Bishop’s legacy of sec­u­lar, so­cial di­vide

Daniel Man­nix: Be­yond the Myths By James Grif­fin Gar­ratt Pub­lish­ing, 397pp, $44.95

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Ross Fitzger­ald Ross Fitzger­ald, emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor of his­tory and pol­i­tics at Grif­fith Univer­sity, is the author of 35 books, in­clud­ing his mem­oir My Name is Ross: An Al­co­holic’s Jour­ney, and the po­lit­i­cal satire Fools’ Par­adise.

MELBOURNE’S long-serv­ing Ir­ish­born Catholic arch­bishop Daniel Man­nix died aged 99 on Novem­ber 6, 1963, a day af­ter hav­ing a flut­ter on the Melbourne Cup. Un­for­tu­nately, Jim Grif­fin, whose acer­bically can­tan­ker­ous but lively and well-re­searched bi­og­ra­phy was com­pleted only af­ter Grif­fin’s death with the dili­gent aid of Paul Or­monde, does not tell us whether the con­tro­ver­sial prelate won.

When, 20 years ago, I searched for pa­pers con­cern­ing Man­nix in the ar­chives of Ire­land’s Maynooth sem­i­nary — where he had been pro­fes­sor of moral the­ol­ogy and even­tu­ally pres­i­dent — the priest in charge said that, other than Man­nix’s de­voted dis­ci­ple BA (Bob) San­ta­maria, I was the only Aus­tralian to have done so for decades. How­ever, there was al­most noth­ing there save a few brief, in­signif­i­cant let­ters scrawled by Man­nix in his barely leg­i­ble, spindly hand.

As it turns out, this is not sur­pris­ing. Ac­cord­ing to Grif­fin and to San­ta­maria — whose 1984 bi­og­ra­phy of the arch­bishop is bagged by Grif­fin un­mer­ci­fully — Man­nix was of­ten re­luc­tant to put pen to pa­per. More­over, be­fore his death at al­most 100, Man­nix burned al­most all of his few re­main­ing let­ters and other doc­u­ments.

Sadly, af­ter he left Ire­land for Aus­tralia in 1913, for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons use­fully ex­plored by Grif­fin, the rad­i­cal pro-Ir­ish, anti-con­scrip­tion arch­bishop never set foot in his beloved Maynooth again.

What is clear is that through­out his long and tu­mul­tuous life Man­nix re­mained a strong sup­porter of the mil­i­tant Ir­ish pa­triot and politi­cian Ea­mon de Valera.

It is also clear is that, es­pe­cially when deal­ing with Man­nix’s anti-Bri­tish state­ments up to 1925, Grif­fin presents what may be termed the case for the pros­e­cu­tion. Hence in his eval­u­a­tion of Man­nix dur­ing World War I, Grif­fin some­times comes across as a vir­u­lent an­tag­o­nist.

Per­haps the most fas­ci­nat­ing sec­tion of the book, much of it writ­ten by Or­monde, deals with the fiercely anti-com­mu­nist In­dus­trial Groups that op­er­ated so ef­fec­tively within Aus­tralia’s trade unions and which in many ways mim­icked the tac­tics and struc­ture of the Com­mu­nist Party.

The core of the groups, Grif­fin states, ‘‘ was or­gan­ised by the Man­nix pro­tege, BA San­ta­maria through his so-called ‘ Move­ment’, us­ing church re­sources and fa­cil­i­ties’’. For its part, the Move­ment, un­der San­ta­maria’s guid­ance, in­voked — ‘‘ in­tensely and fre­quently’’ — the name and au­thor­ity of the ven­er­a­ble arch­bishop of Melbourne.

In­deed there seems lit­tle doubt that, es­pe­cially in the mid-1950s — at the time of the great split in the Aus­tralian La­bor Party — San­ta­maria was Aus­tralia’s most pow­er­ful Catholic lay­man, who was widely be­lieved, es­pe­cially in Vic­to­ria, to re­flect the mind of Man­nix.

It is cer­tainly the case that this bi­og­ra­phy of Man­nix of­ten is far too un­am­bigu­ously crit­i­cal of the arch­bishop’s re­la­tions with and strong sup­port of San­ta­maria. In­deed, Grif­fin’s neg­a­tive por­trayal of that in­flu­en­tial, Melbourne-based Catholic lay ac­tivist some­times seems to bor­der on the ob­ses­sional.

But in the con­text of the book as a whole, this is a rel­a­tively mi­nor quib­ble.

All in all, it is pleas­ing to re­port that in terms of in­ter­est and read­abil­ity the of­ten provoca­tive Daniel Man­nix: Be­yond the Myths is on a par with Grif­fin’s 2004 re­vi­sion­ist bi­og­ra­phy of the arch­bishop’s friend, the Colling­wood-based ‘‘ en­tre­pre­neur’’ John Wren, which was sim­i­larly sub­ti­tled A Life Re­con­sid­ered.

This long-awaited bi­og­ra­phy cap­tures su­perbly the fact that the ma­jor di­vi­sion in Aus­tralia at the time Man­nix was arch­bishop of Melbourne was be­tween Catholics and Protes­tants, with a Protes­tant as­cen­dancy be­ing the prime so­cial and po­lit­i­cal re­al­ity.

Un­for­get­tably for this re­viewer, when I was 10 years old I was re­fused ad­mis­sion to Sun­day school at St Mark’s Angli­can Church in Melbourne’s East Brighton be­cause I was wear­ing a hand-me-down blazer from Xavier Col­lege — where, as it hap­pens, Jim Grif­fin had stud­ied and also taught.

But from the day I was re­fused en­try for wear­ing a Catholic blazer, I be­came a com­mit­ted non-be­liever.

Later on, when I was hitch­hik­ing along Melbourne’s St Kilda Road in the early 60s, a well-dressed mid­dle-aged bloke in a Daim­ler who picked me up asked, ‘‘ Are you a Catholic or a Protes­tant?’’ When I replied that I was an athe­ist, the man per­sisted: ‘‘ Are you a Catholic athe­ist or a Protes­tant athe­ist?’’

Some fine black-and-white pho­to­graphs grace this im­por­tant book. One of my two favourites is of a stern-faced young Man­nix at Maynooth in 1890, the year he was or­dained as a priest. The other is that of the el­derly arch­bishop — tall, aus­tere, sharp-fea­tured and wear­ing a top hat — on his reg­u­lar 5km walk from St Pa­trick’s Cathe­dral, Melbourne, to his splen­did dou­ble-storey villa in Stud­ley Park, Ra­heen, whose 4.5ha of grounds de­scended to the Yarra River.

On the down­side, un­for­tu­nately, there are a num­ber of ty­po­graph­i­cal mis­takes in the book. For ex­am­ple, the sur­name of one of the arch­bishop’s early bi­og­ra­phers, Jack O’Shee­han, is ren­dered in the text as Shee­han. Sinn Fein sup­porter O’Shee­han’s largely un­crit­i­cal book Arch­bishop Man­nix: A Sketch of His Life and Work was pub­lished to con­sid­er­able in­ter­est in Ire­land in 1925.

Daniel Man­nix, arch­bishop of Melbourne

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