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In conversation with Michael Kelly


As part of the 30th anniversary of Eureka Street, I’ve been speaking with the team who first started the publication in 1991, alongside various people who have played a part in the Eureka Street story.

In any discussion of Eureka Street, the name Fr Michael Kelly SJ is never far away. In fact, in any conversation about Catholic media in Australia, Michael Kelly is there, having founded Jesuit Publications (Eureka Street, Australian Catholics, Madonna), CathNews, Daily Prayer Online, and Aurora Community TV. He joined the Jesuits there in 1971 and was ordained a priest in 1984. Prior to his ordination, he worked as a journalist.

In this interview, Michael explains the motivation for starting Eureka Street in 1991. 

‘The Jesuits have a longstanding tradition in print publications. The inspiration [for Eureka Street] was the age-old Jesuit juxtaposition of faith and culture and what does one have to offer the other?’ Michael says. ‘And what’s happening in the wider world politically, economically, and culturally that the Catholic tradition can address and have something to say about that’s both practical and realistic but also theologically informed?’

Then, as now, that juxtaposition of faith and culture makes for a publication that can be unpredictable and at times hard to fit neatly into a box.

‘We didn’t want to be contained. And we wanted to make sure we weren’t intimidating,’ Michael says. ‘We wanted to be listened to, engaged with, and we wanted to be listening and engaging ourselves. That was our purpose, and we did that. We were never going to be mainstream and celebrated, we were always going to be edgy.’


'We were never going to be mainstream and celebrated, we were always going to be edgy.'


Flick through the first issue of Eureka Street and you’ll notice it is a publication with a distinctive tone. With an illustration by John Spooner on the cover, it has the look and feel of an established mainstream publication. With the release of the first issue came a unique voice on to the Australian media landscape. Political, yet faith-based; theological, yet irreverent.

None of this was accidental. ‘There was a lot of conversation,’ he says. ‘Those of us who were there early, myself and Morag [Fraser] particularly, had been around this space for a long time. So we had a we had a pretty clear understanding of who we are and what we wanted to do.’


View more Eureka Street 30th anniversary interviews on our YouTube channel.  

You can support the work of Eureka Street by donating here. Your donation helps us keep Eureka Street free and open; it allows us pay the contributors, and most importantly it ensures that the unique and values-based content that we offer remains available to all.


David Halliday is editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: David Halliday, Michael Kelly SJ, Eureka Street



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Existing comments

Thank you David and Michael. Good interview, and insightful reminiscences. And what a powerful closing line: ‘Without love, it all goes pear shaped’.

Denis Fitzgerald | 25 November 2021  

Denis Fitzgerald puts it in a nutshell!

Nice for us non-Melburnians to put a face to your name, David Halliday. And those ES newbies wishing to even more closely acquaint with Michael Kelly have the opportunity to see him interviewed, minus an amputated leg, by Geraldine Doogue in the kind of exchange that she does without parallel. ('The Jesuit Who Dared', ABC Compass, 29 March 2021).

Funnily enough, although she's evidently an old friend and colleague of Michael's, you managed to draw out an aspect in him that Geraldine nearly always sidelines in preference to teasing out the personal and interpersonal gifts of her interviewees.

A perfect complement to your more analytical approach! Thank you both for this.

Michael Furtado | 26 November 2021  

Eureka Street is edgy and presents the unexpected. I've enjoyed reading, and responding, over a number of years. Thanks for a great commitment and ES has inspired deep loyalty, it's finest accomplishment. I agree with Denis Fitzgerald about the powerful closing line.

Pam | 26 November 2021  

I remember, years ago, the late Bishop Hugh Montefiore, a Jewish convert to Anglicanism, describing radicalism in the Christian context as being fuelled by a desire to return to its roots. Eureka Street is radical in that sense. Et nova et vetera.

Edward Fido | 10 December 2021  
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Thanks for mentioning Hugh Montefiore, Edward. From a keen acquaintance with his work I think it would be true to say that his Judeo-Christian radicalism offers no resonance whatsoever in the expression 'Nova et Vetera', which is owed to Aquinas, whose Aristotelian (or Greco-Roman/teleological) philosophy offers precious little, barring tedious iteration, in the way of a radical way ahead for Christianity. What it does do is to commend you as a peace-maker in the sprightly exchange this journal encourages between radicals and conservatives because of and perhaps despite your interesting contributions revealing you to be a conservative masquerading as a self-professed radical. I wish you well in this tricky enterprise and especially for the Christ-time that lies ahead of us. And may Peace also descend upon the personal circumstances that you so generously shared in these columns a few months ago. I add here, my warm affection for the fresh note you strike in this journal, both in respect of your Englishness and your former Anglicanism, as well as your wide experience of living in India and other parts of the religious cosmos; and I commend you for citing +Montefiore, who backed John Robinson and homosexuals, when both were pilloried.

Michael Furtado | 10 December 2021  

Aquinas' teleology is philosophically and theologically ordained to the end purpose of things and as such, by nature, is forward or externally oriented beyond their immediate materiality. Many opponents of metaphysics who deny causality and/or would restrict it only to its material and efficient dimensions dispute this and dismiss its relevance to practical ethical and social realities such as sexuality and marriage as understood and addressed in the Catholic Church's teachings.

