Vale Fr Paul Duffy SJ (1931-2013)

Vale Fr Paul Duffy SJ (1931-2013)

Anna Krohn

In recent praise of Patrick Morgan's book Melbourne Before Mannix (Connor Court Publishing, 2012), the Jesuit historian and sociologist, Paul Duffy, noted in his typically understated but definite way :

"In the Melbourne of Bishop Goold and Archbishop Carr there was a nurturing of lay leaders' talents; their initiative and enterprise were encouraged. Their talents were allowed free play in the service of the church community. They were trusted."

Father Duffy was here touching upon a recurrent and important vision of his – the need for an ethos of a continuously educated, historically conscious, imaginative and "engaged Catholicism".

Much of his scholarly work, his teaching, preaching and spiritual direction involved the encouragement of lay Catholics to take their vocations seriously. He would inspire many to "take the Gospel" intelligently to contemporary media, politics, healthcare, education, university life and to legal and social policies.

Lay Catholics

Paul Duffy was born in 1931 – in "Dr Mannix's Melbourne" – when many Irish-Catholic families, while economically humble, were very culturally and politically engaged. He was the youngest of the five children of Francis Warren Duffy, a musical train driver and his mother, Lucy a music teacher. While a student at St Patrick's College, East Melbourne, he and his brother Francis (my father) formed a youth branch of the Labor Party and became involved in a number of the burgeoning lay Catholic groups of the time.

Apparently noting his gifts and interests, B.A. Santamaria approached Paul to become his personal assistant shortly after he left school. During these years Paul helped to edit and publish a number of Santamaria's essays and papers.

Having majored in history, sociology and political science at Melbourne University he joined the Society of Jesus in 1951 and was ordained a priest in 1967. His studies and formation with the Jesuits would take him to many places where he would form lasting friendships: Perth, Sydney, Canberra and Brisbane, as well as St Louis, Boston, Washington and Wales. He would later become provincial (1979-85) of the Australian Jesuits.

His master's thesis examined the Catholic Church and "The Split" in the Australian Labor Party. He lectured in sociology and politics at Melbourne University, the University of Sydney and at the Melbourne College of Divinity over a number of decades. His chapter on the Democratic Labor Party, especially with his historical overview, was included in Professor Henry Mayer's classic text of political science Australian Politics: A Reader.

Ethical and social issues

With his distinguished sociological focus, and his combination of balance and far-sightedness, Fr Duffy offered important and sharply delineated analyses of a range of ethical and social issues.

In 1969 he urged the Medico-Legal Society to examine the "sexual revolution", not merely as a deterioration of individual morality, "but in connection with the other effects of the industrial and affluent society: social mobility, rootlessness, uniformity, the impersonalism of mass organised society, and the anonymity of urban living. It has become a world of shifting values and relentless stress ...".

In his study of the Australian campaigns to legalise induced abortion, The Politics of Abortion (Alba House, 1971), Paul Duffy wrote that public debate "has generally been of poor quality ... mythmaking and sloganeering have taken the place of serious research and intelligent debate."

The book was unique for Australia in its time, a rigorous socio-cultural and not only a moral discussion about abortion. Fr Duffy concluded his book with words that pre-figured the later "pro-life/pro-woman" message of Pope John Paul II and his successors. All "concerned citizens" should, he urged, challenge their legislators "to real responsibility to women ... if this is not done ... the process will make women the new victims of the harm that abortion produces."

Paul Duffy always argued that important alliances could be formed across religious traditions and cultures, and his interest in ecumenism and interfaith dialogue made him a much valued member of the board of the Council of Christians and Jews in Victoria. He also advised a number of Healthcare Ethics Committees including that of Melbourne Health.

The place of mass media in the secularisation of popular imagination and morality was also a major focus for Fr Duffy, and for a time he was director of the Jesuit Centre for the Study of Communication and Culture at the University of St Louis in the USA. At the behest of the Australian Bishops, he led a major research into modern media which he later published as book he hoped would serve as a tool by which his lay readers could analyse and participate in the media "for themselves" ( Word of Life in the Media and Gospel, St Paul's, 1991).

At the time of his sudden death at Manresa House in Hawthorn, Victoria, this June at the age of 82, Fr Duffy was as ever engaged in his two great loves: the research and writing of history and the grassroots of parish ministry. He was the kind, wise and steady pastoral guide, not only for his extended family but for countless others.

In 2012 he had published a history of the parish of the Immaculate Conception. He was also completing a history of the Institute of Social Order (once based at Belloc House in Kew and led by Fathers William Smith and William Fahey SJ). It was a Jesuit and lay endeavour founded for research and the formation of "engaged lay Catholics" – in particular for its time, union officials and others in the business world.

Fr Paul Duffy was the last surviving Duffy sibling but his life as a faithful Jesuit and his vision and inspiration have left a lasting legacy for a great many. Requiescat in Pace!

Anna Krohn is a writer, educator and niece of Fr Paul Duffy SJ.

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