William Philip Hackett (1878-1954), priest, teacher and propagandist, was born on 2 May 1878 at Kilkenny, Ireland, son of John Byrene Hackett, medical practitioner, and his wife Bridget, née Doheny. The Hacketts, a family of writers and bibliophiles, could trace their Irish patriotism to the battle of the Boyne (1690). Educated at St Stanislaus, Tullamore and Clongowes Wood colleges, William entered the Society of Jesus in 1896 and studied in France and Holland where he found his ‘nerves’ intolerable and theology intractable. He taught at Clongowes for six years and, after ordination in 1912, at Crescent College, Limerick, for nine. His friendship with participants such as Eamon de Valera in the 1916 rebellion, his republicanism and ardent loquacity influenced his removal in 1922 to Australia.
After teaching in Sydney at St Aloysius College and then in Melbourne at Xavier College, he was appointed parish priest of St Ignatius, Richmond, in 1925. Meanwhile his reputation for Irish patriotism, scholarship and energy had endeared him to Archbishop Daniel Mannix, who encouraged him to found the Central Catholic Library. It opened in May 1924 and by 1937 more than 2000 borrowers had access to about 60,000 books. Hackett’s axiom was: ‘a country that does not read does not develop; a community without spiritual ideas cannot survive’. Though he lacked business or administrative sense, he triumphed over financial problems owing to his humorous and courtly personality, and a showmanship backed by a wide-ranging acquaintance with literature. The library became a centre for discussion groups of graduates of Catholic secondary schools and at Newman College, University of Melbourne. Hackett fostered the emergence of an intelligentsia in the Campion Society, founded in 1931. As chaplain he took a heuristic line; laymen, he felt obliged to say, were not the clergy’s inferiors.
Appalled by the Depression and the growth of communism, he helped to launch the influential Sunday Catholic Hour broadcast (3AW) in 1932 and was a frequent commentator; he watched over the foundation of the monthly Catholic Worker in 1936 and the national secretariat of Catholic Action in 1937 of which he became ecclesiastical assistant from 1943. While condemning both Nazis and Spanish socialists and extolling constitutional freedoms, he praised the pro-family and anti-communist policies of Fascist regimes. He helped to foster the Catholic Women’s Social Guild, addressed the inaugural meeting of the Australian section of St Joan’s International Alliance and supported the innovation of the Grail lay female institute.
James Griffin, William Philip Hackett (Australian Dictionary of Biography)
William Hackett (Jesuit) (Wikipedia)
Gary Lockwood, The Catholic Right in SA Labor (Australian Society for the Study of Labour History, Canberra Region)
Fr William Hackett SJ (Irish Jesuit Archives)