Archbishop Hart launches new book on Dr Mannix - Daniel Mannix: Wit and Wisdom

Archbishop Hart launches new book on Dr Mannix - Daniel Mannix: Wit and Wisdom

Archbishop Dennis Hart

Archbishop Denis Hart launched Michael Gilchrist's new book, 'Daniel Mannix: Wit and Wisdom' on 3 March 2004 at the Thomas More Centre in North Melbourne. This is his address.

Some years ago I remember reading the original edition - Daniel Mannix: Priest and Patriot - on holidays. I am aware that this expanded and revised second edition, which follows at a distance of twenty-two years, will have a two-fold purpose. Written in the light of greater knowledge and study of Mannix and in a different Melbourne and a different Church, it has become possible to study Archbishop Mannix in a much more nuanced way in the light of the clear desires of young people for authentic faith and truth and for a clearer role of the Church in society.

Mannix was an interesting subject at any time. The advantage of this book is that it gives a detailed biography of the Australian sector of his life. It is my view, however, that to understand Mannix fully you need to have some background on his years at Maynooth and his emerging capacities for remarkable religious leadership. What strikes me particularly is the breadth of his involvement.

We know about his work on conscription, education and a just society for Australia. Michael Gilchrist highlights the much broader work he did of forming young Catholic intellectuals so that members of the Church, formerly from an underclass and working against tremendous prejudice, became reliable citizens and moved into their rightful place in the professions and in public life. Mannix's constant leadership in this sphere is recounted and it may well be said that if Archbishop Carr is remembered for his work on education, Mannix took that whole process a step further in his involvement of the laity, in Church and society.

He did this well before the documents of the Second Vatican Council, which were issued after his death. Michael Gilchrist records the words of Sydney's Catholic press as early as 1920: "Mannix too is a towering Churchman and an Australian patriot and democrat who never bows his head before the storm. There is no man who commands more attention, who occupies a more honourable place in the heart of the masses" (page 86).

Whether in the rights of Catholics in society, in the right of freedom of religion, in international affairs and on Irish questions, Mannix was staunch and resolute. And yet the thing that emerges above all, as I have said, is the breadth of his care for the people of his Diocese and the many personal anecdotes which Michael Gilchrist records of that pastoral care.

Mr Gilchrist also refers to an intervention which Archbishop Mannix made when in his 90s on the preliminary document of the Second Vatican Council's text on the Church, which showed that his insights on the laity, on the role of all parties in the Church, were far before his time and showed an intimate grasp of the nature of the Church and of all that he sought to build in our great Archdiocese.

I found the book a good and interesting read without being difficult. It ranks as biography rather than historical analysis, although I do admit that an analysis of the effect of Mannix's life remains to be done.

Leadership approach

However, Gilchrist makes clear, "Central to Archbishop Mannix's approach to Church leadership and involvement in issues spiritual and temporal and arising from his Catholic and Irish roots and family upbringing, was respect for the basic dignity of the human individual as a child of God; the entitlement of ethnic and religious groups to respect, freedom of opinion, and an equitable share of the nation's resources - on merit - in a pluralist democracy; and the right of nations to self-determination and freedom from oppression" (page xii).

There are many references to the Archbishop's sense of humour, whether it was lightly tapping on the head the altar servers seated on the steps of his throne at Tenebrae when they fell asleep; or, in the light of the many discussions with Father Billy Mangan, a patriotic, empire-minded priest, who wanted to serve as Chaplain on the troop ship, Ballarat, soon to depart for the war zone.

Although reluctant, the Archbishop eventually relented and told Father Mangan that he had been worried about the Ballarat and the perils of the voyage. "I'd never forgive myself if you weren't on board the Ballarat when it went down, to minister to all those troops" (pp 50-51).

In 1917, on a return to Clifton Hill where he had first spoken about conscription, Dr Mannix confessed: "It was here in Clifton Hill that I committed my original sin. Ever since I fell from grace by those few words in Clifton Hill against conscription, I have been cast out of paradise - the angelic Argus has stood at the gate ever since with flaming sword to bar my entry into the garden and my enjoyment of the forbidden fruit" (page 51).

I mentioned earlier that 2004 is a different Melbourne and a different Church from 1982. The remarkable work of Pope John Paul II with youth and the flowering of young people, deeply loyal to the faith and conscious of the role of the Church in their lives, will find Mannix's story fascinating, inspiring and a tremendous encouragement.

I do commend it to those who do not know about Mannix because it is eminently readable, gives a broad context about the unparalleled contribution of Archbishop Mannix to Melbourne and his legacy of active involvement; clergy being zealous and close to their people and the role of the Church in society and public affairs. It is an essential opportunity to learn who we are and a good and valued read. I thank Michael Gilchrist for the work that he has done and I encourage you to sample it.

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