Growth of Australian Catholic Action

Here, in a digest of the second part of Rev. J. G. Murtagh’s recent article in the New York “Commonweal on “Australia Comes of Age,” is a lively sketch of the growth of Catholic Action in Australia, particularly as seen in the Campion and affiliated societies in Melbourne. At the risk of embarrassing certain modest Catholic laymen well known to many of our readers, Fr. Murtagh’s quick pen-pictures, drawn for readers in the United States, are reproduced in condensed form. Fr. Murtagh, assistant editor of “The Advocate,” is at present studying at the Catholic University, Washington, D.C., U.S.A.

THE International Eucharistic Congress, held in Sydney in 1928, was followed in the ‘thirties by a remarkable outburst of ecclesiastical and lay initiative, which reached its climax in the midst of war, with the recent announcement by the Hierarchy of the unification of Catholic Action in the Commonwealth.

The lay movement had its origins in the Campion Society, founded in Melbourne in 1931 by a young lawyer as an educational and cultural discussion group movement for university graduates and undergraduates.

Following an historical approach, the society was deeply influenced by Belloc and Dawson and expanded in a three years informal group life of reading and discussion over the general field of Catholic literature.

The centre of the movement was the Melbourne Catholic Library (30,000 volumes), which is situated in the heart of downtown, with a cafe nearby and a hotel around the corner. The society was a seeding ground for lay apostles and soon began to flower.

One group formed a branch of the Catholic Evidence Guild. Others began writing for the press and speaking for the Catholic Hour broadcast.

Another group founded the Australian “Catholic Worker,” while the debating halls of Australian universities, too, echoed to the Chester-Belloc dialectic, for from ’32 to ’37 Campion men captained the Melbourne ‘Varsity debating teams. In their visits to the various capital cities, they discovered other groups of young Catholics beginning to shoulder the troubles of the world, notably the Catholic Guild of Social Studies in Adelaide.


In 1934, at the National Eucharistic Congress in Melbourne, a conference was called of student bodies from all (States of the Commonwealth. Appropriately, the theme of the Congress was “The Blessed Eucharist and Catholic Action.” The convention resulted, among other things, in the formation by Campion leaders of an unofficial clearing house for ideas on Catholic Action.

Half a dozen members and one of their chaplains prepared a joint pamphlet, entitled “Prelude to Catholic Action,” stressing formation instead of organisation, which had a wide circulation, and groups of Campion inspiration began to spring up in cities, country towns and most unexpected corners e£ the continent. At the same time, the Campion Society established contact with the outside world and began to build up knowledge of what was being thought and done in other countries.

English ideas filtered in through the press, notably the “Catholic Herald,” the “Weekly Review” and “Blackfriars,” to mention only the more influential.

The society was in touch with Rev. Fr. Kothen of the J.O.C. and the “Action Populaire” in France. Thus the “Dossiers” and “Cahiers” and the rich, inspiring literature of Jocism began to exert its influence on the movement.

Of American influences, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin have ;been, perhaps, the greatest, for the American “Catholic Worker” inspired ;a like venture in the South Seas.


The foundation of the “Catholic Worker” was an event of profound importance for the future of Catholic social policy in Australia. The writer, a Campion chaplain, was present on that summer evening late in January, 1936, when the first “pull” was drawn, wet, “”blotchy and technically rather primitive, from an over-worked press in a small suburban printery in an industrial suburb, and eagerly scrutinised by the first Campion “Catholic Worker” group.

The edition was bundled up and despatched by the writers. The .first copy was sent to Pope Pius XI. and another to Joseph Stalin, Moscow! And when the job was done and the hour very late, the boys drank a bottle of wine and said a decade of the Rosary.

So began the Australian “C.W.,” inspired, it is true, by its elder brother in America, but differing in origins, policy and organisation. It was founded, with the permission of Archbishop Mannix, as a free organ •of lay opinion and propaganda for .social justice.

It grew almost overnight into a national monthly of 50,000 copies. The first consignment to Adelaide was preceded by a telegram which read as follows: “Five hundred Catholic Workers’ arriving Adelaide railway station.” The police were advised and extra men were detailed for duty!

