'The Wisdom of Guilford Young' by W.T. Southerwood

'The Wisdom of Guilford Young' by W.T. Southerwood

Fr Geoffrey Jarrett (now Bishop Jarrett of Lismore)

The Wisdom of Guilford Young by W.T. Southerwood (Stella Maris Books, P.O. Box 25, George Town, Tas 7253), 744pp., $35.95 (softcover) $45.00 (hardcover).

"Father Southerwood's book will be best valued for the completeness and variety with which it portrays the life of an Australian bishop at an extraordinary time of transition."

In the latter years before his death on March 16, 1988, Guilford Young enjoyed with some relish being prompted into musing on the events and changes in the Church and society over the near 40 years of his episcopate. Whether being interviewed by some nervous young journalist or in the company of maturer minds asking more sophisticated questions, the thrust of his observations invariably returned to focus on a particular theme: the decline of public intellect.

"If I have to single out one specific change in society," the Archbishop once said, "it is the change in public intellect. Public thinking today is sloppy. Great political debates are settled, not by intellect, but by slogans, images and advertising. Debates which the Church might have with agnostics over religion are no longer a rigorous intellectual fight. Today, trying to come to grips with real issues is like trying to wrestle with a fog."

Archbishop Young was a man of compelling presence and powerful intelligence, with an extraordinary gift for identifying a principle and carrying it through in practice with determined conviction. Settling debates by intellect was his instinct and his practice. It led him to stand alone in 1954, for instance, and refuse to vote with the Bishops of Australia on their resolution to support the Movement. Only when it became clear that the Movement, as a lay organisation, was seen to pursue its aims in the political order in complete autonomy from the Church and the Hierarchy, was the Archbishop's support assured - and from then on it was expressed with vigour.

From that same adherence to principle, clearly defined in the process of rational thought, came the Archbishop's role in the long and bitter case following the dismissal of Professor Orr from the Chair of Philosophy of the University of Tasmania in 1956. It was in these first years that Tasmanians saw the mettle of the young Archbishop's mind and pastoral zeal, and learned that in any public debate there would be a voice and a reason to be reckoned with, sounding from that modest white house in Fisher Avenue, Sandy Bay.

The cover of Father Southerwood's book subtitles its subject as "A Great Archbishop." It is an accolade which, without doubt, would be widely endorsed among all who knew Guilford Young. The book is not so much a biographical study as it is, perhaps to give it a further subtitle, a collection of the Archbishop's addresses and sermons, selected over the full period of his episcopate.

From this material alone, however one gains detailed and repeated illustration of his personality and driving convictions, and Father Southerwood has made easier the task of future researchers and biographers by putting into print such a huge quantity of material. The book is also quite liberally interspersed with photographs which will stir many memories.

The book will be best valued for the completeness and variety with which it portrays the working life of an Australian Bishop in an extraordinary time of transition. Mixed with the measured oratory of the panegyric at the funeral of Archbishop McGuire, or the fiery utterances aimed at politicians at school openings, are the talks to children at a country confirmation and the tender words at the burial of a religious sister. There are the Australia Day speeches to distinguished assemblies, and the talks to meetings of a variety of Catholic organisations, the words of encouragement to priests, and the addresses to teachers and educators.

We are also reminded of the defensive teaching that made some call him "a steely traditionalist", and his expositions of the Council documents and their practical application that made others regard him apprehensively as a man never happier than when a new change was in the offing. The portrait from the Archbishop's own words is further sketched in the inclusion of Mgr Philip Green's homily at the funeral, and Father Southerwood's epilogue of personal recollections.

This colourful episcopate, spanning the forties to the eighties, tells a story which yet awaits an analytical biographer. In the meantime, despite the typographical blemishes and misprints which abound throughout the book, Father Southerwood's exhaustive collection, gathered in the manner of a working journalist, will keep alive the Archbishop's memory, and provides a clear window through which one may watch the unfolding of the years of post-conciliar transition with which, in Australia, the name of Guilford Young is associated.

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