Ch. 4: The early expansion of the Campion Society

The years 1932 and 1933 saw the Depression rise to the peak of its severity, and then begin slowly to ebb. The mental and social disorder which it had produced on a world scale did not, however, perceptibly diminish. Faith in ‘pure’ Capitalism, both as an economic system and as a structure of social values, had been irrevocably shattered, and throughout the West the continuing battle was between those who advocated reform, and those who called for revolution. The most dramatic political event of the period occurred in Germany, where at the beginning of 1933 a battered and discredited liberal democracy was replaced by the National Socialist dictatorship of Adolf Hitler.

The Melbourne Advocate, viewing the world with ever-increasing dismay, continued to seek solace in the rhetoric of Catholic social idealism. In July of 1932 it proclaimed that the ‘social, moral and economic influences’ which had wrought such havoc were ‘inherent in the revolt against Christian principles, against a right order of being, against the teachings of the Catholic Church’.1 After the Nazis came to power this alarmism rose to a new pitch of urgency? In May of 1933, surveying the world situation, the paper saw only ‘chaos and a civilisation which is crumbling fast’. It maintained that what was taking place was ‘a general attack by the forces of paganism against Christianity’; and it spoke of ‘the urgent necessity for Catholic Action’? It wrongly assumed that Catholic Action embraced all forms of episcopally endorsed Catholic lay activity, but even so, this was the first time that it had highlighted the need for Catholics to translate social judgement into apostolic action.

The Campion Society, meanwhile, had been expanding both in size and in the scope of its activities. During the course of 1931 the original eight had been supplemented by a steady trickle of new members. First of these was Francis Xavier McMahon, a journalist. Then Val Adami entered *to open up Centra] European politics with his knowledge and quiet wit’; and after him came John Downey and James Edwards, two Law students. In September Kevin Kelly was admitted, and he was followed by John Daly, a widely-read young scientist, and Davem Wright, an Arts/Law student, talented Classics scholar, and University debater. An additional ‘friend and guide from the first’ was Father William Hackett, whose genial personality and extensive literary knowledge early gained him admittance to the inner councils of the Society. He was an invariable companion on Campion hik ■ the first of which took place sometime during the year.4

Of these newcomers the most important, in Campion terms, was to be Kevin Kelly, then a twenty-one year old Public Servant and part-time Arts/Law student. Possessed of a fiery personality and a keen intellect, Kelly had been prevented by impoverished family circumstances from assuming full-time University studies. He was already a Councillor of the Victorian Public Service; a Labor Party activist; a University debater; and a personal acquaintance of Prime Minister Scullin. As with the others, his first experience of the Campion was decisive, and after attending his initial meeting, he recorded that he had ‘never enjoyed a night so much’.’ He soon established himself within the Society as ‘a tower of strength in every way’.4

As their enthusiasm and group assurance increased, the Campions began seeking outlets through which they could project their newly-acquired vision of the Church, its past, and its role in the modem world. Even before the Society had acquired its name, the members had been making enquiries among friendly clergy as to opportunities for action which might be available to them. One Jesuit suggested that they work ‘through established channels — e.g., local C.Y.M.S.’; and Father J. J. Lonergan, Administrator of the Cathedral, recommended that on the ‘matter of lay action’ they should ‘have an interview with [the] Archbishop’.7 However, neither of these courses of action was pursued. Later in the year investigations were made into the ‘cost and possibilities of running a Catholic magazine (or semi-Catholic)’,4 but again, nothing was done, presumably as the scheme was judged to be impractical.

