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The Australian Catholic Church

Twenty-five of the Best!

Religious and the Church

CAROLINE CHISHOLM - Pioneer social worker

(1808 - 1877)

Many people think that, if Australia was to have a second canonised saint, Caroline Chisholm may well be the best qualified for this honour. Caroline was born into a comfortable Protestant middle class English family in 1808. From childhood she had a keen interest in the welfare of others. In 1830 she married a Catholic, Archibald Chisholm (on condition that he allowed her to continue her social work) and subsequently she became a Catholic herself.

She and Captain Chisholm travelled first to India where he was stationed and then to Australia in 1838. Caroline was shocked at the dreadful conditions that awaited young emigrant women in the Colony. She was an immensely practical woman and resolved to do something about it. She regularly met ships to greet the young arrivals to ensure that they did not fall into the clutches of people anxious to take advantage of them. Caroline did her best to make arrangements for the women, offering some of them refuge in her own home. Eventually she persuaded Governor Gipps to allocate a building to be used as a hostel where girls could be accommodated while they were looking for work or for life-partners.

The motivation for this work was her own interest and commitment coupled with her desire to do God’s work in relation to the young women of the colony. This is the vow she made before the altar in St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney in 1841: I promise to know neither country nor creed, but to try and serve all justly and impartially. In 1846 the family returned to England to organise fairer, safer emigration for families and young women and to work for the reunion of families with husbands, fathers or sons who had emigrated. She organised the Family Colonisation Loan Society to encourage whole family migration, emphasising the positive role of women and children in Australia and helping and advising from her own experience. She became known as the Emigrant’s Friend.

During the gold rushes, the family was back in Australia – this time in Victoria setting up shelter sheds along the routes to the gold fields and for those going upcountry to work. Even a timeline sketch of her life indicates what a tireless worker she was. She died in England in 1877.

For reflection/discussion

Caroline’s own interests and enthusiasm coincided with the Christian vision of the dignity of each human being. What are your own interests and how might they be used for the well-being of others?

URSULA FRAYNE - Religious sister and pioneer

(1816 - 1885)

Ursula Frayne (her baptismal name was Clara) was born to enterprising and well-to-do parents in Dublin in 1816. She joined the newly founded Mercy Sisters in 1832. The sisters were known as ‘the walking nuns’ because they were constantly seen on the streets and lanes of Dublin attending to those most in need. She must have impressed her superiors because in 1842, the 26 year old Sr Ursula was sent initially to Newfoundland, a province of Canada, then recalled to Dublin from where she was given the even greater challenge of founding Mercy work in Perth, Western Australia.

She left Ireland in 1846 with six companions. Conditions for the sisters in the new colony were initially so terrible that the Mercies in Dublin sent them their return fare but they had not reckoned with Ursula’s determination and ability. To enable her to found a school for poor Catholic children, she first had to raise funds by establishing a school for students who could afford to pay. So, within a few years she had three schools on the go: a young ladies’ secondary school that made money and two schools that directed their efforts to children of poor families. All these did well, many young women were attracted to Mercy work and more foundations were made.

In 1856, Archbishop Goold of Melbourne invited her to set up Catholic schools in Victoria. She arrived in 1857 and within weeks had organised loans to begin laying the foundations of the Academy in Nicholson Street, Fitzroy. Her work went ahead in leaps and bounds in the Victorian ‘Gold Rush’ colony which did not have the constraints of cash flow that had made the Western Australian beginnings so difficult. Ursula was courageous and enterprising and full of commitment to her faith and the future of children and young people. Mercy schools and convents flourished throughout Victoria and indeed, throughout Australia.

Reflection/Discussion

  • What would make an 18-year-old leave a comfortable home to walk the streets of Dublin looking after anyone who was poor, sick or down and out?
  • ‘Religious life gave women including Ursula Frayne, the opportunity to exercise a public role in the community that was generally denied to married women.’ True or false?
  • If Ursula Frayne walked around your city or town, whom would she identify as most in need? What might she do about it?

ROSEMARY GOLDIE - First woman member of the Roman Curia, Church worker

(1916 - 2010)

Rosemary Goldie was the first woman official appointed to the Roman Curia. She had been one of the very few lay auditors at the Second Vatican Council. Twenty-nine lay men had attended the first session of the Council but at the second session Pope Paul VI invited some women auditors, including the Australian Rosemary Goldie who was well-known to him. A ‘co-worker’ he called her as by that time she had spent considerable time in Rome as a lecturer at the Lateran University and at Regina Mundi. Born in Sydney in 1916, she had gone to Paris to complete her studies at the Sorbonne. Among her professors there was the famous philosopher Jacques Maritain who influenced her thinking on the role of lay people in the Church.

During the Second Vatican Council 1962-65, Rosemary – fluent in English, French and Italian – and the other women auditors held many open house discussions for bishops and seminarians which helped them all to get to know each other better, and conversation flowed freely.

Rosemary made church history when she was appointed  Undersecretary of the Council for the Laity in 1966. She held this a curial position for 10 years, working to promote the role of lay people in Church life. She had very serene and balanced judgment, maintaining ecclesial communion in a strong and tireless manner’. All were charmed by her simplicity and friendliness. In later life she returned to Sydney and lived with the Little Sisters of the Poor at Randwick until her death in 2010.

