Adelaide's 'pivotal' bishop

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Josephine Laffin: Matthew Beovich — A Biography. Wakefield Press, Adelaide, 2008. ISBN: 9781862548176

Josephine Laffin: Matthew Beovich — A Biography. Wakefield Press, Adelaide, 2008. ISBN: 9781862548176Edmund Campion once described Adelaide Bishop Matthew Beovich as 'a pivotal bishop in Australia's history'.

This richly researched and readable work describes a man much loved in his archdiocese. It brings to life his times. The five decades spanning the 1920s and 1970s were times of intense change for Australia and the Church.

Josephine Laffin has risen superbly to a challenge of grasping and communicating lucidly the inner workings of the Australian Catholic Church. She was also able to draw on a precious resource in Beovich's personal diary of reflections throughout this period.

Adelaide Catholics who know that 'Matty' was the longest serving Archbishop of Adelaide (from 1939 to 1971), are often astounded to hear what he accomplished as a young priest and protegé of Daniel Mannix in Melbourne.

There he was the first Director of Catholic Education, the writer of the Red Catechism and its Companion, a principal broadcaster in the Catholic Hour and editor of the Australian Catholic Truth Society (ACTS) pamphlets on matters devotional and doctrinal.

He was clearly favoured by Dr Mannix. His appointment as Archbishop of Adelaide without reference to Dr Mannix may have reflected the uncomfortable relationship between Dr Mannix and Archbishop Panico, the Apostolic Delegate.

The significance of Beovich's Melbourne work can be seen in statistics. The Catechism (red in Victoria; green in New South Wales) was in the hands of every child in Catholic schools in Australia. In 1925 alone 62,000 of the Red Catechism were sold. In the same year 360,000 ACTS pamphlets, displayed in all Catholic churches, were sold.

Five years before Beovich's arrival there, the Catholic population of South Australia was 12 per cent; by 1971, when he retired, it was 27 per cent.

In contrast to Melbourne, Catholics suffered from discrimination and were little represented in civic leadership or in the professions. Premier Thomas Playford, Baptist and Freemason, had no Catholic in his government until 1953. The first Catholic Judge in South Australia was not appointed until 1959. The first Catholic Premier took up office some years later.

In Adelaide, too, previous bishops had preferred to recruit Irish priests rather than train local men. As late as 1955 two thirds of the clergy of the archdiocese were Irish. Even before he arrived in Adelaide Dr Beovich planned a new seminary. He received ten or so new students there each year.

Through the colleges that he invited Religious Orders to found (so increasing the high schools from eight to 17), more Catholics became involved in politics and leadership.

Beovich was Archbishop of a burgeoning church. In 1967 there were 86 students in the Adelaide seminary. Every year new parishes, churches and schools opened. Of the 54 diocesan parish priests in 1971, 27 were under 50, and 14 were under 40.

He also led the Catholic Church through the experiences that helped shape present day Australian Catholicism.

Post-war immigration transformed Australia. With a Croatian background, Beovich moved instinctively to welcome and care for the many thousands of 'New Australians' who came to South Australia.

Between 1953 to 1963, for example, a church serving the Italian community celebrated 1600 marriages and 3300 baptisms. In schools, it was not unusual for one nun to teach a class of over 100 students, the majority of whose parents were non-English speaking.

The Labor Party split also occurred during Beovich's time as Archbishop. He did not favour the Movement, going from describing B. A. Santamaria as the most outstanding layman in the Church to regarding his activities with dismay.

Beovich also attended all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council. His diary shows him changing from a man of conservative outlook to a reformist who implemented the Council directions. He also had to deal with events like the Vietnam War and the 1968 publication of the encyclical Humanae Vitae.

Edmund Campion judges that 'South Australia became the most creative centre in the Australian Catholic community'. Beovich distanced himself from political movements that would cause agitation, including the Movement, the Goulburn school strike, the Vietnam War, and the move to nationalise the Banks.

He encouraged lay activity and appointed young priests to important social movements and organisations, such as the Catholic Family Welfare, Catholic Education, the Guild of Social Studies, the Catholic Adult Education Association, the Catholic Migrant Centre, the editorship of the Southern Cross, and so on.