The Australian “C.W.” is not a centre of a “movement” along Mott-street lines. There are, as yet, no breadlines, houses of hospitality, farming communes, nor organised counsels of perfection.

But there is plenty of round-table discussion, for the paper is co-operatively edited and written (without pay and after work) by a group of laymen, with the object of giving the Australian worker a concrete programme of Christian social action, on the lines of the encyclicals.

To-day, it is conducted by a central committee of 24 men, with an inner council of members of at least two years’ experience, to preserve continuity of policy. Its criticism of modern policy is expressed in the dialectic of Belloc’s “Servile State” and its policy is summed up in its slogan, “Property for the People!” Its conclusions are its own, nor does it commit the Church or the Hierarchy. In 1937 it received the Apostolic Blessing of Pope Pius XI.


When the Fourth Plenary Council of the Hierarchy of Australasia met in September, 1937, the Bishops recognised and commended the “Catholic Worker.” They also implemented a memorandum on ^Catholic Action, submitted by Campion leaders, urging the establishment of a National Secretariat and a period of experimentation and formation of leaders, so that Catholic Action should not be superimposed from above but should be an organic growth from below, following the principle of specialisation according to milieu.

The founder of the Campion movement, Frank Maher, was appointed director, and B. A. Santamaria became his assistant. Educated by the Christian Brothers and the Jesuits, Maher is a lawyer, who is attracted more by the cosmic conflicts of history than by the legal battles of the Bar.

A neat, suave and restrained personality, who prefers compromise to conflict, his tact and diplomacy have been a prime factor in the lay development of the ‘thirties. By contrast, his assistant, Santamaria, is a miniature tornado of ideas and energy. Australian-born, he followed ‘ a brilliant law course, but sublimated a zest for politics in a social apostolate.

His initiative and flair for journalism left their mark on all Campion activities, while in recent years his powers of oratory, leadership and organisation have been turned to building the Australian Catholic Rural Movement, perhaps the most important field of Catholic Action developed under the Secretariat. Starting from small beginnings about four years ago, it now has groups, centres and regions scattered up and down Australia, and is federated as a national movement, with its own newspaper, “Rural Life.”

While English, French and Belgian ideas have had no little influence in other fields of the Australian lay apostolate, American and Canadian ideas have been the major inspiration in the Australian rural movement.


Among other founders of the Campion Society, which included a convert parson and a former seminarian, was Denys Jackson, an English convert from Liverpool, who came to Australia on an exchange system as a teacher of history, settled permanently, married, after proposing by cable to his future wife in England, and, after winning a university prize essay on “Catholicism and Reconstruction,” began free-lancing for Catholic newspapers, became the best Catholic editorial writer in the Commonwealth and an authoritative commentator on world affairs.

The influence of French thought, particularly Charles Maurras, gives him a certain monarchist slant of mind and a definite contempt for demagogy.

A striking figure, unexpected in dress and somewhat Chestertonian in style, Jackson, a specialist in history, is at home with the Caesars, Charlemagne, St. Louis, the Stuarts and Napoleon and has become something of a legend, for his voice is known to thousands who have never seen him—the great radio audience which settles down every

Sunday night to hear his weekly commentary, presented as “The Onlooker” from the Catholic Hour, 3AW, Melbourne. Another foundation member, who had, however, no influence on the movement, was Frank Quaine, a bril-

liant French scholar of Melbourne University, who found himself so spiritually unattuned to Australia that he went to live in France, wrote articles for the royalist press, and took part in the retreat from Dunkirk, escaping safely to England on a destroyer.

Of profound importance in the history of the movement has been Kevin T. Kelly, a chubby dynamo of physical and mental energy, son of a railroad worker, an ardent democrat and radical Labourite, whose torrid oratory has been heard from public platform, university rostrum and soap-box.

One of the keenest minds thrown up by the society, Kelly was the founder of the Catholic Evidence Guild and is, perhaps, the best brain in the Catholic social movement.

He simultaneously served in a Government department, worked his way through college, studied the Catholic Revival, maintained a worldwide correspondence and hammered but a policy of social Catholicism and introduced the fundamental methods of Jocism.


