'Irish Catholic' reviews Michael Gilchrist's 'Daniel Mannix'
DANIEL MANNIX: Wit and Wisdom
by Michael Gilchrist
(Freedom Publishing, 2004, 312pp, $24.95. Available from AD Books)
Archbishop Daniel Mannix of Melbourne was the most influential and indeed controversial churchman in Australia of his day. A fervent Irish nationalist born in Charleville, Co Cork in 1864, Dr Mannix was also a provocative defender of Catholic rights in politics and education. This book gives ample airing to his sharp wit and well distilled wisdom.
Drawing from a diverse range of archive sources as well as the memories of those who knew the archbishop during his episcopate, the biographer, Michael Gilchrist, currently editor of an Australian Catholic journal, AD2000 gives a quick-paced, action-packed rollercoaster through Mannix's life and times.
While President of Maynooth in 1913, Dr Mannix was appointed coadjutor of Melbourne. He immediately electrified his audience by calling for state aid for Catholic schools and criticising those who "lash themselves into a frenzy at the very thought of Catholics demanding their rights in a constitutional way and enforcing their demands by use of the ballot box."
Like a flame, he lit up the intellectual debates of the time as well as providing a good deal of heat to those who were opposed him and what he regarded as the rights of the Church.
His aim was to give long term hope to his small put-upon flock and as he said "it is better to suffer defeat fighting than to submit quietly to our defeat as in the past."
To the Anglican establishment both social and ecclesial, as well as most of the Catholic bishops in Australia who thought it prudent to put up and shut up, Archbishop Mannix could be an aggravating and pugilistic figure. By the establishment he was often loathed, barely tolerated yet always respected. On the other hand, to the ordinary Catholic people, who were mostly of Irish descent, he was their hero.
Some of the lively episodes described in this book include his actions in helping defeat the introduction of conscription, much to the wrath of the Anglican hierarchy and press. His comment that World War I was a sordid trade war between competitive imperialistic powers sent the establishment into apoplexy.
During the Irish War of Independence he supported De Valera and became an international figure speaking out for the rights of Ireland. His removal from a liner as it approached Cork harbour was a famous episode epitomising what the British would do if a Catholic bishop was outspoken. Perhaps a highpoint of his career was his welcoming of the international Eucharistic Congress to Australia in 1928.
Throughout his life, the witty and sometimes ascerbic Dr Mannix was committed to enlightening Catholic and public opinion and encouraging the laity to Christianise the social and political environments. Always an advocate for his community and underdogs in general, he encouraged active Catholic involvement in the unions, at that time being infiltrated by Communists, whom he regarded as a great threat to Church and state.
Towards the end of Mannix's life many commentators came round to his way of thinking. At the last, he grew immeasurably in public respect, indeed admiration.
With a foreword by Cardinal George Pell, this book is a fascinating read which I recommend to lay people, clergy and bishops alike.
Hermann Kelly is a senior journalist with 'The Irish Catholic'.