TALES WITHOUT REASON: Forgotten Heroes of the Apostolate in 1840s Australia
by Thomas O'Malley CSSp
(The Columba Press, 2001, 115pp, $24.95. Available from AD Books)
The Catholic faith was nurtured largely due to the tireless work of missionary priests and religious who left all to bring the faith to immigrants and natives. We like to think that the work of these missionaries was an unqualified success.
Tales Without Reason, however, tells the story of a failure, namely the mission by the Fathers of the Holy Heart of Mary (one of the two orders that merged in 1848 to form the Holy Ghost Fathers) in the second half of the 1840s to the southern corner of Western Australia. The account focuses on the ministry of Fr Thevaux, a young French priest and his relationship with Bishop Brady of Perth.
Bishop Brady, having convinced the Roman authorities of the necessity of a bishop for Western Australia, was consecrated in Rome in 1845. Following his consecration, he sought out missionaries for his vast, but sparsely populated diocese. Fr Libermann, anxious to secure new mission territories to which to send his priests, was prepared to assign some of his young men to an aboriginal apostolate in the southern corner of Western Australia.
Bishop Brady was sadly the wrong man to lead a missionary diocese. He was a poor manager of personnel, running into frequent and acrimonious conflicts with his missionaries, and finances, amassing huge debts. Furthermore, Brady's expectations were unrealistic. The comparatively large band of missionaries who accompanied him back to Perth arrived to find a small and very poor Catholic community struggling to support a few clergy, let alone all Brady's missionaries.
Some, such as Fathers Salvado and Serra, were to succeed against all odds with the foundation of the monastery of New Norcia; however, within a few years, most of Bishop Brady's missionaries were either dead or had left the diocese. In the case of Father Thevaux and his companions, they arrived at their destination to find only a few aborigines and these were difficult to minister to on account of their nomadic existence.
With hardly any priests left, Bishop Brady left for Rome to settle a dispute between himself and Father Serra. Although the Bishop was to live until 1871 and attend Vatican I as the Bishop of Perth, following an investigation by Roman authorities, he was forbidden to return to his diocese. Father Thevaux had left Australia in 1847 and Father Thierse followed him the next year. They arrived in Mauritius with nothing but the rags on their backs, but were to play integral roles in the spread of the faith there for over 30 years.
Tales Without Reason is an excellent account of one of the sadder chapters in Australian Church history.