Hello, Newman

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Noone, Val (ed.) et al: Golden Years: Grounds for Hope, Father Golden and the Newman Society 1950-1966. Fitzroy: Golden Project, 2008. Distributed Rainbow Book Agencies. ISBN 978 0 646 50478 0

Golden YearsGolden Years is a wonderful resource for reflecting on Catholic life over the last 60 years. Its focus is on the 15 years during which Fr Jerry Golden was chaplain to the Newman Society in the University of Melbourne. The more than 70 former members who offer their memories also reflect on the way in which their experience in the Society affected their subsequent lives. Like any good history book, in making sense of the past it also gives an accounting of the present.

Golden Years is not a magisterial account. It is more like a Christmas stocking that contains a variety of goodies for every taste. In this it bears the hand of Professor Greg Dening who helped shape the book. He died before its collation. He was fascinated with social history, with allowing many voices to illuminate events and institutions. The book is more concerned to recreate the past than to analyse and evaluate it.

A collection of observations by articulate and reflective people inevitably sets many hares running, each worth chasing. One of the most interesting is the distinctive focus of the Society on the use of mind. It was encapsulated in the 'apostolate' of members. This was focused on their studies. They reflected on their disciplines in a way that went beyond instrumental considerations. They asked what deeper questions were involved in their professions.

To a later eye the focus may seem a little narrow. But this later judgment itself reflects a different world where very few young people study full time, where their sense of a Catholic world in which they might have an apostolate is much less strong, and where Catholic faith is often more strongly associated with altruistic commitments than with ideas. The value of the 'apostolate' can be seen in the later lives of many of the contributors who challenged the purely instrumental goals of their professions with notable benefit to their society.

Another striking feature of the book is the participants' relations with the Catholic Church subsequent to their engagement in the Newman Society. The church lay at the centre of the Newman Society experience, as indeed it was of Catholicism at that time. Any tribal allegiance to the Catholic Church was necessarily challenged by the more expansive view of Vatican II, by the general loss of tribal connection among Catholics, and by the awakening of a distinctive and critical consciousness among women.

It is not surprising that many of the contributors see themselves on the edge of the Catholic Church and believe their stance to be representative of their contemporaries in the Newman Society.

Another slightly surprising discovery in the book is the extent of devotional practice in the Newman Society and the way in which it was taken for granted. Each week a couple of hundred people gathered for Mass in a university classroom, and a large number also recited the Rosary daily, encouraged in their Marian devotion by the Chaplain.

This may seem to a later age to stand in tension with the emphasis on the intellectual conversation that took place in the groups. But of course at the time there was little tension. The devotional practice was a natural expression of Catholicism and also an opportunity for students to identify publicly with their faith in the university.

These are incidental things in the story. The big story in Golden Years is of friendships formed at a time when young adults were exploring their identity, calling and their place in the world. It is the recalled excitement and vulnerability of university days that gives the book its vitality and its poignancy.


Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton SJ is Eureka Street's consulting editor. He also teaches at the United Faculty of Theology, Melbourne.

 

Topic tags: andrew hamilton, Golden Years, Grounds for Hope, Father Golden, Newman Society

 

 

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I was a member of the Newman Society in Tasmania from the late 50s until the early 60s. It helped form my ideas and Archbishop Young's leadership was pivotal in welcoming Vatican 2 and informing the birth control debate.

At my first, naive national UCFA conference in Sydney, our annual orgy of massgoing, I was shocked to see leading Melbourne catholic intellectuals roistering in one of the college rooms.

After 40 more years of parish involvement, I now count myself as one of Spong's secular Christian.
Peter Noar | 23 December 2008


As an outsider, I read this with considerable interest. I am sorry to read that someone who shared progressive ideals with others in the early days, now sees himself as with "Spong". This is not the answer. You might as well go and join the Scientologists, or some other cult. All this seems to me the result of the horrible polarisation in the Church in Victoria brought about by the 'Split'. Coming here as a migrant, I was bewildered by the legacy of all this and I still see the bitter polarities between 'conservative'and 'progressive'Catholics in play today. Surely the alternative to being with Santamaria and his descendants is NOT to go with Spong or his muddle-headed disciple Kennedy in South Brisbane?

I am very glad that I wasn't born here in Victoria and have had experience of the Catholic church outside Australia. Petty, parochial in-fighting and the revival of hold enmities is most distasteful. Thank goodness that there are migrants from all over the world whose contribution to the Church - not the least in vocations - will, with time, efface the ghastly legacy of the fifties!
Ann | 03 December 2010


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