EDMUND CAMPION. On Cardinal Gilroy At The Sydney Institute.

A few days ago, I told a friend that Gerard Henderson had just asked me to speak here tonight, to give, what he called, a ‘personal reflection’ on Cardinal Gilroy. ‘You should say,’ said my friend, ‘that you once wrote a book, A Place in the City, the first sentence of which is, ‘It wasn’t much fun living in the same house as Cardinal Gilroy.’ True. But I wasn’t there for fun. I was there, half a century ago, to be a curate in the cathedral parish.

As such, I mainly saw the cardinal at meals in the rather formal dining room. There, the heavy questions of archdiocesan policy and its implementation were never discussed. If a visitor tried to raise them, the Cardinal would cut him short: ‘I see the Bishop of Winnipeg has died,’ he might say. Or, if the visitor persisted, ‘Have a banana, Father.’

‘Meals,’ I wrote in A Place in the City, ‘were meant to be recreation from the weighty matters of church and state considered elsewhere in the building. What ships were in the harbour, the vagaries of familiar clients of the cathedral’s aid, oddities from the day’s news – these were safe subjects. The adamantine rule was never to mention another priest at table, lest you unwittingly said anything that could somehow discredit him.’ Thus A Place in the City. It was, I wrote, as if you were under house arrest.

Sitting at the other end of the dining room table, I noticed something that seemed to me to be a residue, a surviving habit from his Roman education: he always gave people their proper, formal titles: His Grace, His Excellency, Monsignor, Father… never first names or nicknames. Nor did he encourage gossip or tittle-tattle about those in power. Power, he knew, is a network, a web, a seamless construct – damage any part of it and the whole thing suffers. I often remembered King James I’s response to the Presbyterian divines who were arguing for the abolition of bishops. ‘No bishop, no king.’ It goes without saying that no unkind comment was ever voiced about the Bishop of Rome (‘the Holy Father’, as the Cardinal always called him, although we might say ‘the Pope’). Yet such deference was not accorded to understrappers of the Vatican. When Pope Paul VI was coming to Sydney at the end of 1970, the cathedral dean spent some hours getting the sight-lines of the altar exactly right for TV cameras in the clerestory. A few days later, two monsignori from the Vatican turned up and moved the altar out of line. ‘How did the meeting with the Vatican people go?’ asked Gilroy that night. ‘They moved the altar we had spent hours getting aligned for the TV cameras,’ complained the dean. ‘Move it back,’ said Gilroy. He wasn’t going to have his man pushed around by blow-ins.

His life seemed lonely, however, filled with constant interviews, ceremonies and public occasions. A man of prayer, yes, but a lonely man. John Luttrell’s book tells us that he relaxed on Sunday nights in the family home; but there is no mention of personal friends, mates.

Let me tell you a story about that. When a priest was to be transferred from the cathedral to work elsewhere, a high tea was given in his honour, at which we each spoke. One such I remember vividly, the farewell to a Scripture scholar who was joining the seminary staff. In his speech, the cardinal acknowledged that seminary authorities had made several requests for this man’s services; and each time (until now) the cardinal had refused them. Why? He said that he hated to lose any of the cathedral men because – here I quote him – ‘in the necessary isolation of a bishop’s life you are like a family to me.’ ‘The necessary isolation of a bishop’s life’ – what psychic cost is contained in that reading of a bishop’s responsibility!

Now let me tell you two stories where Cardinal Gilroy came into my life. Back then, the church had re-introduced into the Mass an ancient call-and-response form of prayer to focus on issues of the day. It was called Prayers of the Faithful and the bishops had produced a book of sample prayers with the instruction that if other prayers were added they should be written out, not done extempore. One Sunday, I was on the High Mass with Cardinal Gilroy presiding – it was a special occasion, Red Cross Sunday I think, and he was there to show his support. A week earlier, Father Dan Berrigan, an American Jesuit and protestor against the Vietnam War, had been arrested by the FBI. I wrote out a prayer for him and added it to the Prayers of the Faithful. Cardinal Gilroy was not happy. He instructed a secretary to excise my prayer from the tape before it was broadcast on the radio that night. The next day I wrote him a letter, to say that, as instructed by the bishops, I had written out the prayer for a brother priest in good standing with his religious order who was now in trouble. Leaving the dining room, he stopped and told me that I hadn’t understood: he was presiding at the Mass, so people might think he had authorised the prayer. This was not the end of the story. A few weeks later, he inserted a sentence into the table talk, ‘I see Father Berrigan’s superiors have declared him in good standing with their order.’ And he looked down the table to where I sat at the bottom. I admired him for his amende honourable.