It was not until September that determined moves were made to initiate outside work. In that month the Campions decided that, as they wished ‘to do something for the philosophy whose implications they have been working out’, they would seek an informal address from Mr. F. J. Corder, a veteran of many past Catholic semi-intellectual ventures, and then the President of the moribund Victorian Catholic Federation.’ Corder accepted their invitation, but his talk was far from stimulating. It was a ‘tale of difficulties and apathy,”0 detailing a depressing succession of failures. The speaker concluded that one ‘might as well try to move a mountain’ as ‘attempt to get Australian Catholics to do anything for Catholic Action’.1′ When after the meeting the Campions adjourned to Lucas’ Cafe, they were ‘a little disillusioned and pessimistic’.12 However, upon discussing the matter further, and being reinforced by Jackson’s infectious enthusiasm, they decided that Corder ‘was too old to be in sympathy with our (youthful) optimism’.13 They resolved to continue on the course they had set themselves

Their first real opportunity to extend their influence was provided by a Brisbane Catholic magazine, Australia, which they presumably discovered through Father Hackett’s library. Edited by Father Adrian J. Mills, a convert from Anglicanism, it had been founded in 1928 as the organ of Mills’ organisation, ‘The Lay Apostolate. The periodical reflected its editor’s deep concern with the plight of the unemployed and destitute; with the tragic state ‘of the remnant that remains of the Aborigines of this land’; with the conversion of non-Catholics; and with the spread of Communism.14 On the negative side, it was poorly managed; it had a small circulation; and it was plagued with financial troubles.15 Nevertheless, it was desperate for articles, and the Campions were looking for active work. They opened a correspondence with Mills, and by July of 1932 eight of their articles had appeared in Australia.14

At the end of 1931 a potentially more fruitful opening for Campion action was found in the Catholic boys’ secondary schools, or, more specifically, in their Old Boys’ Associations. The early Campions were drawn evenly from the four Melbourne Catholic boys’ schools which carried matriculation classes.17 Furthermore, Kevin Kelly had been foundation Secretary of the De La Salle College, Malvern, Old Boys’ Association;18 Arthur Adams in 1931 was Secretary of the St. Patrick’s College, East Melbourne, Professional Men’s Sodality (correctly, the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary);1’ and Frank Maher, being a History Master at St. Kevin’s College, was well placed to exert an influence there.

The Campion call for a Catholic cultural awakening was voiced in two of the 1’931 end-of-year Annuals. In The Patrician, Annual of St. Patrick’s College, East Melbourne, Arthur Adams proclaimed that ‘The need of the Church is Lay Action’. Promoting the Professional Men’s Sodality, he asserted that ‘There is a duty on the laity, at this stage of our history, if never before, to come together to learn the Catholic viewpoint in affairs’.28 In Blue and Gold, Annual of De La Salle College, Malvern, Kevin Kelly warned that the ‘next few decades’ would be ‘full of peril to European civilisation’. Echoing Belloc, he claimed that

In so far as that civilisation is good, in so far as it has achieved anything of substance, that achievement is due to the Faith.

He urged all school-leavers ‘to assist in the fight for the Faith by the Catholicising of modem thought’.21

Having thus put in a fruitful first year’s work, the Campions at the end of 1931 decided to expand their numbers. A recruiting drive was launched among the friends of members, and among the intellectually more promising of the Catholic school-leavers. The result was that at the beginning of the 1932 University year the Society more than doubled in size, increasing from fifteen members to approximately thirty-one.12 Among the new arrivals were Phillip Perkins, Kevin Mitchell, Frank Gargan, and Stan Ingwersen; and three past Duxes of St. Kevin’s College: Reginald Hoban, Frank Misell, and B. A. (Bob) Santamaria. The Society was now divided into three groups – the First Central, Second Central, and University — which began functioning in April. The 1931 members remained concentrated in the First Central Group, although for a time they worked on a roster basis to assist the two junior groups.23 Their primary aim was to provide an extended course in Catholic history and sociology for Catholic undergraduates, to supplement and balance their secular studies.

The multiplication of groups necessitated the preparation of a Constitution, the draft of which was presented and approved at the Society’s second Quarterly Meeting on 6 July 1932 (an organisational meeting of 13 a ■ 1 was regarded as the first Quarterly Meeting). This charter established? First Central Group as the official executive body of the Society, with the Secretary of that group being ex officio the General Secretary of the Society The aims of the Campion were listed as being:

(a) To promote Catholic Lay Action in its intellectual aspect.

(b) To encourage its members to attain a fuller realisation of Catholic Culture.

(c) To ensure the development in harmony of the spiritual and mental lives of members.

