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.
HISTORIC CONVENTION, 1934
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 “CATHOLIC WORKER”
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)