for the
2009 ACHS Conference

Catholics in Australian Public Life since 1788

Saturday 12 September 2009

Panel: ‘Meddlesome Catholics’

Well in tune with the conference theme of ‘Catholics in Australian Public Life’ is the topic of the final panel. There are interesting echoes:

‘Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest!’ (King Henry II, 1170)
The Meddlesome Priest: A Life of Ernest Burgmann (Peter Hempenstall, 1993)

And Paul Keating found his ‘meddlesome priest’ in Fr Frank Brennan sj.

Our panelists are Dr Michael Costigan and Clara Geoghegan.

Photo courtesy of Catholic Weekly.

Michael Costigan has had wide experience and involvement in Catholic affairs. As a seminarian and priest in Rome he witnessed and reported on the changes sweeping the Church from the era of Pius XII to that of Vatican II. He returned to Australia and became Associate Editor of the Melbourne Advocate. After leaving the priesthood in 1969 he became a full-time journalist, while also involving himself in a range of Church and social justice areas. Exemplifying this has been his role over nearly two decades as executive secretary of the Bishops’ Committee for Justice, Development, Ecology and Peace. He has contributed three short biographies to the Australian Dictionary of Biography: those of Archbishop Justin Simonds, Father James Murtagh and Mr Denys Jackson.)

Michael’s early thoughts on the theme were:

One early thought for a title is ‘Meddlesome Melbourne Catholics I have known’. I am thinking of the period from the 1940s to the latter part of the 20th Century, with particular reference to the anti-Communist fight, the divisions in the Labor Party and the Church, and the Vatican II and Post-Vatican II years. As a priest of the Melbourne Archdiocese from 1955 to 1969, and as Associate Editor of the Catholic Advocate from 1961 to 1969, I had a close association with events and key people, some of whom have been the subject of biographies and/or interesting obituaries. Others I have known include BA Santamaria, Ronald Conway, Vincent Buckley, Denys Jackson and Arthur Calwell, among the laity; and Bishop Fox, Monsignor John F. Kelly, Father Gerry Golden SJ, Father Charlie Mayne SJ and Father William Hackett SJ among the clergy.



Clara Geoghegan is a lecturer in Church History at Catholic Theological College, Melbourne. She is currently a doctoral candidate in Australian Church History, researching the history of the Diocese of Sandhurst from 1852 to 1901 at Australian Catholic University. She also co-ordinates the “Gifted and Called” Workshops on behalf of the Catherine of Siena Institute (Australia) and the Archbishop’s Office for Evangelisation. Her main academic interest is Australian church history, and she has published “Caroline Chisholm and the Polemics of Sainthood” in God, the Devil and a Millennium of Christian Culture (2004).

Clara has decided to speak on Caroline Chisholm as a ‘meddlesome Catholic’. She has provided the following preview:

Caroline Chisholm was a woman ahead of her times. She is best known for her work with immigrant women in the colony of New South Wales. This was not the limit of her involvement in her other achievements she championed families, the unemployed, humanized the face of migration and reformed passenger shipping. She was married and the mother of six children.

Caroline was extraordinary insofar as she not only saw her work as being in response to a divine call but she promised “to know neither country nor creed, but to try and serve all justly and impartially.” This humanitarian and ecumenical ideal became the source of suspicion amongst Anglican, Presbyterians and Catholics. The Anglican minister in Windsor, did not believe she could be impartial but suspected she would favour Catholics, although he subsequently became a firm supporter. Presbyterian John Dunmore Lang accused her of being ‘a female Jesuit’. And the Catholics would have preferred her to confine her works to the welfare of Catholics.

She would be seen as ‘meddlesome’ across religious denominations but also by the government of the day, by prominent colonials, and the squattocracy for challenging the prevailing pragmatism and calling for more altruistic values to underpin public policy.

2009 Conference
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