The climax of the movement which began with the first Campion group in 1931 was the unification of Catholic Action by the Hierarchy in October, 1941. It set the seal of approval on the work of the Secretariat, established by lay initiative in 1938, a work which has already produced abundant good in the public life of the Commonwealth. The national scheme of child endowment (family allowances) which became law early this year and went into operation in July, by which every mother of a family receives one dollar per head per week for every child after the first, was due in no small measure to the united Catholic voice, led by the Secretariat of Catholic Action and expressed in its statement on social justice of 1940.

Recently, Dr. H. V. Evatt, Attorney-General and Minister for External Affairs in the present Government, paid a tribute to Catholic Action and its 1941 statement, entitled “Justice Now.”

Speaking of the wider distribution of wealth and property in a national broadcast, Dr. Evatt said: “I think I can make the point clearer by citing ‘Justice Now,’ an official research study of the Australian Secretariat of Catholic Action. I am not a member of the Catholic Church and, therefore, I feel a special duty to pay a tribute to the value of this study.”


Meanwhile, the war birds are loose in the Pacific and Australians are experiencing for the first time the fear and exhilaration of armed conflict at their doors. There is complete unity among her people and the Labour Prime Minister, John Curtin, has announced new emergency measures, “the first instalment of a complete revision of the whole of the Australian economy and domestic life.”

And so Australia, the terra australia incognita which eluded discoverers, puzzled geographers and grew to nationhood in detachment and loneliness, has yielded up her splendid isolation before the silver wings of ocean fliers and has emerged into the full light of history. What the future holds no man can tell.


Growth of Australian Catholic Action (The Advocate, Thursday 26 March 1942, page 15)

First Federal Conference of Delegates

The first Conference of Organisers of Catholic Action in Australia and New Zealand took place at the offices of the National Secretariat of Catholic Action, 379 Collins Street, Melbourne. The following delegates attended the Conference, which was held under the auspices of the Episcopal Sub-Committee on Catholic Action: — Adelaide, Rev. W. L. Dunne, Mr. P. Gillick; Armidale, Rev. P. J. Dunne, D.D., Mr. H. M. Regan; Ballarat. Rev. J. Mclnerney; Brisbane, Mr. Favier; Hobart, Rev. R. Scarfe; Maitland, Rev. E. Tweedy, D.D. ; Melbourne, Rev. T. O’Sullivan; New Zealand, Rev. J. A. Higgins, S.M.; Rockhampton, Very Rev. Dean Rowan; Sale, Rev. T. Calinan; Sandhurst. Rev. T. Cahill, D.D.; Toowoomba, Rev. E. Concannon; Townsville, Rev. P. T. Kelly; Wagga, Rev. B. W. Hayden; Western Australia, Rev. J. Hussey; National Secretariat, Mr. F. K. Maher and Mr. B. A. Santamaria. 

The resolutions passed by the Conference were subsequently submitted to a meeting of the Episcopal Sub-Committee on Catholic Action and have been approved by the Sub-Committee. Resolutions Passed Ey Conference. 

1. That the Conference express its sorrow at the death of his Holiness the Pope and requests the National Secretariat to ask the Apostolic Delegate to send on behalf of the Conference a cablegram to his Eminence Cardinal Pizzardo expressing the feelings of the members of the Conference and asking for his Eminence’s blessing on their deliberations. 

2. That the Conference recommends the general instructions on the formation of groups and the conduct thereof as set out in the brochure ‘Your Group’ published by the National Secretariat and suggests that further consideration be given to the question of programmes for the first year. 

3. That the Conference recommend the insertion of the Prayer for the Conversion of Australia among the prayers to be recited at group meetings. 

4. That the Diocesan organisers be recommended, in preparing the First Year Courses for their groups, to arrange for treatment of the topics recommended by the Sub-Committee on group programmes, while keeping very closely in mind the need to vary the method’ and order of treatment of these topics according to the requirements of the various kinds of groups, and that the National Secretariat be asked to prepare outlines and questionnaires covering the topics — publishing pamphlets if possible, where such are necessary, for the assistance of group leaders. 

5. That special emphasis be paid by diocesan organisers in arranging their programmes to the study of the Mass. 

6. That a discussion on the proper use of leisure and of sport be added to the syllabus for first year groups. 

7. That all Catholic Action groups take into serious consideration the study of the Liturgy of the Church and that the National Secretariat use every means to foster the study of the Liturgy in study groups. 

