Catholic Action, and no appreciable experience of operating study-circles. The Catholic Debating Societies’ Union, with its thirty-odd city branches,” had given rise to the occasional discussion group,36 but had shown no inclination to broaden the formal scope of its operations beyond the organisation of debating competitions. The Knights of the Southern Cross had not ventured into the field of apostolic action; and the expertise of the tiny Catholic Evidence Guild did not extend beyond apologetics and elementary Catholic social philosophy.37 The situation of Sydney Catholic actionism being thus backward, the archdiocese would have carried little weight with ANSCA had it remained within the national Catholic Action movement,. Archbishop Gilroy’s belated attempt within the Episcopal Sub-Committee to have Australian Catholic Action formed along Italian, rather than Franco/Belgian, lines was a sign of Sydney’s unease at being committed to a course of action which it little understood, and could not hope significantly to influence. Italian Catholic Action was more congenial to Sydney ways of thought: Father Goodman’s book gave an outline of what it involved; and Archbishops Kelly and Gilroy, both Rome-trained, favoured the degree of detailed episcopal control which it allowed. When Dr. Gilroy’s proposal was rejected, Sydney chose to withdraw from the Sub-Committee’s jurisdiction rather than to take passage in a movement in which the navigating, piloting and steering would inevitably have been done by Melbourne, and by Melbourne laymen at that.

Early in 1938 Archbishop Kelly instituted; as the controlling body for Sydney Catholic Action, the ‘Secretariat of the Lay Apostolate’.” However, he had difficulty in finding a Director! By virtue of his long-standing administrative policy, the position had to fall not merely to a priest, but to a secular priest, for the secular clergy were subject to his direct authority, whereas members of religious orders could only be controlled by him indirectly, through the Superiors of their orders. Yet of those Sydney priests who had shown any interest in Catholic Action, virtually all were orders men: Fathers Aubrey Goodman, Patrick Ryan, Leo Dalton, and Eric Dignam were members of the Sacred Heart Order; and Fathers Richard Murphy and Noel Hehir were Jesuits. The last three mentioned had been associated with the Campion Society. Father Joseph Bowers, the Campion chaplain, was the only secular priest who had figured in the early Sydney Catholic actionist movement.39

Eventually Dr. Kelly settled the Directorship of the Secretariat of the Lay Apostolate on the Reverend Dr. Eris O’Brien. A distinguished Australian historian and a notable figure in the Manly Movement O’Brien had studied at Manly College and at Louvain in Belgiu m a gentle

person, a respected intellectual, and as good a man for the position as any other of the secular clergy of the archdiocese. He had not, however, any prior knowledge of Catholic Action.

In May of 1938 Sydney Catholic Action was set in motion with the issuing by Archbishop Kelly of a Directive to his priests, instructing them to form study-groups in all parishes. The lay members were to be selected on the basis of their ‘genuine holiness, seriousness of purpose, zeal and the desire to equip themselves in order to become apostles among their fellowmen’. Apologetics and ‘social science’ would constitute the main areas of study. The priest was to ‘keep the discussion on right lines, encourage members to express their opinions and to become proficient in argument, and… solve difficulties connected with Catholic teaching’. He should, furthermore, ensure that members attended to their religious duties, and ‘endeavour to imbue them with a truly supernatural spirit and outlook’. Apart from this, he was to ‘remain as far as possible in the background, unobtrusively guiding and encouraging free discussion among members’.•

Thus Sydney Catholic Action was launched on a grand scale. In response to the Archbishop’s decree, discussion groups sprang up everywhere. They appeared not just in units, but in twos and threes per parish: three were formed in each of the parishes of Belmore, Ashbury, and Tempe,41 and several at Burwood Heights.42 Dr. O’Brien travelled from suburb to suburb addressing gatherings of parishioners, and groups mushroomed in his wake. After he had spoken at Newtown, seven discussion groups were formed from among sixty parishioners, all of whom, the Catholic Press assured its readers, were ‘just the right type to undertake the work of the Lay Apostolate’.43 Two groups were founded within the Catholic Club,44 and several within the Caledonian Catholic Association.45 All Catholic secondary schools’ principals were instructed to establish Evidence Guilds among their pupils.4*

The Catholic Debating Societies’ Union, entering into the spirit of the campaign, resolved to set up discussion groups in connection with each of its metropolitan branches. Furthermore, Archbishop Gilroy donated a trophy to the Union to be presented to the author of the best study-paper on ‘The Existence of God’.42