Here is another story. After I had been at the cathedral for a year or so, I started an independent newsletter called Report. Its aim was to carry the news that the Catholic press, for whatever reason, did not print. Report began the week Pope Paul released his encyclical Humanae Vitae condemning contraception, so there was plenty of news to gather. As well, the daily press, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian, liked what we wrote and, often enough, ran stories sourced in Report. An assiduous reader of the Sydney Morning Herald, the Cardinal was aware of us. After some months, his principal secretary came to me and said he felt he had to tell Gilroy that I was the main writer of the stories he was reading about in his paper. I told him to go ahead. Which he did… to be told, ‘You’re not saying, are you? No, you’re not – that Father Campion is printing material he is getting in here?’ And the cardinal passed to the next item on the agenda. An admirable man.

Here is a story that shows him as a man of his times. When Humanae Vitae came out, in 1968, I went to the press conference in the crypt of the cathedral. I knew some of the journalists there, two of them women. Cardinal Gilroy sat at a table covered with a worn green cloth, with Bishop Muldoon and two or three desiccated theologians. The Cardinal opened proceedings: ‘Good afternoon, gentlemen,’ he said.

Since I am speaking at the Sydney Institute, I expect you want me to say something about politics. To this day, however, I cannot tell which way Cardinal Gilroy voted. I direct you to John Luttrell’s book again.

One thing I found there startled me so much that I copied it in my notebook to mull over on the bus and at coffee. Towards the end of 1963 or the beginning of 1964, the Archbishop of Bombay, Cardinal Gracias, had an invitation from B A Santamaria to speak at a conference he was organizing. What to do? Gracias wrote to Cardinal Gilroy for advice: Did he know this man Santamaria? Should he accept the invitation? Back came Gilroy’s reply (p 265 in Luttrell):

‘The person who wrote to you not only has not the confidence of the greater part of the Australian Hierarchy but is regarded by them as one of the most harmful influences there has been in the Australian Church.’

As so often in the history of the church, quarrels are between good men on both sides of an argument.

Edmund  Campion is a Catholic Priest and historian.

These comments were a back up to John Luttrell at the Sydney Institute who was speaking about his new biography of Cardinal Gilroy


John Laurence Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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8 Responses to EDMUND CAMPION. On Cardinal Gilroy At The Sydney Institute.

  1. Rosemary O'Grady says:

    Eel & loquats sound like a good idea – but it takes real chutzpah to deliver them to a member of a defeated nation out of which your own (nation) ‘s ‘allies’ has just bombed the historic (excuse my French) ‘bejeezus’; and to speak – in any accents – to the recipient, about ‘suffering’.
    At the risk of sounding Competitive: my own Confirmation (Ballarat, late 1950s – Bishop O’Collins) ring-kissing was Not-Optional, it was Manatory. I am Proud to say: I fainted at the altar-rails.

  2. Dr Jennifer Anne Herrick says:

    A delightful piece Ed. Thanks for sharing it. It brings back a memory of Gilroy I have as a young girl at Our Lady of Dolours Church, Chatswood, home of so many memories, shining and dark, but this was Confirmation time, late sixties. On the top of the numerous front steps of Dolours, Gilroy is standing there, full regalia, post-Confirmation, fielding ring kisses, beaming. My mother, good Anglican though she was said “Jennifer, do you want to kiss the Cardinal’s ring?” I recoiled in horror. My mother looked at my father, the Catholic of the family. “She doesn’t have to if she doesn’t want to”. Relief.

  3. Rosemary Lynch says:

    My dad was a NSW policeman, who was tasked to investigate Santamaria’s Movement and their involvement with Unions. He came to the conclusion that they had been a corrupting influence. He reported that analysis to the Cathedral. Sydney Archdiocese had been weighing up whether to support them, but had heard the rumours. The Cathedral then dissociated itself. “The Cathedral” is a Sydney way of talking, isn’t it? Since then the Bishops have been identified, rather than the building.

