John Wright (1923-2011): pillar of the Catholic faith

John Wright (1923-2011): pillar of the Catholic faith

Michael Gilchrist

John Patrick Wright, who died last June, was an outanding, courageous Melbourne Catholic layman who was a tower of strength for orthodoxy at a time when this was often under siege inside the Church under the banner of the "spirit of Vatican II".

Born on 8 January 1923, he was the youngest of four children. First educated at Kildara, he attended De La Salle College in Malvern before completing his secondary education at Xavier College, Kew.

He had a natural love of and aptitude for languages, excelling at Latin and French and after completing school in 1940 went on to complete a Law degree at Melbourne University.

During World War II John Wright learned Japanese and was involved in interrogating Japanese prisoners of war while after the war he travelled to Japan as part of the British Occupational Forces and lived there for two years, making lifelong Japanese friends.

In later years, while at the Bar he was a regular contributor to The Age, with an article called Lawyer's Diary, where he would provide, for the benefit of the reader, hypothetical court scenarios and rationales for outcomes arrived at. In 1972 he was appointed a Crown Prosecutor, a position he held until his retirement at the age of 62.

The Church remained his enduring focal point. A founding member of the first parish council at Our Lady's, Ringwood, he undertook numerous parish activities while continuing to be a twice-weekly communicant.

John Wright was a man of strong conviction and the courage of his conviction rarely failed him, even if this meant confronting others, as happened one night in a packed school hall when he challenged a teacher over the content of a religion lesson.

He was later actively involved with a group of Catholics in the 1980s who had organised over concerns about deficiencies in the then Melbourne archdiocesan guidelines for religious education. This involved himself, other laypeople and some brave priests and religious in meetings with Archbishop Little and various diocesan officials in an effort to have the deficiencies remedied. In the end, their efforts proved fruitless until the advent of Archbishop Pell a decade later.

He was a great admirer of the work of Bob Santamaria and the NCC, and, as with the Church, it continued to be a big part of his life, including volunteer work. He also assisted in the birth of the Catholic-based organisation, the John XXIII Fellowship Co-op, a major force in the struggle for Catholic orthodoxy in Australia. He would be actively involved with the Co-op for many years.

On a personal note, I will be forever grateful to John Wright for his invaluable assistance in enabling me to put together my first book on the crisis within Australian Catholicism, Rome or the Bush. When no other publisher would touch this book, the John XXIII Fellowship Co-op took it on board and at the time of Pope John Paul II's first visit to Australia in 1986 it became a surprise best-seller. Much of the credit for this success can be attributed to John Wright's help and wise advice.

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