Archbishop Redmond Prendiville (1993 - 1968)
James F. Nestor
This brief biography of Redmond Garrett Prendiville, second Catholic Archbishop of Perth, was prepared for the students and school community of Prendiville College, a new Catholic secondary school located on an ideal site which was acquired by Redmond Prendiville in a casual meeting on board a ship in the Indian Ocean forty years ago.
The students will look back from far into the twenty first century on the site and buildings of their secondary schooling and relate to others the inevitable nostalgic memories of their old school. It would be a great loss if their memories failed to include the deep historical significance of the College name and the particular appropriateness of associating the name of Prendiville with the school crest - Prendiville College (PC) and Christus Pastor Meus (CPM). Redmond Prendiville deserves short-listing, at the very least, for the title of Australia's greatest Catholic bishop of the twentieth century. This powerful tribute has been paid freely to him by many of his brother bishops and certainly by most of the priests who worked closely with him in a prodigious thirty-five year contribution to the Catholic Church in Western Australia. The association of his name - and now that of the College - with Christ Our Pastor bears a deep and rich symbolism. As will be shown later, Prendiville's greatest qualification for remembrance was his total preoccupation with the advancement of Christ's Church, It was typical of him that a passing befriending of a couple on board a ship on the high seas should lead to the acquisition of a Catholic college and church. Such an opportunity could never have been missed by him because he was on the job around the clock. | hope that his name and history will be an inspiration to the young people of Prendiville College - it was Goethe who said "the best that history has to give us is the enthusiasm which it arouses". His concern for youth will surely bring him to plead the cause of these young people in the Higher Circles where eternal youth does not yield to ageing and death. "I am young," he said at a civic reception at Fremantle on 7 November, 1933 just after his consecration as a bishop. "They tell me I shall grow older. I am inexperienced..."
I have another reason for preparing this booklet. I hope that it will drive somebody to produce a full biography of Prendiville in the future. One of the great losses of the comparatively young church in Perth is its failure to keep in touch with its own story. People in countries like Ireland or England or Europe have to reach into myth and pre-history for their origins, even to some extent for the local beginnings of their sacred history. But Australia and the West Australian church can get in touch with real historical facts and their actual reportage. Memories of Prendiville abound - I have used only a few. Already many inspiring historical insights into a church leader of great stature are being lost through death and for the lack of recording, This is why I hope that somebody will produce proper biographical studies of Perth's Catholic archbishops and that many more memories will be shared by those who have them. To miss those stories is to impoverish the church.
I wish to record my sincere thanks and the readers' to those who freely shared historical memories with me, to the very obliging archivist of the Archdiocese and to D.F. Bourke for his History of the Catholic Church in WA.
Redmond Garret, youngest of a family of fourteen (or sixteen), was born to Garret and Hanna Prendiville (née O'Sullivan) on 8 December, 1900 on a small but comfortable farm in the townland of Cordal near Castleisland in the County of Kerry, south-west Ireland. Twin members of the family had died as babies, and two girls in their early twenties. Apart from the Archbishop five of the family, which seemed originally to have been of Norman stock descended from Sir John Fitzredmond Prendiville and related to the Earl of Desmond, emigrated to Australia. One later returned to Ireland, but four settled in Perth to make significant contributions to the professional and business life of WA.
His family and their first generation descendants were very significant to him all his life. He was born into a family of deep unquestioning faith and devotion. A fruit of that faith was that the family have (over two generations) (given) an Archbishop, four nuns and two priests to the Church's ministry. One of the nuns, his niece (a nurse), attended to him on his death-bed in the company of his own sister, a former head of the Dominican Sisters in Western Australia. From the family home, young Prendiville brought the great simple expressions pf early twentieth century Irish devotional life - love of the Mass and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the daily rosary of Our Lady and the Stations of the Cross. He later brought these features of the Irish church to Western Australia and never abandoned them. He was a familiar sight as Archbishop in St. Mary's Cathedral kneeling before the altar in the late afternoon or doing the Stations of the Cross.