(d) To extend the influence of these conceptions so as to assist in the development of a more intense Catholic atmosphere among Australian Catholics,

(e) To place the Catholic viewpoint adequately before non-Catholics when the occasion demands it particularly on questions relating to the Social order.

The Constitution laid down various rules and regulations for the proper ordering of the Society: Each group was to have no more than sixteen members; was to elect a secretary as its sole office-bearer; and was not to admit any new member except by a unanimous vote of consent among existing members. Individual Campions were ‘to co-operate loyally tad cheerfully with Bishops and members of the Clergy’, and to ‘refrain from all anti-clerical conduct or statements’. Neither ‘the Society nor any group thereof’ was to ‘identify as such nor co-operate with any political body’. There was to be an annual Society Retreat (a day of prayer and recollection conducted under the supervision of a priest); arid all meetings were to begin with the ‘Oblatio Sui’ of St. Ignatius Loyola, a Hail Mary, and ‘Invocations to Blessed Edmund Campion, Blessed Thomas More and Saint Francis Xavier5.24

Meanwhile, the search for avenues of influence continued. In mid-1932 two sub-committees were appointed, the first to find opportunities for outside lecture-work, the second to investigate the possibility of the Societies utilising the ‘Catholic Hour’ on Radio Station 3AW.“ This weekly programme had begun in April 1932, its initiator being Dr. Matthew Beovich. Father Hackett was the foundation Secretary of its controlling body, the Catholic Broadcasting Committee. The Campions assured Hackett of their readiness to assist the Committee if called upon.

With regard to the proposed Campion lectures, a ready demand was found in the suburban branches of the Catholic Young Men’s Society. In the atmosphere of the times, the vigorous Campion style of Catholic intellectuality struck a favourable chord with many non-University Catholic young men, most of whom had been brought up on the drier, though intellectually substantial, fare of Dr. Michael Sheehan’s Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine. In the four months from April 1932 Campion men delivered seven outside lectures, most of them to C.Y.M.S. branches. On 4 July Kevin Kelly gave a ‘splendid address’ to the Glen Iris C.Y.M.S.;1’’ and on 27 September Denys Jackson delivered a lecture to the Kew C.Y.M.S .

At the September Quarterly Meeting Campions were advised to ‘get in touch with C.Y.[M.S.J and arrange [lectures]’.2* During the same month one of the newer Campion members, D. L. (Leo) Canavan, was recommending in the first issue of the Oakleigh C.Y.M.S. branch magazine that all Catholic young men study ‘the period when Western civilisation was entirely Catholic – the only era of relatively true and universal happiness’. He believed that the ‘C.Y.M.S. should act as a chastening influence against disruptive forces’.38

The same period saw the tenuous beginnings of a Campion influence among the younger clergy. One of the Professors at Corpus Christi College, Werribee, Father Robert Peterson, S.J., had given a philosophy lecture to the Society, and, being impressed by the members, had invited them to visit the College and meet some of the seminarians. The tour took place on Sunday, 30 October;3′ and the Campions were particularly ‘gratified and impressed’ by the interest shown in their activities by Father James Murtagh, a recently-ordained young priest who helped Father Peterson entertain the visitors.33 They subsequently invited Murtagh to attend the December Quarterly Meeting.33

The Campion Society’s most natural field of influence was, however, the University. If, as Quadragesimo Anno stated, ‘the apostles of the workingmen must themselves be working-men’, then the apostles of the University should be University men.

Furthermore, by 1932 Melbourne University had become something of an ideological batUe-ground. During 1931 the Labour Club had become increasingly pro-Communist, although few of its members actually belonged to the Communist Party, and it had been untiring in promoting its views through lectures, debates, and the student press. In 1932 it launched a radical journal, Proletariat;34 elected representatives to two Communist ‘front’ organisations, the ‘United Front against Fascism Society’ and the ‘League against Imperialism’;35 and sought to send a delegation to Russia.3* This militancy triggered a furious conservative reaction, the epicentres of which were the Melbourne University AH-For-Australia League and the Melbourne University Rifles (the University militia unit). A violent controversy, descending at times into physical violence, raged throughout 1931 and the first half of 1932. Eventually the University authorities were forced to take strong action to restore a modicum of peace and harmony on the campus.