8. That Catholic Action groups should be directed to devote some portion of each meeting to planning local action. 

9. That this Conference being convinced that the only effective method of solving the youth problem is by training youth to conquer youth, strongly recommends that in commencing a youth movement the method should follow strictly Catholic Action lines from the beginning and should commence with the training of a small group of militants between the ages of 14 to 25. 

10. That the principals of Catholic schools be asked to furnish Diocesan Secretariats with the names, addresses, and where possible the intention as to occupations of the boys and girls leaving primary and secondary schools each year. 

11. That the National Secretariat be asked to issue direction for the commencement of youth groups along the lines of the Young Christian Workers’ Movement. 

12. That the Conference recommend that as far as possible the method of specialisation should be adopted by Diocesan Organisers in the organisation of groups according to interest, based on vocational grouping, in the sense of Catholic social principles, and not according to class distinctions based on occupations. 

14. That the Conference suggests that to secure the interest of priests in Catholic Action at meetings of priests the organisation of Catholic Action be discussed wherever possible and that a recommendation should be made for the establishment, wherever possible, of groups of priests for the study of Catholic Action. 

15. That the term ‘Ecclesiastical Assistant’ should be preferred to the term ‘Chaplain’ to describe those priests appointed by the Bishops to look after groups of Catholic Action. 

16. That the Conference recommend that the ‘Bulletin for Chaplains of Catholic Action’ published at Mosgiel, New Zealand, should receive support from the priests. 

17. That no fixed spiritual obligations be imposed on members of Catholic Action groups, provided they are practical Catholics, but very special spiritual exercises and advice be provided for them and they should be encouraged to make more use of these for their spiritual formation as militants. 

18. That the Conference request the permission of the Episcopal SubCommittee to describe their groups working under the authority of the Diocesan Organisers as ‘Catholic Action Groups.’ 

19. That the Conference recommends the establishment of Catholic literature groups in every parish for the purpose of selling Catholic literature and that such groups be co-ordinated under the Diocesan Organiser. : 

20. That this Conference gives its support to a monthly paper proposed to be published for the ? development of the Rural Movement and to do all in its power to promote such movement and the interest of such a paper. 

12. That the Diocesan Organisers should attempt to obtain agents to distribute the Italian Paper ‘L’Angelo della Famiglia’ and to encourage groups to push the sale of this publication in districts where there are groups of Italians. 

22. That the Conference recommend the formation of a special group to write to the Catholic and secular press provided such groups are organised under the supervision of the Diocesan Organisers. 

23. That the National Secretariat be asked to produce a monthly bulletin of Catholic Action for circulation among Catholic Action groups in Australia and New Zealand. 

24. That the Conference recommend the establishment of Catholic Action groups in schools along the lines suggested in the agenda for the National Conference. 

25. That the Conference recommends to the Diocesan Organisers to organise groups of Catholic teachers to study the question of Catholic Action In Catholic schools, particularly with rel’orence to the youth problem. 

26. That the Secretarial should compile a syllabus of Instruction for schools concerning the social doctrine of the Church and other matters connected with Catholic Action, together with suitable references thereof and should make these available for the use of teachers in Catholic schools. 

27. That the Conference recommends the Diocesan Organisers to obtain the assistance of the inspectors of Catholic schools in promoting Catholic Action throughout the diocese. 

28. That the Conference recommend that the Liturgical Movement be given special encouragement in the schools, particularly by means of thorough instruction on the Sacrifice of the Mass, the uso of the Missal and the trim significance of the Sacraments. 

29. That the Conference recommends the establishment in the Diocese of Maitland of a ‘Social Justice Information Bureau’ to co-operate with the National Secretariat in the dissemination of information on the fundamental principles of the Catholic social order with particular reference to the manner in which the principles nffoct the mining industry. 

30. That the Conference recommend the establishment through the cooperation of Father Higgins and the National Secretariat, of a Social Justice Information Bureau for the organising of propaganda on a large scale to disseminate knowledge of the fundamental principles on which, according to the Pontifical documents, the Christian social order must be built and that this information be available, particularly in times of acute social unrest. 