John RD | 16 December 2021  

Thirty years since the founding of "Eureka Street", and the world in which it sought and still seeks to be a unique voice of social, cultural and theological comment has 'exploded' in more ways than one. In theology, which distinguishes this magazine from journalistic enterprises of social and cultural concern only, the strongly contested "plurality" of research and opinion of the early early '90s has become a serious fracturing, a battlefield rife with contradicting theories and opposing camps - to a point that expectation of consensus and resolving of disputes from theologians as a coherent magisterial body in the guidance of the faithful and the unity of the Church is, it seems to me, unrealistic and untenable. The "sensus fidelium" often invoked by today's reformers in opposition to the Church's hierarchy - as a consequence of this theological division - is not the clear, doctrinally determinative court of appeal for magisterial adjudication on disputed matters of doctrine that it might otherwise be. Traditional Catholic thinking, still a participant in this fractured domain, holds that Christ has equipped his Church with a Magisterium in the form of Peter and the Apostles, and their successors: what Vatican II refers to as the "Apostolic College" of the pope and bishops in communion with him, whose teachings on faith and morals carry the assurance and authority of Christ and the light of his Holy Spirit. Hearing and heeding this ecclesially constituted Magisterium, for Catholics, is a freely accepted condition of discipleship. Ignatius of Loyola, in emphasizing the virtue of obedience, did not mean by it, as Fr Thomas Corbishley SJ, former Master of Campion Hall, Oxford, says, merely "the carrying out of orders" Rather, Ignatius saw obedience as " . . . the outcome of a genuine sympathy between superior and subject [note the hierarchical terminology]. When he began to write his Constitutions, the statement of the ideals and way of life of his Society, he prefaced them with the insistence on the 'inner law of charity and love' as the mainspring of action. Rules and orders might be necessary; they could not replace that central dynamism." (Introduction to E Przywara SJ's "The Divine Majesty", London: Collins, 1971). This constructive understanding of obedience, the "obedience of faith" as St Paul calls it, - incumbent on both hierarchy and laity, seems to me highly relevant to our times and renewal - and not only for vowed Jesuits. A post 'entre deux guerres' and post 1960's 'edgy' term like "obedience" would seem a fitting subject for further exploration in an 'edgy' Jesuit magazine, would it not?

John RD | 16 December 2021  
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A fitting 'end-of-year' epitaph? You decide. JRD's fists come in the English manner. We don't do fists but ironic rejoinder, satirical elaboration, perhaps. Beyond that we contain our rage, our anger, our contempt. Our pith is in what we don't say. All a bit shameful. We don't rock boats; we just let them rot. We hear the oceanic waves of time and in them find consolation for our own minor lives and impending mortalit. Our preference is milk souring and turning into cheese. Be cautious of the grander view, buddies. 'We be wary of yearnings!' We''ve tasted life's bitterness and spat it out. 'I'd rather die than' is our catchphrase. Looking around, its hard not to see that life has surely shrunk. Our lifeline becomes ES. It offers the comfort of a daily spittoon. The challenge is to camouflage the expectorant. How to fix it? Implore Aquinas? Re-cycle Maritain? Recalibrate Corbishley? Nah. there's always the comfort of a Pole from 1971. Hopefully no one will notice the date. Even though for him it signaled the beginning of the end. Never mind that! Morag Fraser's departure had been a win. And Waterford had joined the egregiously heretical 'Pearls & Irritations'. The Jesuits could still be saved. How to do this without 'anger'? (Too many angry women and men about already.) But 'love' missed the point. It was the problem: impelling some to behave in ways which made you suspect it had never been there in the first place. Yet anger, coated with self-righteousness? Now THERE's a way through! Can Andy be persuaded? Mightn't his soft words be used to hide boredom, contempt, superiority, failure, hatred. In a way more like Benno's sweet smile rather than JP2' s snarl: a velvet glove sheathing a bejewelled stiletto. But ES needs a tool. If love has nothing to do with it, it still holds sway in church circles. Aquinas to the rescue: a master of 'encoding' (it sounds like 'codification', that smell of codfish that never seems to leave). Tommaso analysed everything, explained its shape, its colour, its weight and its textures: an unshakable given. Who needs the poesy, the experience, the mental (and spiritual?) equipment to 'discuss'? Why indulge in tedium when here's a neat way of getting on with it? Applicable to all situations! A brilliant solution to rain at Lord or Wimbledon. Imagine that! Controlling nature itself! Forget about the loose ends. His formulations have no time for 'soft-toy' religion. With Christmas around the corner this is no time for puppies and whoopee cushions. Why laugh in this Vale of Tears! Who are these interlopers who crowd our columns? Him with his 'gay-talk'. The other with his banging on about abuse. A third synodalising, as if anyone gives a tinker's cuss. What is this parody of love they're offering? 'Always true to you, darling.' Did He actually maudle that in the Garden? Counterfactualising sentimentality? Turn that infernal life support system off. Forget about 'brokenness', Paul Mitchell! Let's get back on track!

Michael Furtado | 17 December 2021  

MF: So sorry, old chap; or should it be "m' dear fellow" or "old bean" ? (- so long t' is since last I dropped in on your alma mater, d' y'see - ), but I must point out that you've omitted in your soliloquised projections of my lamentable limitations and vices that I don't 'do' psychobabble nor consider response to it as compulsory. No mystery, though: it wasn't offered in any of the three, evidently deficient colonial universities at which I completed my studies, also evidently deficient for being undertaken in pre-postmodernized academia when "lucidity" was desirable and even required in the Humanities; and where language and wit respected recognizable criteria of humour, brevity and reason. (I won't begin to embark on "the crack'" in my ancestors' native tongue!) . . . Anyhoo, for now I'll simply say "toodle-pip" in Wodehousian acknowledgement of your latest associations of me with English writers; and - in deference to your dedicated insistence on inculturation - as a Melbourne colleague and mate of mine used to say: "Don't forget to your thank your mother for the rabbits!

John RD | 20 December 2021