The Secretariat, for its part, was exultant at the general enthusiasm shown for Catholic Action. By mid-August it was confident that soon none of the 118 parishes in the archdiocese would be without at least one discussion group.4*

Yet for all its popularity, the Sydney movement lacked stable foundations. No provision had been made for the training of leaders, for it was expected that groups would spontaneously generate leaders of sterling quality, ‘trained in faith and morals, resolute, courageous, reliable and studious*. Any group which lacked such an outstanding personality was advised to appoint as chairman the best educated member, or failing that, the one who was the most popular.4’

Although the groups were expected to study apologetics and Catholic social philosophy, no general syllabus was published until 25 August.5* From 26 May to 4 Auugust weekly hints by Father Goodman on how groups should operate were published in the Catholic Press. For reading matter there was Dr. Sheehan’s Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine; there was Good- man’s A Handbook of Catholic Action; there were pamphlets of the English American and Australian Catholic Truth Societies on sale in churches- and, for the intellectually fastidious, there was the Southern Cross Library. However, the Secretariat directed that the study-syllabus in the Melbourne Campion pamphlet, Prelude to Catholic Action, was not to be used. 91

The Campion Society and the Grail did what they could to assist the Secretariat. The Campions helped set up discussion groups; they gave talks when required;52 and they staffed a ‘Catholic News Service’.53 In June the Society allowed the Secretariat to act as nominal sponsor of a highly successful Winter School which it conducted at St. Ignatius’ College, Riverview, on the theme of ‘Social Justice’.54 In September it helped organise a Lay Apostolate Boys’ Camp; and Damien Parer — soon to become Australia’s greatest war photographer, and to die in the course of duty — took movie films there.55 The Grail also assisted in the formation of discussion groups; and the leadership lectures which it conducted in August were opened to all who wished to attend.

The Association of Catholic Action had been dissolved by Archbishop Kelly at the time the Secretariat of the Lay Apostolate was founded,54 apparently in order to avert confusion over the names and roles, of the two bodies. However, the component parts of the Association continued to function under the direct control of the Secretariat. The Catholic Evidence Guild contributed to the general movement by conducting a lecture-series, which began in August, on ‘The Church and Politics’.57

No amount of outside assistance, however, and no quantity of directives from the offices at 28 O’Connell Street, were sufficient to shore up the vast, unwieldy structure of discussion groups which the Secretariat had thrown together with such innocent abandon. About the middle of October the inevitable topple began; and within a couple of months something in the vicinity of 130 groups had dwindled to a figure in the region of thirty.54 The first indication that all was not well came on 20 October, when the regular Lay Apostolate section failed to appear in the Catholic Press. There followed six months of press silence, during which time the Secretariat sought to salvage what it could from the wreckage of its first year’s efforts, and, the wiser for the experience, prepared to build anew.

The second phase of Sydney Catholic Action began with the release on 15 April 1939, by Archbishop Kelly, of a new set of Regulations5’ which foreshadowed a number of significant changes in the organisation and operation of Catholic Action in the archdiocese. The overall structure of the movement was to be conformed more closely to the Italian model. A network of Parochial Councils and Parochial Unions was to be set up, the former to supervise the parish Catholic Action groups, the latter to oversee all other kinds of organised lay activity.60 It is doubtful, however, that these proposed structural changes were implemented, at least during 1939.61

An intended re-formation of the groups themselves was announced, although, surprisingly, the changes in this case were to follow Jocist rather than Italian lines. The general discussion groups of the previous year were to be displaced by specialised groups, akin to those favoured by Melbourne, which would be constituted not only according to divisions of age and sex, but according to class/vocational groupings, ‘in order to allow members to discover and solve the peculiar problems of their own environments in which their field of action lies’.” Again, however, it appears that the proposed alterations, which had probably been suggested by Father Aubrey Goodman,” were not effected.

Significantly, the Archbishop’s Regulations also advised priests that, rather than seek a hasty proliferation of groups, they should ‘concentrate on a few, the members of which can be trained to become leaders of others later on’.*4 Obviously many lessons had been learned as a result of the previous year’s fiasco.