Reflection/Discussion

What is the role of women in the Church as you understand it? Do you have to be a single woman to make the impact that Rosemary did?

JOHN HAWES - Priest and Architect

(1876 - 1956)

This unusual priest began his life in England where he was a practising architect and Anglican priest;he ended up as a Catholic priest and hermit on Cat Island in the Bahamas where he is buried in a cave tomb he prepared for himself!

But for 24 years from 1915 to 1939 he made an extraordinary and enduring contribution to the life of the Church in Western Australia through the churches and buildings he designed and built for the diocese of Geraldton. These buildings are in vivid contrast to the usual little weatherboard churches of the outback and to the more common neo-Gothic style churches of the larger towns.

While echoing the traditions of Europe, his churches, made from local stone and often built by Fr Hawes and his parishioners, seem to grow out of the Western Australian countryside itself They form an important part of the story of the faith in Australia.

Despite being an Englishman he was a great favourite with the mainly Irish families of his enormous outback parishes. Perhaps it was because he was an avid animal lover as well as a good and attentive priest. He would be one of the few Catholic priests to have ridden his own horses to victory on the race track and was devoted to his dogs as well. (Dogs even feature in the decoration of some of his church buildings.)

In 1939 he felt he was getting too comfortable and settled. So, as he had always been inspired by the example of St Francis, he decided to leave Australia and become a (very lively and active) hermit priest on Cat Island in the Bahamas. Here he worked with the local people to build many more churches and a tiny hermitage for his own use. He was buried there in 1956.

Reflection/Discussion

  • Fr John Hawes had very particular ideas about churches and architecture. What churches or places of worship have you visited? Have you any favourites? Try to explain why.
  • What are hermits? What is the place of solitude in human life? Are you ever ‘alone’? Is solitude the same as loneliness?

IRENE McCORMACK - Missionary

(1938 - 1991)

Irene McCormack was a Sister of St Joseph who was killed by ‘Shining Path’ terrorists in Peru in 1991. Born on a wheat and sheep farm near New Norcia in Western Australia in 1938, Irene joined Mary MacKillop’s Josephites when she was 18 and began a life dedicated to God, to children and to the poor. For 30 years she lived the familiar life of an Australian ‘Joey’ in the schools in which she taught around Australia. Then she experienced a sense of mission to work among the desperately poor.

My belief is that if I fail to respond I am choosing spiritual death. To continue to spiritualise what it means to be poor and not to work with the poor in a Third World situation is for me a way of evading history, the real world, that fidelity to the Lord as a Josephite can no longer allow me to do.

Her congregation sent her to Peru and eventually to the village of Huasahuasi where there had been a Josephite mission for ten years and where some Australian Columban priests were working. Sr Irene settled into the village at Huasahuasi and began work among the Peruvian villagers there. Political instability, shocking social inequality and poverty were rife. Eventually the priests and sisters were warned to leave. They did leave but Sr Irene and Sr Dorothy Stevenson returned to maintain a presence among the people.

In May 1991 members of the Shining Path terrorist group visited the village.Sr Irene (Sr Dorothy was away in Lima) and four men from the village were accused of distributing American aid – actually Caritas provisions.  They were dragged to the village square and summarily shot in the back of the head. Sr Irene was the first to die. She was buried in the Huasahuasi cemetery, mourned by the people she had given her life to support.

Reflection/Discussion

What do you think motivated Sr Irene and Sr Dorothy to return to Huasahuasi after they had left?

ROSENDO SALVADO - Bishop and pioneer

(1814 - 1900)

Born in Spain on 1 March 1814, Benedictine monk, Dom Rosendo Salvado, arrived in Australia in 1846 with Dom Joseph Serra. He threw himself into his work in the new colony, developing a foundation at New Norcia, which is still thriving today. He was consecrated Bishop in 1849. Unlike many missionaries, Salvado extended uncommon respect and courtesy to the Aborigines in his work with them. This respect is illustrated in his efforts to learn the languages and discover the beliefs and customs of the indigenous people.

Characteristic of his efforts in all areas was his endurance, courage and resourcefulness. On one occasion he walked 130 kilometres to Perth on his own, eating whatever he could find (lizards, worms, possums) to ask Bishop Brady for money for the mission. Upon being turned down (Bishop Brady had many other calls on his scarce funds) Dom Rosendo, a gifted musician, still tattered and grimy from his marathon walk, organised and performed a piano recital in Perth's Courthouse to raise the necessary money. (A Compass program called Camino Salvado shows a group retracing this journey between Perth and New Norcia that Dom Salvado made many times in his life.)

Eventually New Norcia became a flourishing self-sufficient mission with large schools for boys and girls, olive groves, a vineyard and vegetable gardens, although now it is simply a monastery rather than a mission. After devoting 54 years of his life to New Norcia and to the Aboriginal people whom white society had displaced, Rosendo Salvado died while visiting Rome in 1900. His body was returned to Western Australia and he is buried beneath the abbey church.

Reflection/Discussion

What lessons could many missionaries have learned from the way Dom Rosendo related to the Aboriginal men and women he encountered in Western Australia? What lessons could we learn from him?