That aspect of his spiritual life is of quite significant historical interest. He was an Irishman and sharing with all the other irish missionaries of the nineteen and early twentieth centuries a formation by an Irish church that had been severly manacled until the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829. The effect of that history of restriction was to separate Irish devotional life from the great earlier free Irish church tradition of communal liturgy, and creative celebration and practice of the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ.
Ancient Irish missals, as far back as the eight century, portray a church with a great reverence for sacred scripture and tradition, a deep sense of communion with the Body of Christ at prayer and a strong congregational quality of worship together with a great reverence for the Irish Church's own earliest manifestations of grace.
A half-centruy later, Archbishop Prendiville was exposed to a kind of recovery of his own ancestral irish Church spirituality when he had to attend the Second Vatican Council.
One other feature of his early childhood formation should be mentioned. In almost every age, a distinctive feature of Irish Catholicism was its sense of the greatness of God. Whoever else could be questioned freely, God couldn not. It manifested itself in a pervadingf sense of obedience to the will of God and every home articulated continuously in its daily life the expression: welcome be God's holy will. Obedience to God came easily.
Archbishop Prendiville's confreres became aware of his strong sense of obedience to the Church and to the Pope as part of this. If a letter arrived from Rome, through the Apostolic delegation, he tried to answer it on the day it came. He expected obedience to himself as bishop. When he returned from the second session of the Vatican Council, already somewhat depressed by failing health, he was perturbed by the new (for him) argumentation and questioning within the universal church. He expressed privately to some friends his fear that a new shcism could occur in the Church. Throughout his life he was an obedient son of the Church.
His Irish background
The Ireland in which he grew up and was educated changed profoundly in mental climate between 1890 and 1925 when he was ordained priest. Several independent strands of thinking suddenly began to coalesce into a special kind of nationalist synthesis. Several groups - each concerned with some social, cultural or political ideal - began to act as a ferment in the mind of a generation. A young man growing up in that environment was faced with a powerful idealism with many faces. A great Irish protestant, Douglas Hyde, called for the recreation of a separate cultural Irish nation with its own literature, music, language, games, dress and ideas. There was a great Anglo-Irish literary revival led by William Butler Yeats with his dream of the people cultivating a national literature of the highest aesthetic quality. Yeats and the patriot, Patrick Pearse, spoke strongly of the need to make sacrifices for ideals. Yeats, in one of his more famous writings, Cathleen Ni Houlihan, spoke of taking "a hard service" (to leave the freedom), "to walk the hills and bogs...to walk hard streets in far countries" (quoted in Moody and Martin, The Course of Irish History, p.295). The Irish missionary ideal was expressed in early writings in the symbol of "white martyrdom" to become "an exile of Erin for Christ".
The young Prendivile would have been exposed to this idealism in the small primary school he attended and to a greater extent in the diocesan secondary, St. Brendan's (Killarney) which he entered in 1914.
The memory of him as a teenager was of a handsome, robust, normal, gregarious and somewhat boisterous young man. One aspect of the Gaelic revival n which he began to excel was Gaelic football which was conducted by a powerful national games movement called the Gaelic Athletic Association.
A decade later in the fnal year of his ecclesiastical studies, the managers of the Kerry Gaelic Football team asked the President of St. Peter's Ecclestiastical College in Wexford to release him to play for his native county in the All-Ireland Final. Such permissions were not granted readily in the Irish seminaries of the day. They asked for him even though he had not trained with the team for the big occasion. He was released, the Kerry team won the Final and he was named man of the match. At the conclusion of the game, he did not wait for the victory dinner and celebrations or the accolades for the team's hero. He returned quietly from Dublin to the seminary in Wexford.
To look back on the cultural forces that probably shaped his personal outlook is valuable and indeed consoling for thelight it throws on the action of God's providence in his life. His youth on the Irish farm left him with content and happy memories and increased the sacrifice he would have endured to accomplish hsi exile for Christ.
There are happy memories of his attachement to the family home, of pheasant shooting with the local residents in the open season, of family gatherings, and memories of the loneliness he felt on leaving after his visit from Australia.