The Sydney Diocesan Secretariat of Catholic Action, as it now called itself, began in April to build a firm basis for its future operations by conducting regular lectures for leaders.” Furthermore, realising that priests also needed to be educated, it launched a priests’ Catholic Action bulletin under the editorship of a Vincentian priest, Dr. R. Duggan,** and it established priests’ study-groups, three of which were operational in the second half of the year.”

The internal structure of the Secretariat was rationalised, with more responsibility being delegated. In mid-year a committee under Father J. F. McCosker was formed to plan the development of a general male youth movement.**. Three Departments, under the control of priests, were established within the Secretariat; and eleven smaller sections, equivalent to standing committees, were instituted to supervise various facets of the overall movement, with most of their presidents being members of the Campion Society.** Yet despite this utilisation of Campion manpower, policy control was kept firmly in clerical hands. The inner executive of the Secretariat consisted of seven priests, but only one layman, R. H. (Harry) Sivertsen, the Secretary of the Campion Society. Eventually Sivertsen ceased to attend the executive’s meetings, having become disgruntled at its compulsive preferment of priests over laymen for authoritative positions in the movement.’*

On the intellectual front also the Secretariat showed an improved understanding of the task confronting it. The discussion groups were still expected to devote half their time to apologetics; however, to assist them in this regard, weekly study-notes were published in the Catholic Press by Dr. Patrick Ryan, M.S.C., whose conversance with the neo-scholastic movement fitted him well for the task. Accompanying these were ‘social science’ study-notes condensed from lectures for group-leaders given by the Reverend Dr. Edward J. O’Donnell, the then-editor of the Australasian Catholic Record. O’Donnell’s notes began on 4 May with a series on ‘The Totalitarian State’, which dealt mainly with the aims and strategies of International Communism; and they proceeded from 27 July with a further series on the positive implications of Catholic social philosophy. For the first time, a systematic attempt was being made in Sydney to educate the Catholic people in the social teachings of the Church.

This second phase of Catholic Action in Sydney had been in progress less than six months when the War broke out, and the degree of success which it achieved in that short period is difficult to estimate. Unfortunately, the statistics put out by the Secretariat appear to be unreliable. In May of 1939, when the new drive was just beginning, it was claimed that 1,800 people were involved in the movement;71 and in September the number of discussion groups was put at ‘between two and three hundred’.72 Melbourne, with immeasurably greater resources in terms of experience and leadership reserves, was then boasting only a little over a hundred groups,73 and so it seems probable that the Sydney figures were exaggerated. The Sydney Secretariat apparently included all new groups and members in its progressive totals, but neglected to make deductions for the large number of failures. It had thus built up a phantom army in its record books. From this distance in time, however, it is not possible to estimate the size of its substantive forces.

Judged by other criteria than the purely statistical, the actual and potential efficacy of Sydney Catholic Action was unimpressive. The study of Catholic social thoughts was encouraged, but unlike in Victoria or South Australia, this thought did not give rise to any significant movement of Catholic social idealism. Some of the reasons for this are readily discernible. In Melbourne the new Catholic idealism had been fired initially not by the study of raw social philosophy, but by the complementary study of the imaginatively more appealing historical and sociological works of the English Catholic Literary Revival. The Sydney Secretariat’s study programmes, however, lacked imaginative content; they did not draw at all on the popular writings of the English Catholic Revival; and they did not cultivate an historical awareness, such as might otherwise have given a greater sense of relevancy to the examination of abstract social principles.

Furthermore, whereas Melbourne Catholic Action capitalised on the energy and idealism of youth, the Sydney movement was characteristically older, more staid, and more clerical in complexion. It exercised little of the romantic appeal which in Melbourne captivated the Catholic university student, the young worker, the young priest, and the intelligent secondaryschool pupil. In Sydney the Catholic schools, the seminaries, and the Catholic media, displayed none of the Catholic Action consciousness which had so invigorated their Melbourne counterparts. Thus even where the spirit of crusading zeal did gingerly break the surface, it was faced with the formidable task of sustaining itself without nourishment from its religio/social milieu. For Catholic Action, Sydney Catholicism presented an inhospitable environment.