The Catholics at the University were notable for their absence from either warring camp. On the one hand, their general socio/economic backgrounds and religious affinities alienated them from the Protestant-British Empire loyalties of the conservative faction. On the other, their Labour movement sympathies were of a different order from those of the Labour Club. The Club was ideologically Marxist in complexion, which placed it outside the mainstream Australian Labour tradition, and in conflict with the social teachings of the Catholic Church. Furthermore, most Labour Club leaders had attended the same prestigious Protestant private schools as had their conservative opponents;” and this also tended to estrange them as a group from the Catholics.

The Campion Society played no part in undergraduate politics, and, further to this, did not use its own name at all on the campus. It chose rather to exercise its influence through the Newman Society, thus avoiding conflict with that Society, and at the same time endowing the Newman with a much-needed intellectual dimension. A spectacularly successful beginning to this policy of co-operation was made on 30 June 1932, when Messrs McInerney and Kevin Kelly, representing the Newman Society, addressed a packed meeting sponsored by the Student Christian Movement on the topic ‘Is Religion Necessary?’ – an early ecumenical endeavour. An astonished Farrago reporter wondered whether it was ‘actual interest in the subject for debate’ or ‘merely the novelty of a Newman man speaking at S.C.M.’ which drew an audience of five hundred to the meeting.3*

The Newman Society also sought Campion help in organising a State-wide essay competition which it had decided to conduct on the topic ‘Catholicism and Reconstruction’. The Campions agreed to assist ‘by [providing] lecturers and by giving a start to study-groups’.40

A less direct Campion influence was also evident in the University Debating Society, an influence which was to be sustained throughout the decade. In 1932 three Campion men – Davem Wright, Frank Misell, and Stan Ingwersen — were elected to the M.U.D.S. executive;4’ and two others – Murray McInerney and Frank Quaine – represented Melbourne in the Intervarsity debating.41 A topic of the kind favoured by the Campions, ‘That Science without Religion provides a sufficient code of life’, was debated in June, with McInerney, Kelly and Quaine speaking to the negative.43 The Debating Society, furthermore, helped preserve good relations between Campion members and their ideological opponents from the Labour Club, by providing them with a common interest and a forum for friendly contention.

At Newman College Murray McInerney, Gerard Heffey and Frank Misell all remained active in student affairs. McInerney edited the Newman Annual in 1931, with Heffey writing in it on ‘The New Arrivals’. In the 1932 Annual, edited by Heffey, two Campion articles appeared, one by McInerney on ‘The New Paganism’, and the other by Misell entitled ‘Legend and Myth’. All these essays strongly reflected the influence of Belloc.44

When the fourth Quarterly Meeting of the Campion took place on 21 December 1932, the speeches testified to the confidence and assuredness of purpose which now permeated the Society. Val Adami, the General Secretary at the time, noted that ‘this body which was only a nucleus at the beginning of 1932 is now a real society’.43 Frank Maher in his address to the meeting was pleased to observe that “the purposes and methods of the Society are becoming really luminous and recognisable things’. Affirming that ‘only in organisation have we any strength’, he declared that

It is to provide this organisation, to give coherence to Catholic Action in Australia on its intellectual side, to bring the educated Catholics into contact, that is the objective the Campion Society hopes to attain.4*

This successful record of activity for 1932 gave promise of an eventful year ahead; and thus the advent of 1933 found the Campion Society preparing to expand the several bridge-heads of influence which it now had within the Melbourne Church and at the University.

Early in the New Year the Society expanded appreciably in size, and effected a number of organisational reforms. A recruiting drive increased membership from thirty-four at the end of 1932 to fifty when the 1933 University year began, necessitating the formation of a fourth group _ the Third Central. Notable among the new arrivals were Brian Harkin, a science student and friend of Kevin Kelly; Kevin Wallace, a Commerce student; Leo Ingwersen, Stan’s brother, an Arts student; and Frank Murphy, a journalist and Hawthorn C.Y.M.S. leader.47 In writing to invite Murphy to his initial meeting, Frank Maher was able to boast that the Society numbered in its ranks ‘nearly all the most brilliant of the recent graduates, including several first class honours men in History and Economics, as well as many who have done little in the way of exams but are keen to learn about the Church’s attitude to the problems they have to face and answer every day’.48

