At the intersection of faith and culture


Adrian Lyons profile photoAdrian Lyons, the founding editor of Eureka Street in 1991, died last week in Melbourne at the age of 70.

In the first edition of Eureka Street the editors promised that the magazine would attend to 'the questions behind the questions'. They also hoped it would reveal 'Christianity's continuing vigour and the resources of wisdom it makes available to anyone making important decisions, public or private', adding that 'issues that present as primarily religious or churchly always turn out to have counterparts elsewhere'.

Those thoughts represent Adrian Lyons' abiding interests. He was always concerned to go beneath the surface when reflecting on personal and public issues, and particularly to attend to the unnoticed connections between culture and Christian faith, and the surprising places where they come together in public life.

Adrian's interests came out of a naturally reflective temperament honed by his years as a university chaplain from the late 1970s. His work involved much listening to students as they tried to make sense of their own lives and of the wider world they were entering.

It also drew him, an apolitical man, into the world of student politics both in the university and among Catholic societies at a time when the claims of change and of stability were keenly fought over.

Good university chaplains always have a gift for attending to the quiet voices that speak from unexpected places, to what is communicated behind the words, and to places in culture that are open to faith. Adrian was very good. He was a good listener with a ceremonious gentleness of address, did not impose his views, and created the space in conversation that encouraged reflection.

His university experience taught him the importance of a non-adversarial Catholic presence in the public square. When the existing Jesuit magazines were brought together in the late 1980s to form Jesuit Publications he was involved in the move to begin a magazine for a public audience. He spent some time in the United States working on the well-staffed America magazine with a view to beginning an Australian magazine.

On his return to Australia he deepened his understanding of the place of faith in contemporary secular culture. He formed part of a team of Jesuits who explored the connections between belief and unbelief in Australia.

Adrian wrote the report of the project. It was characteristically fragmentary in style, reflecting his close attention to the particularity of experience and of the language used to describe it, and his unstated skepticism about large theories that were insufficiently grounded.

Adrian's interest in the intersection between faith and culture can be seen in the exploratory pieces he wrote with Kate Lindsey in the first two editions of Eureka Street. They were based on interviews with people who had taken significant steps in their lives. The interviews attend to the subtle differences between individuals in the way they make important decisions. They rest on Adrian's patient attention to detail and his habit of weighing things carefully before judging.

These qualities enabled him to make thought-provoking contributions to the new magazine. But the role of editing a new, lively monthly magazine proved to demand other qualities. Processes needed to be established, decisions made which would form precedents, criteria for judging contributions established, all with little time for reflection. All this required intuitive gifts and a quick decisiveness that Adrian did not have.

In retrospect, Adrian would have been an excellent editor of a quarterly reflective magazine where he had much time to commission, to select and arrange articles. But he was not well suited to conducting the anarchic and improvised music of Eureka Street. After the first edition the editorship was passed to Morag Fraser who gave distinctive shape to its contribution to Australian public life.

Adrian was hurt by these events. But he found in a variety of pastoral contexts scope to continue reflecting on the fit between faith and culture in Australia. His métier was the sermon. He was parish priest in rural Sevenhill, preached regularly for the Sunday congregation at Canisius College in Pymble, and for schoolgirls at Potts Point. He was also able to pass on his wisdom to international groups of Jesuits completing their final year of formation.

He took preaching seriously. A week beforehand he read the text set for the following Sunday, then consulted a couple of commentaries and sermons of great preachers on the same texts, and noted the major news items of the week. Later in the week he would write his sermon, paying close attention to its intended audience. Closer to the time of preaching, he edited the draft to ensure that it read smoothly and contained the right tone.

His sermons became the thread on which he hung the beads of his life.

In his last years he contracted an illness that he bore with characteristic acceptance and gallantry. He also uncharacteristically conceived a large project and briskly brought it to a successful birth.

He put together for publication a book of his essays and another book of his sermons. The publishers worked fast, and the books were launched just a few weeks before his death. The launch was ceremonious and gathered together friends of each period of Adrian's life, and allowed Adrian to celebrate the life he had enjoyed and to share its fruits with his many friends.

I chatted with Adrian briefly the afternoon before he died. He was welcoming and encouraging — mentioned, as he always did, recent Eureka Street articles he had enjoyed, spoke equably of his impending move to the hospice, and asked a blessing. Early the next morning, he died as he had lived. Lightly and faithfully. 

Andrew Hamilton headshotAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Adrian Lyons, Eureka Street, founding editor



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Existing comments

'His sermons became the thread on which he hung the beads of his life.' Beautiful and honest writing about an inspiring man. Thank you, Andrew, for this fitting tribute.

Barry G | 05 April 2013  

Thanks for this, Andy. Adrian was an incredible listener, made you feel incredibly welcome with whatever you bring. May he rest in peace.

Jim | 05 April 2013  

Thank you for a reflective and deeply moving tribute to Fr Adrian Lyons.

Richard Divall | 08 April 2013  

Thank you, Andy for a masterly analysis of Adrian's genius. He will be missed by all who engaged with him.

David Strong | 08 April 2013  

I loved the final paragraph. But should you not have said, somewhere, that he was a Jesuit? May God rest him.

Frank | 08 April 2013  

How lovely to read of a truly intelligent and unassuming man who was able to use his personality strengths so gently and empathetically. Thank you. I wish I could have met him.

judy Lawson | 08 April 2013  

Thanks, Andy, for your tribute to Adrian. I remember him with great affection, his personal attentiveness and consideration, his great love of literature and the English language. I look forward to reading his books of essays and sermons. I remember also his love of fishing and his seeking to emulate the skills of his father from the rocks at Gerroa. I shall cast a line in his memory.

Denis Quinn | 08 April 2013  

Thanks for this piece - he was also a wonderful gift to the work of university chaplaincy in Sydney diocese around 2000 as a support to the chaplains and the director of chaplaincy in the diocese. He will be missed.

Peter Maher | 08 April 2013  

Thank you for your tribute to Adrian....he is remembered in the Sevenhill parish as the loved parish priest he was. We always enjoyed catching up with him when he was back here with the Tertians.

Beth Smith | 08 April 2013  

Adrian was a real gentle-man.

Damien | 10 April 2013  

Vale Adrian! His spirit will live on in the pages of Eureka Street!

Wayne McMillan | 10 April 2013  

The power of Adrian's gentleness, capacity to listen and to hear, has been an enduring feature of my life. Vale Fr Lyons and thank you.

Tracey Nelson | 10 April 2013  

Andy thank you for this. had been looking forward for it. It fits in with my own experience living and working with Adrian proving his sensitive and encouraging manner. A great brother.

Ferruccio Romanin SJ | 16 April 2013  

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