During the War years the Australian National Secretariat of Catholic Action established the network of specialised Catholic Action movements towards which it had all along been aiming. In 1940 it brought into being the National Catholic Rural Movement, the League of St. Joseph (later the National Catholic Workers’ Movement), and the Young Catholic Students’ Movement. In 1941, with the help of the Grail, it formed the National Catholic Girls’ Movement; and in 1942 the Young Christian Workers’ Movement was founded, replacing the Catholic Boys’ Legion’. A number of Catholic Guilds for the various professions were adopted as auxiliary organisations to the Catholic Action movement!

The second major duty which ANSCA had originally been given, namely, to initiate a concerted Catholic anti-Communist drive, proved more difficult to effect. The League of St. Joseph made little progress in forming adult workers’ Catholic Action groups;1 and even had the League prospered, there is no guarantee that its members would have behaved as ANSCA anticipated they would, and have spontaneously coalesced outside the Catholic Action movement to form autonomous anti-Communist industrial pressure-groups. This aspect of Catholic Action theory might well have been justified in Europe, where a natural (though unofficial) progression existed from the Catholic Action associations into the established Catholic political parties and trade unions.2 In Australia, however, no Catholic industrial/political organisations were operative; and yet, as the War years advanced, the power of the Communists in the trade unions increased dramatically. Furthermore, the Catholics appeared to be the only group in the community with the capacity to organise effective counter-action.

The first moves to unite Catholic workers to fight the Communists were spontaneous and widely scattered. Isolated Catholic-based workers’ groups existed in Melbourne from 1938,3 and in Ballarat, Ararat, Launceston, Toowoomba, Adelaide and Newcastle by the close of 1940.4 In Broken Hill a group was founded;5 and in Sydney Fattier Paddy Ryan, M.S.C., and certain Catholic Labour leaders, began to assemble the nucleus of a Catholic antiCommunist movement.6

Finally, in mid-1942, as the situation in the Unions became increasingly grave. Bob Santamaria was approached by a number of Catholic and nonCatholic Labour leaders with an urgent request that he help to form a secret, centrally co-ordinated Catholic anti-Communist organisation. Archbishop Mannix was approached, gave his consent, and promised financial support; Catholic union activists were located through their parish priest; and on 14 August 1942 the first meeting was held of the anonymous association which later became known as ‘the Movement’.7

On 19 September 1945 an Extraordinary Meeting of the Australian Catholic Hierarchy granted this body a mandate (now accepted as having been un-Canonical) to function as an official, although non-Catholic Action, Church ‘lay apostolate’ organisation.8 In this way the Movement gained the best of two worlds: it enjoyed all the prestige, facilities, arid episcopal support of Catholic Action; but it was impeded by none of the Canonical regulations which so tightly defined and restricted the operations of official Catholic Action associations.

The pre-War Campion leaders were predominantly, although by no means unanimously, anti-Movement from the beginning.’ Their headquarters was now the Catholic Worker office; and they were informed of the new organisation by the Worker’s manager, Frank Keating, who had been in at its inception and for a few months afterwards.10 They feared that the end result of the Movement would be an anti-Catholic backlash akin to that unleashed a generation before by the ill-fated Australian Catholic Federation; and that, when this happened, the Catholic Action movement, and even the established Catholic influence in politics, would be imperilled. In this, as in most other matters, their opinion leader remained Kevin Kelly,11 then a Navy lieutenant, who for much of the War was based at Naval Intelligence Headquarters in Melbourne.

The first-generation Campions, however, were no longer in the mainstream of Victorian Catholic activism. Their remaining voice-piece, the Catholic Worker, was still popular; but it met competition in the Movement’s organ, Freedom (later News Weekly), and its sales gradually declined. In April 1955, following the Labor Party ‘Split’, it issued a policy-statement which incurred the displeasure of Archbishop Mannix, who let it be known among his parish priests that he preferred they no longer allow its sale outside their churches. Its monthly circulation immediately plummeted from 26,000 to 13,000,” and then sank to below 5,000. However, it managed to survive until 1976, although in its final phase, in form, policies and management personnel, it bore no resemblance to the original Catholic Worker.

Some members of the pre-War Campion Society continue as Catholic writers and publicists, or remained so until their deaths within the past fifteen years. Among these are, in Victoria, Denys Jackson, Bob Santamaria, Father James McInerney, Niall Brennan, Father Desmond O’Connor, the late Frank Murphy and the late Father James Murtagh; and in other States, Brian T. Doyle, Kevin Kelly, the late Martin Haley and the late Alf Schmude.