As there were now three relatively experienced groups functioning, at the July Quarterly Meeting the Society’s Constitution was altered to transfer executive power from the First Central Group to an elected Council. Beginning its operations on 5 August; the Council on 29 August elected Frank Maher as the first President of the Society; Ken Mitchell as General Secretary; and Bill Knowles as Treasurer.4’

The study-programmes for the groups had by this stage assumed a relatively standardised form. New members were expected to progress through a structured three-year course, in which historical topics were alternated with current ideological and social ones. During the first half of 1933 the Second and Third Central groups studied religious, social and political developments in England from the Reformation to the time of the later Stuarts; and, with regard to contemporary problems, they examined Fascism, Nazism, and ‘Rationalism in France’. The senior group concentrated on issues of the moment, investigating Capitalism, Socialism, and ‘Medieval Economics’, in the light of ‘The Papal Encyclicals on Labour and Capital’. In addition, two meetings were given to the question of Birth Control, and two to a dissertation by Kevin Kelly on ‘The History of the Labor Party in Australia’.50 The purpose of it all, according to Maher, was to make the Campion Society ‘a training-school for the leaders of Catholic thought and action throughout Victoria’.51

At Melbourne University, 1933 saw the Campion come into its own. In April, following on a suggestion by Herbert Frederico, President of the Newman Society of Victoria, a joint Newman-Campion Standing Committee was formed to facilitate co-operation between the two Societies.52 Furthermore, the Campions were given full responsibility for organising a series of Newman lunch-hour lectures on campus. This novel display of Catholic intellectuality was quietly received, with Kelly, Heffey, Adami, Knowles, and McInerney giving addresses during the first half of the year to average audiences of ‘thirty or forty’.53

At Newman College, Gerard Heffey was President of the Students’ Club for the year;54 and the 1933 President of the University Students’ Representative Council, Raymond Triado, became (for a short time) a member of the Campion.55 At Debating Society functions Campion attitudes continued to be voiced frequently. A debate in June on the topic, ‘That civilisation must decay when it penetrates to the masses’, gave Kevin Kelly an opportunity to contend that civilisation consisted of ‘a realization of a code of values’. A member of the opposing team, Mr. Sam White, a proud] Communist Labour Club identity, agreed with Kelly that ‘What was needed was a scale of values to replace the present ones’. He acknowledged furthe that Catholicism and Communism were ‘the only two systems that could claim to have such a scale of values’. However, ‘Like Mr. Kelly, he left no doubt as to which system he supported’.*

Within the bounds of Melbourne Catholicism, 1933 also saw the Campion Society’s influence and prestige increase greatly. A major cause of this was the 1932 Newman Society essay competition, in which Campion men were outstandingly successful. The judges, announcing the results in July 1933, had ‘no difficulty’ in placing Denys Jackson first, and they expected that his contribution would attract attention ‘beyond the boundaries of Australia’. Third place went to Brian Harkin, and second to a Mr. Kerrigan.57 The cash prizes, which were highly lucrative for these Depression times, would have ensured that the competition was fierce.”

The essay competition coup gained the Campion Society a foothold in the Catholic media. Already, during the first half of 1933, some members had, at Father Hackett’s request, given addresses over the Catholic Hour.5’ Now, however, Jackson was granted a permanent slot on the programme, and began speaking weekly on current affairs as ‘the Onlooker’. Furthermore, he was asked to write a regular column for the Advocate, and in August began a journalistic association with that paper which was to continue for more than forty years.-

The Catholic schools also now opened their doors to the Society. Late in 1933 Campion representatives explained the aims and activities of their organisation to the senior classes of three of the four major Catholic boys’ secondary schools. At the remaining one, De La Salle, Malvern, the students were busy with examinations, but the headmaster, Brother Jerome, a good friend of Kevin Kelly, volunteered to approach suitable pupils individually.1’ The outcome of these visits was that on 19 December a ‘Junior Group’ of the Campion was formed, and the following year embarked on a study of European culture under the guidance of Val Adami.-