Laffin captures very well a most interesting period in the history of the Catholic Church in Australia through her study of a deeply spiritual leader, intelligent and adroit. To his priests he was famous for his inability to remember their names. Once he asked a priest, 'Oh Father, how is your dear father?' 'Still dead, Your Grace,' was the reply. A man dedicated to his vocation, he left only $4000 when he died.


Greg O'Kelly SJBishop Greg O'Kelly SJ is Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Adelaide.

 

Topic tags: Greg O'Kelly, Josephine Laffin, Matthew Beovich, Biography, Wakefield Press, ISBN 9781862548176

 

 

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Beovich was regarded as honourable even by Protestants in 1950s/60s Adelaide. Bp O'Kelly might have noticed that RC 'growth' was partly a function of European migration, in the context of a pre-existing protestant Paradise of Dissent in South Australia
Endee | 13 March 2009


While no-one would doubt Archbishop Beovich's dedication to his ministry in Adelaide, more needs to be said on why he regarded the work of BA Santamaria with 'dismay'.

Was it because he was a fighter for government funding for Catholic schools,which, when he saw the resultant compromise of their evangelising mission and Catholic identity, he regarded as one of his most serious mistakes?

Whatever the reason, more needs to be said by Laffin on this in fairness to Santamaria's memory, not to mention his family.

More needs to be said, too, on why the Archbishop felt it necessary to distance himself from the 'Movement' which Santamaria founded.

If nothing is said on these matters, all that prevails is the continued demonising of those who knew and admired Santmaria - including a number of Bishops - and still participate in his organisation's campaigns; and the impression that the diocese in Adelaide is too heavily attached to a romanticised and outdated view of the Labor Party, not to mention bordering on the paranoid when it comes to Santamaria.
John Kelly | 07 April 2009


Santamaria met with Abp Beovich long after the DLP had ceased to be effective in what was seen as a reconciliation. Santamaria never spoke of what was said in that long meeting at Ennis House.

What we do know is that Beovich and Santamaria had been good friends and Beovich had strongly supported the creation of what was to become the movement. Santamaria suggests in his biography that Beovich had been pressured by 'left-wing Labor parliamentarians' - hardly evidence of a leitmotif of a budding progressive as Bp O'Kelly suggests.

Rather than blandly accepting this volte-face as evidence of Beovich's true self, it is more plausible and far more instructive to understand that the increasing tensions meant that the stakes were rising and that other pressures were being brought to bear. Any other rendering implies that Beovich was a stranger to himself and lacking in integrity, which was clearly not the case.
Paul | 08 April 2009


Santamaria met with Abp Beovich long after the DLP had ceased to be effective in what was seen as a reconciliation. Santamaria never spoke of what was said in that long meeting at Ennis House.

What we do know is that Beovich and Santamaria had been good friends and Beovich had strongly supported the creation of what was to become the movement. Santamaria suggests in his biography that Beovich had been pressured 'left-wing Labor parliamentarians' - hardly evidence of a leitmotif of a budding progressive as Bp O'Kelly suggests. Rather than blandly accepting this volte-face as evidence of Beovich's true self, it is more plausible and far more instructive to understand that the increasing tensions meant that the stakes were rising and that other pressures were being brought to bear. Any other rendering implies that Beovich was a stranger to himself and lacking in integrity, which was clearly not the case.
Paul | 08 April 2009


Further to Josephine Laffin's treatment of the Beovich-Santamaria relationship in her biography of the Archbishop, it is unfortunate that the author appears not to have consulted as a resource the recently deceased Clyde Cameron, whose views of Santamaria and his work, like the Archbishop's, changed significantly over the years.

As the brains behind the Labor Party for decades in South Australia, Cameron recognised that for the radical socialist agenda of the Party to succeed, "Santamaria and what he represented must be destroyed." What more effective way to achieve this than have him "ostracised by his own".

It was Cameron himself here who placed the necessary political pressure on the Archbishop to discourage support for Santamaria and the growth of the Movement in South Australia - which was never quite accomplished.

I have this on Cameron's own word.

Like Kim Beasley Snr, who was scathing in what he regarded as having become a betrayal of Labor principles and its traditional supporter base in working-class families, Cameron came to repudiate the "new Labor", and found himself increasingly marginalised as a consequence.

In the latter years of Santamaria's life, the two former political foes became friends, and even collaborators, with Cameron publicly paying Santamaria the tribute upon his death: "No price could be put on his soul."
John Kelly | 08 April 2009


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