THE CAMPION SOCIETY: Lay Catholic Action in Australia, by Colin H. Jory

THE CAMPION SOCIETY: Lay Catholic Action in Australia, by Colin H. Jory

Br Barry Coldrey

The Growth of Lay Catholic Action in Australia
by Colin H. Jory
(Harpham Press, 1986, Hardback, 161pp, $29.95. ISBN: 978-0-95907-100-9 RRP: Available from Freedom Publishing)

This is a handsomely produced, meticulously researched and well-written academic study of a major effort during the troubled years of the 1930s by a number of committed Australian Catholics, many of them young men, to explore social and political issues and make a significant contribution to Australian public life in politics, the trade unions and academia.

Their involvement was engaged by the Campion Society, founded in Melbourne in 1929 immediately prior to the collapse of the Australian and world's economies during the Great Depression.

It was in the Campion Society that Bob Santamaria first came to prominence, long before he became a pivotal figure on the Australian political scene.

With a large number of others, he was involved in efforts to build a vibrant intellectual and spiritual life among the generation of young people who had seen the catastrophic effects of World War I, the triumph of the Bolsheviks in Russia and their anti-religious persecution, the class war during the 1920s, and the rise of fascism in Europe.

Archbishop Mannix

They were part of the development of a vibrant intellectual tradition, assisted by the great archbishop of Melbourne, Dr Daniel Mannix, a man who himself had become a focal point for the emergence of Catholics from an Irish ghetto.

During the dark years of World War II, some members who had developed their organisational skills in the Campion Society established the Catholic Social Studies Movement (The Movement) to combat widespread Communist penetration of the trade unions.

The Campion Society was originally crafted from Colin Jory's doctoral thesis and was printed privately in 1986. Since the book did not have a major publisher to advertise the work, it remains a little-known study which deserves a wider audience.

On the current Australian political scene, Catholics are unusually prominent: the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, and a number of his senior ministers, the Leader of the ALP Opposition, Bill Shorten, together with the newly-appointed Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove, are notable examples. Most are past students of Jesuit colleges although General Cosgrove attended the Christian Brothers' Waverley College in Sydney.

This close involvement of Catholics in Australian public life had its roots in the Campion Society of the 1930s. Colin Jory examines in great detail this movement and places its role and the role of its many later influential members into the national and even international context.


The Campion Society founder was an English convert to Catholicism, Denys Jackson, who arrived in Melbourne in 1927. He was surprised to find that most Catholics he encountered saw their religion "as a revered part of their Irish heritage" rather than a universal faith.

This prompted him to establish a "study group" that worked within the tradition of the worldwide Catholic Action fold. Jackson named the "study group" the Campion Society after the English Elizabethan martyr.

Jory's account of the various ongoing tussles, disputes, achievements and wider Campion Society impact is based on a detailed analysis of a huge array of primary and secondary sources as well as scores of interviews with, amongst others, Arthur Calwell, Frank McManus and historian Father James Murtagh.

The story is complex but fascinating. There were differing outlooks amongst pre-war Catholics over many questions and personal fallouts, arguments and differing emphases on a vast array of tactical and related issues during Australia's last pre-war decade.

The short-lived Campion Society's heyday - from 1931 to 1939 - came during the pontificate of Pope Pius XI in whom, Jory says, Catholics found an inspiring leader. Many Catholics "rallied to his call for a crusade to advance social justice, stem the resurgent paganism of German and Italian fascism and Soviet communism and revivify Christianity as a cultural force".

Along the way, Jory introduces us to many outstanding public figures who strove to ensure that Australia emerged as a nation based on Christian social justice principles. An important development linked to the Campion Society was the establishment of the Catholic Central Library by Fr William Hackett SJ in 1931. It would prove to be a powerhouse of Catholic Action in the years following.