The Irish peasant farmers reaped the fruit of one of the few successful plitical achievements in Ireland's troubled history before 1900. An extraordinary Irishman, Michael Davitt, with a passion for social justice that transcended national barriers and religious differences, led the greatest revolution in modern Ireland. It resulted in the abolition of a hated foreign landlord system and turned Ireland into a land of peasant owners of their land. The successful conclusion to the land question left the farmers reasonably content and initially they were not greatly stirred by the later struggle for national independence.
The young seminarian Prendiville grew up in that atmosphere. Yet he could well have lost his life in an incident during the Anglo-Irish War (War of Independence - djp) of 1919-21. One day he was arrested and taken as a hostage by the dreaded English military auxiliaries, called the Black and Tans, and taken to where a road was mined. He was released when the hazard was safely removed.
A final Irish influence affected the style of his pastoral ministry throughout his life. It is best summed up by a concept occuring regularly through the ancient Gaelic literature, called dúchas (pronounced "doo-hoss"). It is the national Irish characteristic, if one can speak of such univocal concepts, like the French droit or the English sense of fair play. The Irish characteristic was reflected in a deep interest inpeople as persons and a natural, gossip-free curiosity about them. It was reflected powerfully in the satisfaction Irish missionary priests dervied in house-to-house visitation of Catholic homes. The tradition of pastoral visitation embedded itself deeply in the Australian chruch. Young Father Prendiville revelled in it. Later, as Archbishop, when he finished his prayers in the Cathedral, he would regularly speak to after-work visitors who also came to pray briefly before the Tabernacle, asking their names and enquiring about their well-being. Most people said of him that he hardly ever forgot a name or a face. He remained to the end naturally and deeply interested in people.
Student and priest
In 1918, after successfully matriculating at St. Brendan's (Killarney), he entered All Hallows Missionary College (Dublin). There is no known record of whether he ever thought of entering the Irish National Seminary at Maynooth for his native diocese of Kerry or whether he was influenced in his choice of Perth by the presence of members of his family there. He progressed effortlessly through his studies and also gained a degree in Arts from University College (Dublin). By coincidence, All Hallows supplied three of Perth's bishops - Gibney, Clune and Prendiville. He was ordained priest at St. Peter's College (Wexford) on 11 June, 1925. He completed his theological studies at Wexford because of another interesting incident at All Hallows. In the strict college discipline of the day it was forbidden to play cards with expulsion as the sanction. One day, the dean discovered a few students playing the forbidden game in a room and Prendiville was with them although he was not playing. He took the consequence with the others but it never weakened the bond between him and his original Alma Mater. He visited the college as Archbishop and the incident was the subject of a light-hearted relection between him and the President on Psalm 118:- the stone rejected by the builders became the cornerstone.
A cable from All Hallows at his death referred to him as "its beloved and distinguished son".
Assistant pastor at East Perth
In Spring 1925, he commenced a priestly ministry at St. Mary's Cathedral that lasted for forty-three years. He was assigned the pastoral care of East Perth and became a legend for total dedication to visitation of the Catholic people. The East Perth area was a residential suburb taking in areas now regarded as commercial. The memories of him are of a shy, reserved young priest, cycling along the roads dressed in full black clerical suit even in the great heat. When he was not visiting the homes, he could be found among the young people, especially the pupils, at what is now Mercedes College. He became very popular with the young and organized the Sodality of the Children of Mary. He also organized a very successful Queen of the Cathedral fund-raising competition. People still speak of the sense of dignity of the priesthood that he instilled. Confreres of his at the Cathedral speak of him as a very friendly but private person. For recreation he played cards on sunday night with the Archbishop and other priests and also golf and tennis. One evening while returning from family visitation at East Perth he joined in soccer practice in one of the parks. He mad such an impression that the managers of the club came a few days later to engage his services. He declined. On one occasion he surprised the salesman in a shoe store by purchasing a pair of shoes that obviously were not for him. The salesman discovered they were for a poor family in East Perth.
He also began to acquire a reputation as a confessor and retained and enhanced it right up to his death.
