Kenneth Bruce Dowding, Australian Catholic hero: his brother's tribute

Kenneth Bruce Dowding, Australian Catholic hero: his brother's tribute

Rev Keith Dowding

As a postscript to the article published in the July 2001 'AD2000' by Ron Cowban (page 20), we are reproducing the text of a eulogy given by the Rev Keith Dowding at a Requiem Mass for his brother Kenneth in the Mercy Hospital Chapel in Perth on 30 June 2001, kindly made available to us by Rev Dowding. The Requiem Mass was celebrated by Fr John Harte SJ.

The illustrations on this page are provided courtesy of Rev Dowding.

My brother, Kenneth Bruce Dowding, had a rare combination of aesthetic delicacy and powerful physical achievement. He combined a love of poetry and music and classical ballet with above average skill in sports, especially in athletics, football, and gymnastics.

I remember that quite often, after we had attended an ABC concert on a Saturday night in the Melbourne Town Hall, he would spend an hour or so on the Sunday writing two reviews of the concert, one in the style of the music critic of the Melbourne Age, and the other in the style of the critic of the Argus (or was it the Sun?).

Almost invariably he was right in his assessment of each of them. He also prepared a choreography for a ballet. I doubt that it was ever used; but, at least, he showed that he knew how to do it.

Many of the notes he took during university lectures were illustrated by remarkably good caricatures of the lecturers and fellow students.

At the same time, he was an A Grade amateur footballer, often mentioned among the best players for his team. However, his gymnastic and athletic talents were cut short by an accident on the parallel bars.

Looking back at that time more than 70 years ago, I see now that his aesthetic senses were offended by what he saw as lack of beauty in the worship of the suburban churches in Glenhuntly, where we grew up. He wanted to hear words and music of such beauty that they would lift one's soul to a higher plane.

Divine simplicity

It was not that he had no regard to the intellectual content of the worship; indeed, he was quick to point to intellectual sloppiness. He wanted what we might call that Divine simplicity which is above intellectualism, in a setting of linguistic and musical beauty.

I think Bruce found what he was looking for as he visited the great cathedrals of Europe, and I do not wonder that when he had the opportunity, he sought admission to the Roman Catholic Church. That may have been helped by his association with the Abbé Carpentier, who was arrested with Bruce, after their underground group had been betrayed to the Gestapo. I am sure that the decision to ask to see Father Steinhoff a few minutes before his execution was simply the fulfilment of a process that had been maturing for months, perhaps for years.

No eulogy for Bruce should omit a tribute to the very courageous Father Steinhoff, who risked his life by disobeying the strict Gestapo injunction that no details about Bruce - name, family, or home address - should be taken, wrote them down secretly and wrote to us at the first possible moment.

I am grateful to Father John Harte for so kindly saying this Mass. It means a great deal to me, not least because although Bruce's name is recorded in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, and is to be found in some of the books written about underground groups in the war years in France, I am the only family member left who knew him - he was the baby of our family.

I am grateful also to the Mercy Sisters for making the Chapel available, and to my son Peter, for the enormous amount of work he has done to fill in the many wide gaps in our knowledge of Bruce's life in France.

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