The Catholic Young Men’s Society, meanwhile, in the immediate postWar period had risen to the peak of its prosperity. At the end of 1948 its membership stood at an all-time high;13 and, as one past General President has noted, the leadership lists of the Victorian branch of the Australian Labor Party had come to read ‘like on Honour-Roll of the H.A.C.B.S. [Hibernian Society] or the Young Men’s Society’.14 The Society’s value as a training school for public life had never been more evident.

Yet, for the C.Y.M.S., the writing was already on the wall. The enthusiasm of the younger clergy, and of the teachers in the Catholic schools, was now overwhelmingly directed towards the Y.C.W.; and the Young Men’s Society was regarded by many as an obstruction to Catholic Action. C.Y.M.S. leaders found that their welcome had cooled at Corpus Christi College, Werribee;” and they were well aware that Melbourne’s new Coadjutor Archbishop, Dr. Justin Simonds, was a champion of the Y.C.W. and no friend of theirs. A further, distinctively Victorian, twist was given to the situation when the Y.C.W. first obtained permission to participate in the C.Y.M.S. (over-18 years) Australian Rules football tournament; then, after a time, broke away and began its own competition. In this way the Society lost its monopoly of the State’s most popular form of recreational activity for Catholic young men. Moreover, the new (1940) Constitution decentralised control within the C.Y.M.S., weakened the power of the Board of Management, and thus reduced the Society’s cohesion and its value as a source of competitive leadership training.16

When, in the early ’fifties, the inevitable decline began, it was both rapid and irreversible. With recruiting choked at its source, the Catholic schools, membership dropped sharply. Where branches did not exist, they would not be established; where they lapsed, they Would be replaced by Y.C.W. groups. By 1955 it was apparent that the C.Y.M.S. was no longer a major factor in the Catholic life of the State; and thereafter it dwindled away to a handful of sporting clubs.

The Victorian Campion Society, for its part, emerged from the War period as a small, quiescent, entirely Melbourne-based study-club. Over the following decade it fluctuated in size from one to three or four groups, drawing a trickle of recruits from the Catholic schools and the University. Although displaying little imagination or intellectual vigour, it sustained a sedentary existence on the same Chesterbellocian-Dawsonian fare as of old. Revitalisation attempts in the years 1947-49 failed, essentially because the initiatives came from older Campions, the ‘Campion Institute’ men, rather than from the current members. One such effort consisted in the formation in mid-1948 of a Campion Society of Australia, loosely uniting Melbourne and Sydney, which up to the end of 1949 produced a quarterly magazine. Almost all the Melbourne articles in this publication, however, were written by pre-War Campions, or by outside contributors.17

In the early ’fifties the Society accepted an offer of a meeting-room in one of the Movement’s operational centres, and subsequently drifted into Bob Santamaria’s orbit. Most of the members were initially amenable to this development, finding a welcome sense of purpose and usefulness in their new role as an unofficial intellectual adjunct to the Movement. Soon, however a number of them developed a distaste for the earthy, ruthless world of industrial politics in which they now found themselves: they tired of attending turbulent Union meetings; of writing speeches for politicians; of giving Movement-orientated radio talks. In mid-1953 a group of dissenters broke away from the main body and attempted (unsuccessfully) to return to the old congenial study-group ways. The central organisation continued to function in unison with the Movement until 1955. In that year, as a result of the great Labor Party ‘Split’, the Victorian Catholic community was thrown into the midst of a furious political conflict, and racked internally by bitterness and recrimination. In an atmosphere thus soured, no movement based on light-hearted youthful idealism could long survive; and the Campion Society went into abeyance.18 Various attempts have since been made to revive it, but none has succeeded.

The Sydney Campion, although lacking the spectacular early history of the Melbourne Society, was able to extend its productive life much longer. During the War its cohesion was maintained by the efforts of J. W. (Bill) Hives, its Secretary for most of that time, who kept in correspondence contact with the members serving overseas. With the coming of peace its groups multiplied, and some of its members played an active part in the formation of Catholic credit unions, housing co-operatives, and other such ventures.18 It remained strictly independent of The Movement. In the early ’fifties a decline began, but, thanks to the recruiting work of Bill Hives, the Society was kept alive. Only in the early ’seventies did the Sydney Campion finally cease to function.