31. The following recommendations of the Sub-Committee appointed to deal with finance were unanimously adopted: 

(a) That the sale of Catholic literature, such as C.T.S. pamphlets, the Sheed and Ward Series, etc., should be exploited as one of the means of financing Catholic Action. 

(b) That the National Secretariat should explore the possibilities of arranging visits from overseas lecturers from time to time.


First Federal Conference of Delegates (Catholic Freeman’s Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1932 – 1942), Thursday 15 June 1939, page 4) (Trove)

Catholic Action Plans

Dr. Simonds Secretary of National Body

HOBART, Friday.

The formation of the National Secretariat of Catholic Action in Australia, with the Archbishop of Hobart (Most Rev. Justin D. Simonds) as national secretary, is officially announced by “The Standard,” published yesterday. Central offices have been secured in Melbourne, and his Grace states that Australia had at last embarked on a national movement of Catholic action to defend, expand, and consolidate the Kingdom of Christ in the land. During the past few weeks, states “The Standard,” Archbishop Simonds has been gathering information concerning, the already existing Catholic action movements throughout Australia.

Writing from St. Mary’s Cathedral, his Grace states that several years had passed since the Holy Father issued a call to the. entire world, inviting the laity to insist in the apostolate of Catholic action, the exalted aim of which was to re-establish in society that Christian concept of life which modern pagan forces were openly seeking to destroy. Isolated and inco-ordinate efforts had been made in several dioceses of Australia to respond to the Holy Father’s call, but now the movement was organised on a national basis.

All would he enlisted in the crusade, the letter states, but the specialised direct action would be taken by coordinated groups of organised Catholics, who would endeavour to spread the influence of Christ’s principles ,in the particular environment in which they lived and moved. As the purpose of Catholic action was to supiernaturalise the entire social body, there must be as many groups working for Catholic action as there were spheres of human interest and endeavour. In each sphere there would be a group of earnest, militant, and specially trained Catholics, who would make a special study of the ideals of Christianity, with particular reference to their bearing upon the environment in which they lived, and endeavour to have these ideals accepted and practised by all those who belonged to their particular environment. The leadership and direction of these groups would be exercised in accordance with the plan laid down by the Hierarchy, and under its general provision.

A sub-committee of three members of the Hierarchy had been elected to direct the national organisation on behalf of the Australian Hierarchy. The Archbishop of Melbourne (Dr. Mannix) was president, Archbishop Simonds secretary, and the other member was the Bishop of Maitland. The committee had secured the services of Rev. W. Keane, S.J., distinguished philosopher, and an authority on the social problems of the day, who would act as ecclesiastical assistant to the national secretariat. Messrs. F. K. Maher, M.A. LL.B., and B.A., Santamaria, M.A., LL.B., were officials of the lay secretariat.


Catholic Action Plans (Examiner (Launceston, Tas. : 1900 – 1954), Saturday 22 January 1938, page 6) (Trove)

Catholic Action

Australian National Movement.



On the 13th of September last year, a decision of momentous importance to the Catholics of Australia was made by the Hierarchy of Australia and New Zealand, ‘when they decided at their general meeting to launch the movement of Catholic Action upon a national basis. Several years have passed since the Holy Father issued a call to the entire world, inviting the laity to enlist in the Apostolate of Catholic Action, the exalted aim of which is to re-establish in society that Christian concept of life which modern pagan forces are openly seeking to destroy. Isolated and inco-ordinate efforts have been made in several diocese of Australia to respond to the Holy Father’s call to Catholic Action, but now the movement is launched on a national basis, and will be organised by the Hierarchy on Australian-wide lines. The action of the Hierarchy is a welcome response to a widespread and urgent appeal from the Catholic laity of Australia to give them an opportunity of participating in the lay apostolate.

