Victoria's Governor pays tribute to Dr Mannix

Victoria's Governor pays tribute to Dr Mannix

Sir James Gobbo

In 1997, Melbourne's Archbishop George Pell commissioned a nine feet high bronze statue of his predecessor, Archbishop Daniel Mannix, to be located in the forecourt of St Patrick's Cathedral facing Parliament House. The work was completed by Nigel Boonham, an English sculptor in bronze and marble.

The statue was unveiled last March by the Governor of Victoria, Sir James Gobbo, who delivered an address paying tribute to Dr Mannix, who was Melbourne's Archbishop from 1917 to 1963.

The address is reproduced in 'AD2000' with the permission of the Governor.

Archbishop Mannix was an intellectual, scholar, man of prayer, international figure, educationalist, orator and wit. He dominated the life of this city - and even this nation - throughout his long tenure of his high office.

He arrived on Easter Sunday 1913 aged 49 and was described by his predecessor, Archbishop Carr, as Ireland's most precious gift to Australia.

Dr Mannix for his part said: "A hundred bonds stronger than steel bound me to the dear old land, from which so many of you, like myself have come."

In the next decade especially, his passionate support for his beloved Ireland was to generate much controversy and fuel a bitter sectarianism which we now see as something of a curiosity.


His first speech immediately showed what was to be his principal mission and achievement. He said: "The unequal treatment meted out to you in the schools is a great stain upon the statute books of this free and progressive land."

He was constantly to reiterate this theme of an injustice which was not to be removed until after his death. At the same time he devoted himself to lifting the level of education of Catholics. Hundreds of new schools were opened and maintained, sustained by the sacrifices of an essentially working class community.

Participation in public life by well-educated Catholics was seen by Dr Mannix as essential if Catholics were to achieve the promise of a progressive society and if Christian values were to enlighten that society. Education, especially at secondary and tertiary level, was crucial. During Dr Mannix's time as Archbishop of Melbourne, a seminary, a Catholic library, several Catholic university colleges, including Newman and Mannix Colleges, were opened and the Catholic Education Office and the Schools Provident Fund were established.

As invariably occurs in truly great leaders, he was a man of spirituality who spent much time in reflection and prayer. In spite of the heavy burdens of his office, he never became absorbed in detail. He was noted for the way in which he gave autonomy and trust to those within his authority. The same was true when he encouraged Catholic laity to involve themselves in public life and social justice causes. The Campion Society and the movements which grew from it are good illustrations of this.


His leadership was not founded on what we would now term public relations or the pursuit of popularity. During the Great War, he denounced those who relentlessly wasted millions of young lives in mindless trench warfare. At the time he asked how conscription of 20-year-olds could be justified when they were denied a vote. He opposed capital punishment. He denounced the needless saturation bombing of Dresden and the bombing of Hiroshima. He attacked Stalin and Communism and the abandonment of the Poles at Yalta by the Allies. None of these were popular stands at this time, but in each case history has fully vindicated him.

Two further examples deserve mention. The first was his support for immigrant communities such as the Italian community. He encouraged them to make a commitment to their new home and at the same time retain their culture, their religion and their family trad- itions.

Second, in 1954, he wrote about our Constitution and pointed to the increasing strains on the Federation, especially on the area of Federal and State powers. He urged that a national Convention be brought about, a call that was in part responded to in 1998.

One cannot speak of Dr Mannix without referring to his great wit.

[A story is told of a Christmas concert attended by Dr Mannix at a leading college for girls. At one moment a tiny girl appropriately attired flitted on to the empty stage and said in her childish treble: "I'm a lily." Another tripped on and announced: "I'm a rose." Then a third: "I'm a pansy." The Archbishop whispered to the priest alongside: "The plot thickens."]

There were many stories about his longevity. It was the practice during his nineties for Dr Mannix to be interviewed by journalists on his birthday. On one such occasion the journalist expressed the hope they would meet again for another photograph the following year, and was startled when the Archbishop looked his visitor up and down and replied: "Well, you look healthy enough."

His Grace used to walk each day from his home at Raheen in Kew through Collingwood and Fitzroy to St Patrick's. He used to dispense gifts of two shillings to the local identities who lay in wait. On one occasion Dr Mannix who was a total abstainer gave the usual donation to one client with the advice, "Now don't go spending it in that hotel across the road" - the client said "What pub would you recommend Your Grace?"


His wit and sense of humour were shared by those few who enjoyed his friendship and confidence. In this regard, I think especially of Fr Jeremiah Murphy SJ, Rector of Newman College, and Mr Bob Santamaria.

Dr Mannix had an impressive presence which I am able to say is well captured by this splendid statue that is about to be unveiled. He was also a superb orator. Sir Robert Menzies described him as "an almost legendary figure, possessing great intellectual power and courage, with a power of persuasive speech I have never known surpassed." And Robert Speaight, the famous actor and writer wrote in an obituary: "Through the transparency of old age greatness shone out of him ... He spoke the English language more beautifully than I have ever heard it on or off the stage."

This is a special day, not only for the Catholic Church in Melbourne, but for St Patrick's Cathedral, which today becomes home to this great statue.

The Cathedral, in fact, already bears a lasting tribute to Dr Mannix, for it was he who ensured that the Cathedral spires which had been incomplete since 1897, were completed in 1939, far grander even than had been anticipated by the architect, William Wardell, in the original design.

So it is fitting that this tribute to Archbishop Mannix has been erected beside this great Cathedral, of which he was so proud.

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