DANIEL MANNIX: HIS LEGACY

The following article by Father Edmund Campion is re-printed with permission images-5from the book Daniel Mannix: His Legacy, the papers of the Conference held at the State Library of Victoria 16th March 2013. Edited by Val Noone and Rachel Naughton, it will soon be published by Mosaic Resources. © 2013 Edmund Campion et al and the MDHC Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne

A Conference at the State Library of Victoria, 16 March 2013

For some of us the conference began the day before Archbishop Hart’s opening address on Saturday morning, 16 March, at the State Library of Victoria. On the Friday afternoon we had been at Newman College for the launching of James Griffin’s new biography, Daniel Mannix: Beyond the myths, by Barry Jones AO. In a short address of only 24 minutes, he worried away at the mystery of Dr Mannix’s isolation. Here was a man who cut his own hair, who could not bear to be touched. Yet he was such a challenging figure that as a boy Barry Jones had gone into town to look upon the enigma as he rode in the St Patrick’s Day parade (much to the chagrin of the boy’s relatives). Paul Ormonde, who had completed the book after James Griffin’s death, gave a possible answer to the riddle. Quoting Vincent Buckley, he said Dr Mannix was ‘alternative royalty’. After that, the ambience for the conference was set by Helga Griffin, who reminded us of her husband’s watchword, ‘Of the dead speak only the truth’.

So we gathered, one hundred or more of us, the next morning at the State Library to try to construct a portrait of Dr Mannix. There were several layers to this work, the first and most fundamental being his Irishry. Professor Dermot Keogh told us that when the old man died, in 1963, President Eamon de Valera had praised his long service to Ireland, saying that for over 50 years he had been ‘for this nation … a stronghold, a redoubt that was never surrendered or taken’. Keogh then explored the meaning of this. First there was the arrest of the archbishop by the British Navy, in 1920, when his speeches gave international publicity to the Irish situation. Mannix was prominent in the obsequies for Terence MacSwiney, dead after his long hunger strike. And he went on a lecture tour in North Britain. He was ‘a master of the sound bite, witty, acerbic and droll’ and by not landing in Ireland he had mobilised and radicalised Irish people everywhere. Taking a walk in Hyde Park, London, he was followed by hundreds who were curious to see what he looked like. Then, Rome. Afterwards, the Pope was even-handed in comments on Ireland, which annoyed the British government. When Mannix’s mother died, the archbishop couldn’t be at the funeral; significantly, de Valera was there. In 1925, on his return to Ireland, Mannix was met with mass enthusiasms: he was loaded with the freedom of cities; villages lit tar barrels to light his way; his portrait and candles were put in cottage windows. ‘A revivalist preacher for Sinn Fein’, this very political bishop had become the people’s champion.

Then there was the archbishop’s involvement in Australian political life, from the World War I conscription referenda to his support for the Santamaria movement. ‘I regard Mr Santamaria as the saviour of Australia’, he had told Gerald Lyons, whose 1962 ABC TV interview with the archbishop was screened during the conference lunchtime, a brilliant decision by conference organisers for it actualised the man himself. Ill health, alas, had prevented Professor Brian Costar from giving his paper entitled Mannix and Santamaria: Loyalism, Sectarianism and Communism; but an abstract in the conference programme told us that Mannix ‘was not a political reactionary like Santamaria’. One thought of his words endorsing a new Catholic journal, Australia, Review of the Month, in 1917:

‘If people are going to take a firmer grip upon political affairs, it is not likely that the workers will rest content with the present industrial conditions. They will not be satisfied to be cogs in a wheel. More and more they will try to control the industries in which they are engaged. It would be hard to convince them – or to convince anyone – that they are not as much entitled to industrial control as they are to political power.’

Mannix’s radicalism grew from his experience as parish priest of West Melbourne, May 1913 to May 1917. Dr Val Noone’s research on those years revealed Mannix as close to his people, sharing their hopes as well as their struggle. This first experience of Australian street life stayed with him throughout his long episcopate. Noone’s paper affords a new perspective to any future portrait of the archbishop.

When he became a bishop, in 1912, Mannix had taken as a motto for his coat of arms, Omnia Omnibus, the motto of Cardinal Moran of Sydney, who died in 1911. He did not accept, he said in his first speech in Australia, the theory that bishops should retire into the sacristy and keep their thoughts to themselves. He meant to speak out, his episcopal role model being Croke of Cashel. So Patrick Morgan told us that he became a tribal leader, devising counter strategies against opponents, and something of an aristocrat, like a prince bishop in old Europe.

He paid for this, as Professor Elizabeth Malcolm’s sparkling presentation of contemporary cartoons showed. These depicted him as an Oirish hobbledehoy, someone cut down to size and dismissed with a sneer. Instead, the cartoons endeared the archbishop to his people, who shared society’s obloquy with him.

At issue was a long-lasting quarrel about Australian identity. What did it mean to be an Australian – a member of the British Empire or something else? Henry Lawson had written:

When freedom couldn’t stand the glare of royalty’s regalia
She left the loafers where they were and came out to Australia.

The Boer War boosted imperial loyalism and so, in 1905, Empire Day was established. Fr Maurice O’Reilly, ‘The Daniel Mannix of NSW’ wrote in a poem, Ireland and Empire Day,

Shall we rejoice, while our dear motherland,
Dearer to us than any other land,
Wears yet a chain?
By heaven, not so.

Then Australia Day was established, in 1911; for which O’Reilly wrote a hymn: ‘God bless our lovely morning land, Australia.’ Two points of view, two camps – such was the tense society that Mannix entered in 1912.