  4. Roger Pryke, sometime Secretary to Gilroy, was fond of relating the story of His Eminence telling him to deliver a letter by car to a parish priest, miles out of his way, to save the cost of a postage stamp.
    Background: Gilroy used to work in the Post Office before he entered the seminary. When I was 15 or so and a priggish little Catholic I used to go to the Sydney Domain and listen to the speakers. I still remember the renowned communist Rupert Lockwood shouting enthusiastically from his podium –
    “And there’s Bluey Gilroy, got kicked out of the Post Office for pinching stamps, and now he’s running round in a lace petticoat!”

    I only had one personal encounter with him, wherein I tried to describe the atmosphere of fear that pervaded the Manly Seminary. He told me, in no uncertain, but certainly nasty terms, that I had no right to an opinion which contradicted those authorities who had years of experience more than I had. An unpleasant memory.

  5. Dr John CARMODY says:

    This is a lovely piece — as one would expect from Edmund Campion. It is historically rich but fully conscious of the personal dimension of history.

    Dr Luttrell’s book is informed and balanced (he, too, is an excellent professional historian) and offers remarkable insights into the Gilroy life and persona. Indeed, it is as much a biography of Sydney (and not just Catholic Sydney) as it is of the Cardinal.

    Gilroy became Archbishop in 1940 and held that post for a little over 30 years. They were remarkable times, spanning: World War II; the extraordinary post-war increase in Sydney’s population (from immigration and the “baby-boom”); the ascendancy of the Communist Party in the trade-unions; the disastrous seduction of the Bishops by BA Santamaria and his “Movement”; the ALP split; the schools crisis and “State Aid”; and the second Vatican council of the Catholic Church.

    One statistic is amazing: between 1940 and 1950, Gilroy established 72 new parishes (which involved building churches and schools). If Catholicism changes over his lifetime, so did Australia.

    • J knight says:

      That last statistic will be repeated but, federal funding and a less elegatarian secular environment, effectively in reverse.

      His Eminence’s comments reveal that he knew the real mission of the church was – and is- improving the lot of people and not just material things.

    • David Brennan says:

      A lovely piece indeed. ‘Have a banana, Father’. I think of the Mayor of Tooraloo. And when was the last time you read the word ‘understrappers’? Thanks, Edmund.

  6. Jim KABLE says:

    Tender and illuminating. Thanks, Edmund. I remember in reading Australian Marist priest Paul GLYNN’s biography of Japanese pioneer doctor of X-Ray technology Dr NAGAI Takashi – that during his lingering post-war death from leukaemia (brought on not by the bomb dropped by the US on August 9th, 1945 and immediately above his head on Nagasaki – and which he had nonetheless survived) he was visited by some significant people – Helen KELLER, the Japanese Emperor and Cardinal GILROY. A Song for Nagasaki (Foreword by Stan ARNEIL) published by the Catholic Book Club, 1988. Paul GLYNN SM is one of my personal heroes, I want to add at this point – a man of true reconciliation heart.

    “August 15, 1949 was the 400th anniversary anniversary of the arrival of the first Christian preacher in Japan, Francis Xavier. The main celebrations were in Nagasaki and Australia’s Cardinal Gilroy came as the legate of Pope Pius XII. The cardinal told Archbishop Yamaguchi of Nagasaki that he wanted to meet an A-bomb victim ‘and talk to him as one brother to another.’ The Archbishop suggested Nagai and so the first cardinal born Down Under ducked his head and entered tiny Nyokodo. Nagai tells the story in twelve pages of his 300-page book Itoshigo Yo (Dear Child) written especially with his children in mind. ‘My little ones, a cardinal is special. He chooses the pope and can become pope. And yet here he was, as the Archbishop told me before he arrived, talking “man to man, brother to brother”, and you know what? That’s how he made me feel. He acted as if he were an old friend from next door, without a dew-drop’s weight of pomp, self-importance or condescension. He followed the Japanese custom of bringing gifts and presented me with a fat eel freshly caught and a branch loaded with ripe loquats. My hands are skin-and-bone now and the way he took my right hand, so gently and warmly. His English pronunciation was straight from Oxford, making it easy to follow. He spoke of the world-wide struggle going on between good and evil and of the two camps that are forming, believers and materialists. Prayer is the must, he said, and if the sick can offer their pain and sickness with faith, this becomes a “sacrifice” and a prayer. I was moved more than I can tell you.’ There’s more – all beautifully recorded. As someone else has written of another: Here was a man! I am referring to Cardinal Gilroy, of course!

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