Almost half a century has passed since the close of the period with which this volume has been concerned; and although the imprint of the ’thirties remains evident in the thought and social habits of our age, I will leave to future writers the task of tracing through to more recent times the influence of the movements which I have studied.

My primary aim in this work has been to show how the Catholic Church in Australia was able to deploy, in its thought and its institutions, to meet the challenge of a decade of extraordinary social, political and intellectual disruption. I hope that I have succeeded in this aim, and that, in addition, I have left the reader with an enhanced understanding of the sociology and the inner dynamics of Australian Catholicism.

Above all, I hope that I have demonstrated that the effect of the ’thirties on the Australian Church can be understood only if the catalytic influence of the Campion Society is taken into account. In the national Catholic context within which it operated, that Society was certainly the most remarkable phenomenon of the era. For eight years, from 1931 to 1938, it exerted an influence unparalleled by that of any other Catholic lay association in Australia’s history. Indeed, it is doubtful if anywhere in the world there existed an entirely lay-led organisation which could boast a comparable record of achievement. The Campion Society introduced into Australian Catholicism a new intellectual consciousness, a new vitality, and, in Catholic Action, a new means of social potency. When eventually it faded away, it left behind, most notably in Victoria, a rising generation of young Catholic leaders for whom the Faith of their Fathers was neither a badge of tribe nor a mere devotional tradition, but the very soul of Western Civilization; a dynamic force in the affairs of the modern world; and the integrating principle of their own lives.

Yet, despite its accomplishments, the Campion Society appears now to have been the singular child of an unusual era. It channelled into Australian Catholicism new streams of Western European thought; but it made no sustained effort to apply that thought to the Australian milieu* Hence it is perhaps not surprising that, for all its assertive intellectuality, the Society has as yet bequeathed little to posterity in the form of scholarship, humanistic thought or imaginative art. Its influence is evident in Father James Murtagh’s Australia: The Catholic Chapter (1946); in Frank Murphy’s Daniel Mannix (1948); in the writings of Bob Santamaria and Ronald Conway; and, more obliquely, in the perspectives on Catholicism of Australia’s most eminent historian, Charles Manning Clark, who, although not a Catholic, was impressed by the Campion Society during his undergraduate days. However, in number Campion authors represent a small crop when one considers the apparent promise of the sowing. Perhaps a further harvest is to come as members of post-Campion generations find inspiration in the vision and achievements of the Society.

The members of the pre-War Campion Society are today, in the main, at or near the ends of their professional careers, with many of them having attained positions of distinction in the community. Although they have long since ceased to meet together formally, they remain united by powerful bonds of fellowship; they take pride in having made their own signal contribution to the development of Catholic Christianity in this land; and, virtually to a man, they speak of the Campion as the most inspiring chapter of their lives. Now, as then, they see the ultimate significance of their deeds as lying not in the eye of History but in that of Eternity; and they persevere in the tope that their final destiny will be that which their Master has reserved for His good and faithful servants.


1 The N.C.W.M. was directed by Mr. Ken Mitchell, Director of the Melbourne Diocesan Secretariat of Catholic Action. It never grew to ‘more than a dozen parish groups’: James G. Murtagh, Tom Truman’s Catholic Action and Politics, A.C.T.S. No. 1359, 20 May 1961, p. 14; also interview with Mr. K. W. Mitchell, May 1970.

2 It is noteworthy in this regard that the formation in 1919 of the Italian Catholic party, the Partito Popolare, had a debilitating effect on the Italian Catholic Action movement, with the latter finding that ‘the enthusiasm of many of its best members’ was being transferred to the new party: Rev. J. Carroll-Abbing, ‘Catholic Action in Italy’, in John Fitzsimons and Paul McGuire (ed.), Restoring All Things: A Guide to Catholic Action, p. 117.

3 In 1938, at the suggestion of Mr. Arthur Calwell, Mr. Frank Keating formed an antiCommunist group in the Melbourne Boilermakers’ Union; and in 1939, again in consultation with Calwell, he sought to encourage the formation of other such groups in other Unions: Interview with Mr. Frank Keating, February 1967.