The Sydney Church was simply not ready for Catholic Action. Intellectually and psychologically, it still lived in a nineteenth-century context where the main enemies of the Faith were Protestantism and Rationalism, not in the twentieth century where the threat to Christianity came from Secularism and Totalitarianism. It armed the faithful with traditional apologetics, but perceived only dimly the need for Catholic social idealism. It feared and shunned the University, where the battles for the mind of the modem world were being fought; it sheltered its people in a defensive enclave, when the Papacy was calling for an offensive to re-Christianise Western civilisation. Catholic Action had been introduced into Sydney as a duty; it persisted as a superfluity, its purpose ill-understood, its inherent world-view unassimilated into the established Catholic framework of thought.

In order to discover the true strength of the Sydney Catholic tradition it is necessary to look elsewhere than in the fields of apostolic and intellectual endeavour. Indeed, it was in the basic areas of pastoral and pedagogical work that the most significant development of Sydney Catholic lay activism took place during the ’thirties. It seems that lay bodies which functioned primarily as parish pastoral-assistance organisations were able to grow without difficulty, as they could be integrated into the Sydney Church structure without disturbing existing ways of thought, and without upsetting established lay-clerical power relationships.

The most powerful and productive Catholic lay association in New South Wales remained the Order of Knights of the Southern Cross. Having proved its worth in the ’twenties, this body in the ’thirties was encouraged by Archbishop Kelly ‘to initiate, but not necessarily to carry to fruition . . . various forms of Catholic Action activities’.74 It had been diligent in carrying out this mandate. Between 1933 and 1939 it had been directly or indirectly responsible for the formation of a multitude of Catholic occupational Guilds and other organisations: the Medical Guild of St. Luke (1933); a Postal Workers’ Guild (1935); the Policemen’s Guild of St. Christopher (1936); a Railways’ Employees’ Guild (1937); a Transport Workers’ Guild; a Water Board Employees’ Guild; a Chemists’ Guild; a Catholic Luncheon Club; and a Catholic Film Council.75 The primary function of most of the Guilds was to collect small monthly donations from their members to assist the Foreign Missions, or to fund bursaries for priest trainees. They were in no sense industrial pressure-groups; and they bore no similarity to the specialised workers’ Catholic Action groups which ANSCA in Melbourne had been attempting (unsuccessfully) to bring into being.

A much more important pastoral-type organisation which rose to prominence during the decade, and which owed its prosperity in large measure to the assistance of the Knights, was the Holy Name Society. Tracing its origins to a Papal-sponsored anti-blasphemy movement propagated by the Dominicans among thirteenth-century Crusaders, this Society had first reached Australia in 1921, and in 1925 had been endorsed by a gathering of bishops at Wagga Wagga.76 Its primary function was to bring the men of each parish together as a body for Mass and evening devotions on one Sunday of each month. A small cadre of leaders (Prefects) arranged for personal approaches to be made to Catholic men who appeared to be lapsing in their religious duties, or who needed help in any way. Occasional diocesan rallies were held to give members a sense of mass solidarity.

The Holy Name experienced its period of greatest growth during the mid- to late ’thirties, the boom period for so many Catholic societies. It claimed 51,000 Australian members at the end of 1937,” and 100,000 a year later.” It was strongly supported in all four Queensland dioceses, and in the N.S.W. dioceses of Sydney, Lismore, Goulbum, and Wagga Wagga.” In 1937 the Sydney parish Holy Name Societies came together in a Diocesan Union, the first President of which was one of the most distinguished members of the Knights of the Southern Cross, Dr. Horace H. Nowland.* Significantly, at this stage the Holy Name Society had 20,000 members in Sydney, compared with only 5,000 in Melbourne.11

There were other lay associations also which found Sydney a more fruitful field of operation than Melbourne. The St. Vincent de Paul Society, the most extensive charitable organisation in the world, had first come to Australia via Sydney in 1881, and it remained much stronger in that city than in the Victorian capital.” Again, there was no Melbourne equivalent of the Sydney Catechists’ Guild (the Guild of St. Joseph), lineal successor to the Association of Catholic Action, which by mid-1939 had over 300 catechists giving religious instruction to 9,000 Catholic children in State schools.” By the end of 1939 these figures had further increased as a result of the Guild having taken over the catechetical groups previously conducted by the Theresian Society.*4

Thus while the decade saw the development of vigorous intellectual and apostolic lay movements within Victorian Catholicism, it also witnessed a major expansion of more fundamental, pastoral-type lay associations in Sydney. This distinction accorded closely with the differences in personality and outlook between Archbishops Mannix and Kelly. It also indicated that, while the era had a catalytic effect on lay activism in both regions, the direction of fruitful development in each case was consonant with the pre- established traditions and dispositions of the respective Churches.


