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The Australian Catholic Church

Twenty-five of the Best!

Sport and Literature

JOEL BOWDEN - Footballer and voluntary community worker

(1978 -      )

Joel Bowden is probably the best known of the Bowden family. However all the Bowdens have been not only gifted at sport but also share a deep commitment to various aspects of social justice arising from their experience of Catholic faith in action as they grew up.

Parents Michael and Judy Bowden left Melbourne with the beginnings of their family in 1971 to teach in Mildura. Then they took their family to work with Aboriginal people on the Ernabella Mission on the NT border and later to Alice Springs where the youngest members of the family were born. Both parents instilled in their children by word and by example a sense of respect for other human beings regardless of their status or background and a huge commitment to redressing injustices. Their faith shaped the way they lived their lives. This is reflected in the range of activities for others in which their, now adult, children participate. Whether it be teaching, working with street kids and supporting the Lighthouse Foundation, tutoring in the high rise flats in Richmond, working withyoung Aborigines in Alice Springs or helping Aboriginal people get access to legal help, one or other of the Bowden boys or their sister Majella will be involved.

They not only inherited a Catholic way of life but they were taught to think too. Joel admits, not without pride, that he was voted the most annoying player on the list at Richmond Football Club. This was because he was always raising controversial topics and asking team mates what they thought about issues well beyond the boundary line at Tigerland.


The Catholic faith and practice of the Bowden parents played a crucial role in developing a strong sense of justice and concern for others in their family. What role have your parents played in the person that you have become? What positive values and attitudes have they passed on to you? What would you in turn like to pass on to your own children?


(1971 -     )

Matthew Hayden is a recently retired Australian cricketing great. He  is also a Catholic whose faith makes a real difference to how he lives his day-to-day life. ‘It's everything to me, without being over the top about it,’ says Matthew.  Despite the challenges of remaining committed to regular practice of his faith on tour Matthew always made a point of getting to Mass and being mindful of God as he did his best for his side, a staunchness that Greg Baum comments on in this article.

As a past student of a Marist school, he has an intense interest in issues of social justice. Now retired, he hopes to encourage young Aboriginal cricketers and to see them incorporated into Australian Test teams. He has also made a big contribution to cancer research and encourages good eating and exercise among kids. He is also passionate about community development, the great outdoors and cooking. His various contributions to Australian life as well as his wonderfully successful cricket career led to him being made a member of the Order of Australia. He was one of the Ambassadors for World Youth Day in Sydney.


Why do you think Matthew made such a point of getting to Mass each Sunday no matter where in the world he was? Why is Mass so important to Catholics?


(1938 -      )

Les Murray was born at Bunyah NSW in 1938. His dairy farming parents were not well off and he was a rather isolated and lonely child who took refuge in reading whatever he could find. His mother died when he was 13 and his father never got over it. As a little boy, surrounded by bush and the companions of a little school, Les was not unduly teased, either about his rotund build or his socially awkward personality but it was another matter at secondary school. Les discovered some of the crueller aspects of human behaviour and retreated into himself. This seminal influence made him wary of the pressure of opinion and the human tendency to demand that others conform to fashionable viewpoints.

At 18 he began to write poetry ‘I discovered poetry when I was 18, and I went “Yeah, that's the equivalent of painting. That's what I can do”’. He began studying at Sydney University but drifted for some years despite having poems published quite widely and being acknowledged by some of Australia’s greatest poets. He married Valerie Morelli whom he had met at university and he became a Catholic himself. ‘Oh, I can see ... yes, that feels right. I belong to that!’

Murray’s faith is based on belief in God as the origin of all possibility of creativity and indeed poetry:

God is the poetry caught in any religion,
caught, not imprisoned. Caught, as in a mirror
. (from Poetry and Religion)

Elsewhere Les comments: ‘My contribution to religious thought has been that God has to share in our disaster and to be punished for what had been done. To take on our nature including the dreadful things we do to each other ... If a great deal of pain is involved – the pain of the innocent – then he who provided the opportunity for it to happen has some responsibility for it as well … God has to be punished by humans not least because he alone can bear the punishment.’ These words describe what has in fact already happened in the incarnation and death of Jesus.

Hence this verse describing a crucifix on a church wall:

High on the end wall hangs
The Gospel, from before he was books.
All judging ends in his fix,
All, including his own.
(from Church).

You can get a good sense of Les’s own style as he tells his story on Radio National and you can read some poems here.


God is the poetry caught in any religion,
caught, not imprisoned. Caught, as in a mirror

How does this help your understanding of God? What reflections of God have you seen in Christianity? in other faiths?

BERNARD O’REILLY - Bushman and writer

(1903 - 1975)

Bernard O’Reilly grew up in a large family of pioneer Australians. His family was the first to try farming on the beautiful Lamington plateau in south-east Queensland and the first to introduce visitors to this area. O’Reilly’s Guesthouse is still run by the family and is still introducing people to the wonders of the temperate rainforest which clothes the McPherson ranges. From his boyhood Bernard was captivated by the bush and its plants, birds and animals and he shared the faith of his parents, taught by example as much as by words. ‘Dad was broadminded in the best sense of the word; he never preached or ramped of what we should do or not do; like mother it was by example that his lessons were taught. He had that deep, simple religion common to all men of the soil.’

Despite its relative proximity to Brisbane, the O’Reilly selection was in a very inaccessible spot, and the establishment of the Lamington National Park cut it off even more effectively. It was 36 years before a sealed road passed the O’Reilly property and much longer before electricity and other amenities were available. All these things made the family members very self-reliant and completely at home in the bush. So Bernard was well equipped to respond when, in 1937, a Stinson aircraft crashed in the wild McPherson Ranges. The extraordinary story of how Bernard O’Reilly located the crash site and then orchestrated the rescue of the two survivors is one of bravery, faith, courage, cameraderie and wonderful bushcraft. Bernard himself went on to write a very unassuming account of the rescue to which he added recollections of his life in the bush. Green Mountains and Cullenbenbong are his best-known books.


Faith in God means believing that nothing happens randomly. Bernard O’Reilly believed that he was equipped by his upbringing, his years in the bush, his health and strength and his skills in reading wild country to find the missing plane and airmen

What are some of the character traits, interests, abilities or learnings of yours that could be used in service of others, right now and in the future?