4 ANSCA Report, 31 December 1940, pp. 11-12.

5 B. A. Santamaria. The Price of Freedom: The Movement – After Ten Years (Melbourne, 1966), p. 29; cf. Robert Murray, The Split: Australian Labor in the Fifties (Melbourne, 1970), p. 46.

4 In 1940 or 1941 Dr. Ryan and Mr. James Ormonde, a prominent Catholic Labor politician, approached the Sydney Campion Society through its General Secretary, Mr. R. H. Sivertsen, with the request that it make its organisation available to them to be used as part of an anti-Communist movement. Their request was refused by the Campion Council, on the grounds that direct political or pressure-group action was not a proper function of the Society: Interview with Mr. R. H. Sivertsen, 11 April 1972.

7 Santamaria, op. ciL, p. 30.

8 For a detached account of how this Hierarchical mandate came to be given, and of eventual differences in its interpretation which arose between Melbourne and Sydney, see Paul Joseph Duffy, Catholic Judgements on the Origins and Growth of the Australian Labor Party Dispute 1954-1961 (unpublished M.A. thesis, Melbourne University, 1967), particularly pp. 32-37, 120-28, 404-05.

9 Mr. L. G. O’Sullivan frequently lunched at the Catholic Worker office while in Melbourne on Army service in September-October 1942. He can recall that a strong, almost melodramatic dread of Bob Santamaria’s secret organisation was existent among the group there even at that early stage: Interview with Mr. L. G. O’Sullivan, 9 November 1971; memorandum 5 November 1982.

10 Interview with Mr. Frank Keating, February 1967.

11 Interviews with Mr. Justice McInerney, 10 August 1967; Mr. Frank Keating, February 1967.

12 C.W. November 1955, cited in Paul Duffy, op. cit., p. 300. Paul Ormonde, The Movement (Melbourne, 1972), p. 87, gives the immediate sales drop as from 35,000 to less than 15,000.

13 1948 C.Y.M.S. Annual Report, original in the possession of Mr. A. C. Hodgkinson, photocopy in M.A.A.

14 Interview with Mr. J. F. Meere, 15 February 1972. Meere (General President 1925) and F. P. McManus (General President 1929) had constituted the Society’s all-time most successful debating team; and both were on the Victorian A.L.P. Executive during the first half of the 1950s. At that time ex-C.Y.M.S. men among Victorian A.L.P. parliamentarians included: Federal: W. M. Bourke, W. G. Bryson, J. L. Cremean, S. M. Keon, J. M. Mullens, E. W. Peters; State: W. P. Barry, P. L. Coleman, T. Hayes, C. Murphy, F. R. Scully, J. J. Sheehan. That they were not all Movement men, and did not constitute a recognisable faction, is evident from Robert Murray, op. cit., particularly p. 136.

15 Interview with Mr. D. S. Sherriff, 26 November 1971.

16 It is noteworthy in this regard that whereas in the Society’s first fifty years, from 1892 to 1941, only two General Presidents had been elected to second terms of office (J. J. Liston, 1895 and 1897; and J. F. Foley, 1926 and 1928), in the ten years from 1942 there were only four General Presidents all told, two of whom had dual terms of office (P. T. Collins, 1942-43; and C. H. Stock, 1947-48), and two, three-year terms (C. P. McNamara, 1944-46; and B. R. Meagher, 1949-51): see lists of C.Y.M.S. Presidents, M.A.A.

17 See the Campion, 1 August 1947; Brag, September, December 1948; the Campion Quarterly, March, June, November 1949, H/B.

18 For this account of the final years of the Victorian Campion Society I am indebted

primarily to Father Maurice Keating, O.P., who at the time in question was a layman and a member of the ‘breakaway’ Campion group.

19 Interview with Mr. L. G. O’Sullivan (a past President of the Sydney Campion Society), 9 November 1971.

20 The only clear evidence I have found of any Campion consciousness of an emerging Australian Catholic tradition is in an article by Kevin Kelly in the 1933 Annual for De La Salle College, Malvern, wherein he sees the Campion movement as contributing to ‘the spontaneous growth of a national Catholicism, as distinctive as that of France or of Ireland’. Moreover, Australian history did not figure significantly in Campion writings or speeches. The study-syllabus in Prelude to Catholic Action (A.C.T.S. No. 718, 10 September 1936) contained no Australian section; although a later Campion-produced pamphlet, What to Read (A.C.T.S. No. 781, 30 May 1938), featured a quite substantial Australian a selection.