1 See Honi Soit 5 May, 13 May, 19 May, 30 June 1937.

2 C.W. 3 July 1937; Desmond O’Connor, The Apostolate of the Laity’, Catholic Fireside November 1937, p. 8; summary of events mentioned in The Campion, issues for 1938, recounted in The Campion, June 1950, copy in the possession of Mr. L. G. O’Sullivan, Canberra.

3 Interviews with Father Desmond O’Connor, SJ., 1 April 1972; Messrs. R. H. Stoensen, E. H. Burke, and Dr. G. K. Hickson, 11 April 1972.

4 Cf. 22 October 1936, p.25.

5 Ibid., 2 September 1937, p. 25; Eugene Weber (Master of the Sydney C-E.G.) to Archbishop Kelly, 28 July 1937, box ‘Evidence’, SA A.

6 C.P. 16 September 1937, p. 11.

7 See the 1936 and 1937 Annuals at the respective Colleges.

8 Vive La Penetration (Sydney Campion broadsheet) Nos. 1 and 2, Easter period, 1936, Box 6, Hackett papers; Jesuit Archives.

9 J.M., ‘Cowards and Half-Catholics’* St. John’s College Annual, 1936, copy held at the College; Adv, 3 December 1936, p. 23.

10 C.P. 1 July 1937, p. 7; CF. November 1937, p. 8.

11 The Campion in Retrospect’, Ilie Campion, June 1930.

12 Doyle is mentioned as editor in the November 1937 issue of the Catholic Fireside. ”

13 Desmond O’Connor in C.F., November 1937, p. 8; The Campion in Retrospect*. The Campion, June 1950.

14 The Campion in Retrospect’.

15 Orders of the Day, January 1937, Box 6. Hackett papers.

16 Interview with Father Desmond O’Connor, 8 February 1967; The Campion in Retrospect’. Regarding the nomination of Father Bowers as chaplain, see also footnote 39.

17 Interview with Father Desmond O’Connor, 8 February 1967.

18 Cyril Walsh was to become a Justice of the Australian High Court; Patrick Moran became Professor of Statistics; and the 1937 N.S.W. Rhodes Scholar, Terry Glasheen, was a member of the St. John’s College group – Orders of the Day, January 1938, Box 6, Hackett papers.

19 C.F. November 1937, p. 18.

20 The Campion, August 1938, cited in The Campion, May-June 1952, copy in possession of Mr. L. G. O’Sullivan, Canberra.

21 Lydivine van Kersbergen, The Grail, A.C.T.S. No. 742, 10 May 1937; Father William Keane, ST., A History of the Grail, a duplicated chronology, Keane papers, Jesuit Archives.

22 On 20 September 1934 he spoke on ’The Grail Movement’ at Sancta Sophia College at Sydney University: see Helen Baydell to Father Aubrey Goodman, 13 September 1934, Goodman papers, Sacred Heart Monastery, Kensington, N.S.W.

23 C.P. 1 October 1936, p. 21. The others were Misses Bridget Huizinga, Frances van der SchoL Patricia Willenborg, and Judith Bowman.

24 Adv. 25 March 1937, p. 11.

25 Keane, A History of the Grail, Keane papers.

26 Ibid.

27 C.P. 13 January 1938, p. 15.

28 Ibid., 9 June 1938, p. 7.

29 Ibid., 16 June 1938, p. 19.

30 Ibid., 4 August 1938, p. 21.

31 Ibid., 27 October 1938, p. 21.

32 Ibid., 15 September 1938, p. 18.

33 Ibid., 4 August 1938, p. 21.

34 Ibid., 18 August 1938, p. 21.

35 C.F. January 1935, p. 2, tells that the C.D.S.U. then had 30 city and 12 country affiliated societies; C.F. June 1938, p. 25, speaks of 29 city groups, with country work being ’much neglected*.

36 See C.F. August 1934, p. 22; June 1935, p. 20; October 1935, p. 22; February 1936, p. 30.

37 The Guild’s continuing doubt as to its right to speak on social questions was noted by Dr. Eris O’Brien in his speech to its 1938 AG.M.: see C.P. 12 May 1938, p. 13.