At St. Patrick’s College, East Melbourne, the Professional Men’s Sodality during 1933 developed in a definite Campion direction. Arthur Adams remained its Secretary; and meetings were addressed by Denys Jackson on ‘Hitler’, and by Bill Knowles on ‘Pseudo-Science’. The members themselves prepared a series of papers covering Quadragesnnn Anno and other Papal Encyclicals, and discussions were held on the questions of ‘Private Property, Church and State, the Family, and a Comparison between the English and Canon Laws of Marriage’.-

With regard to the clergy, the Campions recognised that in order to influence permanently the mind of Catholic Victoria, they would need the fullest support of the younger priests. On 26 July 1933 the First Central Group, still the executive body of the Society, considered the matter of ‘Propaganda among Werribee Students’;- and a week later the Campion Council, at its first meeting, resolved to invite Father James Murtagh to attend one of the Society’s gatherings.- In October a second Campion visit to Corpus Christi College took place, with the members being ‘impressed by the obvious interest and keenness of the priests and students whom we met’.46 That this observation is accurate is attested to by the Corpus Christi Students’ Manuscript Journal for the year, in which the seminarians were urged to counter the ‘propagator of the class war’ by working ‘to create an elite, not Catholic merely, but intellectual as well, not intellectual merely, but Catholic as well’. The editors obviously had in mind as one source of this desired elite the Campion Society.47

The Campions had encountered a minor frustration at Corpus Christi, however, in that they had been refused permission to address the students as a body. The College authorities considered ‘that the students would probably not be very interested, and that it would be arrogating our Society to a position of importance which it had not yet attained7.48 This was the second slight rebuff which the Society had received from the Jesuits, the first having been their refusal to appoint Father Hackett as Campion chaplain49 – a decision probably made in consideration of Hackett’s other responsibilities. Father Robert Peterson, Silt, late in 1932 accepted the chaplaincy, but resigned it a year later.78 It is noteworthy that, although Peterson was a friend, Father Hackett was the Campion’s ‘only Jesuit enthusiast’. Father Jeremiah Murphy, by contrast, was cool towards the Society, and deplored ‘the “activism” of many Campions’.71 During the ’thirties the Society was to gain a multitude of staunch allies among the Jesuit-trained young secular clergy, but none of note among the younger Jesuits.

In November of 1933 Kevin Kelly had a long interview with Archbishop Mannix, and obtained his ‘personal and full episcopal approval of the Campion Society’.72 Mannix had been kept informed of the Campion’s progress by Father Hackett, whom he constantly sought as a dining and travelling companion. His formal approval represented virtually a mandate for the Society’s programme of operations, and endowed the organisation with a new status in the archdiocese. Thus reinforced, the Campions wrote immediately to Corpus Christi College, again requesting permission to address the students.73 On the matter of the chaplaincy, the following May they by-passed the Jesuit authorities, and asked the Archbishop directly to use his influence to have Father Hackett granted the position – this time securing his appointment.74

In one other area the Campion Society had expanded its activities to a degree during 1933, and this was in relation to the Catholic Young Men’s Society. Since the C.Y.M.S. constituted virtually the artery-system of Catholic life among the Catholic young men of Victoria, it represented a most important potential field of influence. Campion lectures to the individual C.Y.M.S. branches had continued throughout the year; and a group of young men within one branch – that at East St. Kilda – had applied for affiliation with the Campion.75 Furthermore, in mid-year the Society had appointed a sub-committee ‘to investigate the possibility of working in with the C.Y.M.S. giving talks or conducting study circles’.76 Early in November, acting on Council instructions, Arthur Adams had a meeting with the C.Y.M.S. General President, J. D. Coyne, at which the latter invited the Council to send a representative to the next meeting of the Board of Management. Adams was delegated to go.77

This opening of top-level negotiations signalled the start of a new phase in the development of both Societies. More importantly, it marked the beginning of an association which was to bring into being a new kind of intellectual awareness among the ordinary Catholic young men of Victoria. A survey of this era of interaction must begin with an examination of what had been happening within the C.Y.M.S.