The tension blew up with the conscription referenda of 1916 and 1917. Readers of Dr Michael McKernan’s, Australian Churches at War, may remember that the experience of World War I had shaken many soldiers’ faith in their churches. Following the referenda, however, sectarian answers to the great identity question (what does it mean to be an Australian?) solidified attachment to one’s religious community. There was therefore, McKernan told the conference, no sharp retreat from organised religion in the sectarian interwar years.

Something of the mindset of those years was revealed in a presentation by David Schutz of letters between Mannix and the Anglican Archbishop F W Head. At issue was the public face of Catholicism, as in the Eucharistic Congress of 1934 or the annual Eucharistic festivals at Sunbury, which required special trains to carry the crowds. Archbishop Head could not understand why Mannix was not in favour of the British Protestant Sunday, ‘a Sunday as we have known it in England and Scotland and Ireland’. Val Noone called this paper ‘crucial social history’. It highlighted Mannix as a pioneer of today’s pluralist society.

Professor Gabrielle McMullen also focused on Mannix’s insistence that Australia should not penalise Catholics for being Catholics. She explored his projects for encouraging Catholics to participate in higher education – hence the development of Newman and St Mary’s Colleges within the University of Melbourne and, at the end of his life, of Mannix College at Monash.

Brenda Niall, doyenne of Australian biographers, brought us back to the personality of Daniel Mannix. His predecessor, Archbishop Carr, had lived in the cathedral presbytery with his priests but Mannix moved into ‘Raheen’ and lived alone. That cold house (‘a three-bar radiator’) was kept going by a staff of three: a housekeeper, a cook and a gardener. Most nights the archbishop dined alone, going to bed at 10.00 pm after a cup of Ovaltine. His isolation in the big empty house added to his identity, she said. The famous daily walk from Kew to the cathedral took him through some of the poorest parts of the city. He would engage with anyone who cared to converse with him, tipping his top hat to close the conversation. (That top hat caught her eye: no one ever threw a stone or an apple core at it, although it was ‘a wonderful target’, she said.)

Brenda Niall’s paper led to a reminiscence of three visitors who left records of their time with Archbishop Mannix. The first was a future NSW bishop, Leo Clarke, who became Mannix’s companion during his annual six-week holiday at Portsea after the death of Fr William Hackett SJ, in 1954. Clarke’s memoir published in Footprints (June 2003) speaks of the archbishop’s ordered life, his spare meals, five hours daily in the chapel, and three hours each Saturday in the cathedral confessional, and his availability to any visitors who called. B A Santamaria was a frequent visitor, whose arrival was eagerly awaited; afterwards the archbishop would be very quiet. Mannix was against a planned inter-denominational chapel at Monash University but Santamaria and Sir Michael Chamberlain changed his mind. Clarke also records his lack of interest in creating monsignori: ‘I have no time for all that nonsense.’

An earlier visitor had been the publisher and lay theologian Frank Sheed. In his autobiography, The Church and I (1974) he wrote of conversations with the archbishop during World War II

‘He was kind enough to let me see much of him on this visit. He became then, and remained to the end, a puzzle to me – really vast intellectual gifts not used to the full in the spread of the Faith. The only time I heard him he spoke on politics, and he was as gifted a speaker as I have ever heard. Yet I was told that he had hardly ever preached in his own cathedral, and I never heard him speak on the revelation of Christ outside it.’

A third visitor was the historian Manning Clark who got a priest to drive him down to the holiday cottage, in February 1957. Later that day he wrote an account of the day. He described the old archbishop and then recorded their conversation. They spoke of the conscription controversy; how W M Hughes had called Mannix a liar, a traitor, a rebel, but the archbishop had always called him Mr Morris Hughes. ‘Once when he called me a liar, I said you needed to do more than spend a night or two at Buckingham Palace to become a gentleman.’ At the end, the priest-driver genuflected and kissed the episcopal ring, while Clark shook hands. Looking back from the car, he thought he saw the archbishop blessing him. ‘I was doubly moved … These men, these Catholic Bishops are spiritual men.’

And so the conference wore down to its close. There were two final episodes worth recording here. The first is a story about Mannix’s coeval, Sir James Duhig, Archbishop of Brisbane. When Mannix died, Fr Owen Oxenham took the news into his archbishop.

 ‘Bad news, Your Grace. Dr Mannix has died.’
‘Ah, poor Daniel, poor Daniel.’
‘What did you think of him, Your Grace?’
‘Hmm … He would have been a great man, had he not led a rabble in the streets.’

In the hall there was some talk of Barry Oakley’s knockabout play, The Feet of Daniel Mannix, which had filled the Pram Factory 40 years ago – indeed, its box office success had saved the Pram Factory from bankruptcy. Bruce Spence had played the man himself and Max Gillies was ‘Greensleeves’ (aka B A Santamaria: they had hoped he would sue but BAS was too canny for that). For all its boisterous fun Oakley’s play ended with a prayer, a litany of the dead. So, being a Catholic show, the Mannix conference ended with this prayer too:

Non-drinker and smoker … pray for us.
Charismatic figure …. pray for us.
Layer of foundation stones … pray for us.
Encourager of the laymen … pray for us.
Provided he knew his place .. pray for us.
… pray for us … pray for us … pray for us.

Afterwards, we went out to the conference dinner at Mannix College, Monash University, feeling that the day had pretty well met Jim Griffin’s watchword, ‘Of the dead speak only the truth.’

Edmund Campion
Emeritus Professor of History at the Catholic Institute of Sydney.
Australian Catholic University