38 The earliest reference I have found to the Sydney Secretariat is in the C.P. 7 April 1938, p. 13.

39 It was because they were aware of the Archbishop’s policy that the Sydney Campions had asked Father Bowers to accept nomination for their chaplaincy, rather than Father Richard Murphy, who was a more obvious choice: Interview with Father Desmond O’Connor, ST., 8 February 1967.

40 C.P. 19 May 1938, p. 21.

41 Ibid., 18 August 1938, p. 21.

42 Ibid., 15 September 1938, p. 18.

43 Ibid., 22 September 1938, p. 18.

44 Ibid., 6 October 1938, p. 21.

45 Ibid., 1 September 1938, p. 17.

46 Ibid., 26 May 1938, p. 18.

47 C.F. September 1938, p. 12.

48 C.P. 18 August 1938, p. 21.

49 Ibid., 7 July 1938, p. 19.

50 Ibid., 25 August 1938, p. 18.

51 Ibid., 19 May 1938, p. 21. The Campion pamphlet was presumably geared to an intellectual level above that desired by Sydney; it had an historical/cultural emphasis, which Sydney Catholic Action did not; and it gave no attention to apologetics.

52 Ibid., 7 July 1938, p. 19.

53 ibid., 11 August 1938, p. 21.

54 Ibid., 19 May 1938, p. 21.

55 Ibid., 6 October 1938, p. 18.

56 Interview with Mr. T. J. Purcell, 28 March 1972.

57 C.P. 11 August 1938, p. 21.

58 The collapse is notorious; the figures are approximate, as recollected by Mr H A Santamaria, interview 14 September 1971. ’

59 C.P. 4 May 1939, p. 18; 18 May, p. 18.

60 Ibid., 4 May 1939, p. 18.

61 There is no further mention of Parochial Unions or Parochial Councils in the Catholic Press for 1939.

62 Archbishop Kelly’s Regulations, cited C.P. 18 May 1939, p. 18.

63 Goodman had previously written on the Jocists for the Brisbane Catholic Leader: see Father R. H. Thompson (editor) to Goodman, 22 April 1938, Goodman papers, Sacred Heart Monastery, Kensington.

64 C.P. 18 May 1939, p. 18.

65 Ibid., 4 May 1939, p. 18.

66 Ibid., 7 September 1939, p. 20.

67 A priests’ study-group at Drummoyne studied theological and pastoral problems; one at Earlwood studied the Liturgy of the Mass; and one at Brighton-le-Sands investigated the formation of Catholic Action leaders: see memorandum, ‘Priests’ Catholic Action Discussion Groups’, section ‘Priests’, ANSCA files.

68 C.P. 7 September 1939, p. 20.

69 Ibid.

70 Interview with Mr. R. H. Sivertsen, 11 April 1972.

71 C.P. 4 May 1939, p. 18.

72 C.F. September 1939, p. 31.

73 Adv.. 24 August 1939, p. 23.

74 W. Ross to Archbishop Gilroy, 17 June 1938, box ‘Evidence’, S.A.A.

75 Ibid.; Advance Australia, March 1969, p. 13; Interview with Mr. P. L. Cantwell, 12 April 1939; various telephone interviews.

76 W. V. McEvoy, The Holy Name Society, A.C.T.S. No. 766, 10 January 1938.

77 Ibid, (figure as of 21 November 1937).

78 Adv. 17 November 1938, p. 3.

79 Apart from Melbourne and Sydney, the only Australian dioceses with over 1,000 members in November 1937 were: Brisbane (5,000); Townsville (2,000); Toowoomba (2,000); Rockhampton (2,000); Goulbum (3,000); Lismore (3,000); Wagga Wagga (2,000); and Sandhurst (1,000): W. V. McEvoy, op. cit.

80 C.P. 16 September 1937, p. 27. The ‘Nowland Scholarship’, a travel-scholarship for University postgraduate studies, is today awarded annually by the N.S.W. Knights of the Southern Cross.

81 W. V. McEvoy, op. cit.

82 Sydney in 1928 had 92 S.V.d.P. Conferences, and the rest of N.S.W. 36; Melbourne had 46, and the rest of Victoria 5. The Australian-New Zealand total was 320 Conferences and 4,600 members: see ‘Society of St. Vincent de Paul; Its Australian History’, C.P. 13 September 1928, p. 66.

83 Ibid., 4 May 1939, p. 18.

84 Ibid., 9 November 1939, p. 18.