If all that is best in our social life is not to be ruined by the destructive agencies which are actively at work in our midst, no time must be lost in rousing every loyal Catholic to take his share in that apostolate to which he was dedicated in the Sacrament of Confirmation. Our inspiring leader, Pope Pius XL, has defined Catholic Action as ‘the participation of the laity in the Apostolate of the Church’s Hierarchy.’ Enlarging on this definition, which he affirmed was given ‘after due thought, deliberately, and, indeed, one may not say without divine inspiration,’ the Supreme Pontiff says that Catholic Action is ‘the participation of the Catholic laity in the Hierarchical Apostolate, for the defence of religious and moral principles, and the development of a wholesome and beneficent social action. It works under the guidance of the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, outside of and above political parties, for – the purpose of restoring Catholic life in the family and society.

Extensive Programme.

Its programme is so extensive that it excludes nothing that can assist the Hierarchy in their divinely appointed task of extending the Kingdom of Christ amongst men. It is an apostolate of like upon like, of working-man upon working-man, of student upon student or professional men and women upon their colleagues, and is thus an apostolate which is particularly suited to the members of the laity in every state and condition of life. It will extend to the individual, to the family, to the factory, to the field, to the business house, in the office, the trades unions, and even to the playing fields.

The activities of the apostolate have I been summarily expressed by the Holy Father in these words: Prayer, Study, Action and Sacrifice. Every Catholic can take Ms share in the duty of prayer for the ! expansion of the Kingdom of Christ, and ‘ to some extent also he can shave in the privilege of personal sacrifice for the sake of that same kingdom. To the members of the religious communities, especially those of the Contemplative Orders, the Holy Father make a particular appeal for the crusade of prayer and sacrifice to obtain from heaven efficacious aid for the Church in her present struggle. All will be enlisted in the crusade, but the specialised direct action will be taken up by co-ordinated groups of organised Catholics, who will endeavour to spread the influence of Christ’s principles in the particular environment in ? which they live and move. As the purpose of Catholic Action is to supernaturalise the entire social body, there must be as many groups -working for Catholic Action ;;s there arc spheres of human interest and endeavour. In each sphere there will be a group of earnest, militant and specially trained Catholics, who will make a special study of the ideals of Christianity, with particular reference to their bearing upon the environment in which they live, and endeavour to have these ideals accepted and practised by all those who belong to their particular environment. The leadership and direction of these groups will be exercised in accordance with the plan laid down b,y the Hierarchy, and under its general supervision.

Central Central Co-ordinating Body.

It is the intention of the Hierarchy to utilise the newly-formed central National Organisation to act as a central coordinating body for all the existing organisations, and to stimulate the growth of others that have yet to be formed. The Central Organisation will assist each diocese to form the necessary diocesan groups, which, in turn, will organise and develop the parochial units, and ultimately reach each individual.

A sub-committee of three members of the Hierarchy was elected to direct the National Organisation on behalf of the Australian Hierarchy. The Archbishop of Melbourne is the president, the Archbishop of Hobart is secretary, ind the Bishop of Maitland completes the membership of the committee.

The first work to which the Episcopal Committee set its hand was the establishment of an Australian Secretariat of Catholic Action, with an office and all the necessary equipment to carry out the work on a national basis. The members of the committee are pleased to announce that they have been able to secure the services of three leaders, whose eminent qualifications for their important offices, and their well-known zeal for the cause, give great promise for the future of Catholic Action in Australia. The Rev. Father W. Keane, S.J., who is known in every Australian State as a distinguished philosopher and an authority on the social problems of the day, will act as the Ecclesiastical Assistant to the National Secretariat. The officials, of the Lay Secretariat are a)so happily chosen; Mr. F. K. Maher, M.A., LL.B., and Mr. B. A. Santamaria, M.A., LL.B., who have for several years rendered valuable service to the Church as members of the Campion Society, and who wijl devote their wholo time to the work of the Lay Secretariat.

The Secretariat has already begun its work, and is at present engaged in making a preliminary survey of all the existing and potential associations in Australia, with a view to bringing them into touch with official Catholic Action. Communications should be addressed to the Australian National Secretariat of Catholic Action, 368 Collins-street, Melbourne, C.I., Victoria.Australia has at last embarked upon a National Movement of Catholic Action to defend, expand and consolidate the Kingdom of Christ in our own land. May God’s blessing attend the movement.




Catholic Action (Catholic Press (Sydney, NSW : 1895 – 1942), Thursday 20 January 1938, page 21) (Trove)