About that time plans were being prepared for the opening of the new St. Mary's Cathedral sanctuary and extensions. This was the highpoint of the aging Archbishop Clune's episcopal career. Father Prendiville had impressed him with his organizing ability. In 1929 he appointed him administrator of the Cathedral, to the added responsibility of organizing the celebrations associated with the opening of the Cathedral. The young administrator organized the celebrations, a national event for the church, with ease and excellence. The ceremony took place on 4 May, 1930. His reputation as an administrator grew and also the Archbishop's esteem for him. The relationship between the two men was warm and trusting and Fr. Prendiville's standing with the clergy, religious and laity of the archdiocese increased continually. In August, 1932 Archbishop Clune, then in indifferent health and finding the administration of the Archdiocese an increasing strain, asked the Pope to give him an auxiliary bishop and asked that he be be a coadjutor with the right of succession. Pius XI announced on 30 June 1933 through the Secretariat of State that Redmond Prendiville was to be coadjutor archbishop of Perth with the right of succession. Archbishop Clune had asked especially for him as "the one person who was most acceptable to my heart". Some other names were being mentioned as eligible and suitable and there was some expressed natural desire to have a native-born rather than adopted Australian appointed. The records of the time show that the choice of a priest of the archdiocese was a great joy. They also show that Redmond Prendiville's appointment was received with enthusiastic and universal accliam. A testimonial presentation was made to him the day after his consecration in which the following passage occurs (Record, 1935):-
"The work that lies before you is difficult, requiring a unique combination of mind and heart. You came amongst us some eight years ago, and you became distinguished by your labours for the church in all its various activities, by the extent and breadth of your charity, by your intellectual gifts and attainments, by your commanding ability and talents, by your business ability and acument, by the kindly gentleness of disposition and character that has inspired all your acts and deeds. We look forward with full confidence for you directed to the greater glory of God. In fact, you seemed specially desingated by Almighty God for high office and dignity."
The Archbishop replied:-
"With all the sincerity at my command I thank you for the generous and flattering sentiments expressed in these addresses, and for the transference into tangible gifts, of your loyalty, respect and devotion towards me. As I stand before you tonight, with many limitations of age, experience and talent, the words of the Psalmist come unbidden to my lips:- 'I am poor and needy, the Lord is my help'. I take consolation in the thought that whatever is lacking in age, experience and talent will be compensated for by Providence through your generous intercessory prayers, (and) your loyal co-operation of which I have your assurance in these addresses. Without that loyalty and co-operation the best intentions of heart and the greatest qualities of mind would lie sterile and dormant".
The clergy, religious and laity gave him a gift of £3,000 (a simple conversion into today's finance can be made by using the price of a good suit of clothes in 1933, 3 guineas) (A guinea was 21 shillings in the "old money", or £1.05 in decimal currency. Convert that into dollars and you're still talking a pittance...djp)
He was consecrated Archbishop by the newly-arrived apostolic delegate, Archbishop Bernardini, with Archbishop Hayden of Hobart and Archbishop Killian of Adelaide. The sermon was preached by one of the greatest priest-orators of Australia, Redemptorist Fr. Hannigan, who used to the greatest effect, as only he could, the text from Ezechiel 33:7, "Son of Man, I have appointed you as sentry to the House of Israel". (The 1933 version was even more forceful: "So thou, O Son of Man, I have made thee a watchman to the House of Israel"). Among other things, he said:-
"Go forth, dear Dr. Prendiville, to the fulfilment of your high office, to receive the welcome and allegiance of your clergy - your devoted band of secular priests, and the members of the religious communities of the Oblate Fathers and the Sons of St. Alphonsus (Redemptorists), with the assurance of the whole-hearted support of your splendid auxiliaries in the apostolate of teaching - the nuns of the various sisterhood, and the brothers of the Christian schools.
"Go forth to participate in a rich inheritance, more opulent than golden reef: the unwaverng faith and sterling piety, of the Catholic peole of Western Australia. Yes, go forth, 'mid the jubiliation, the esteem, the confidence and prayers of your entire flock.
"Your heart has been frozen in youth against the delights that perish...Your years of sacrifice as a priest were a silent preparation for the heroism of the watchman...You belong in a special way to our holy mother, the Church...The sacred cause of Christian education will ever find in you a fearless champion, through your faithful adoption of the policy of the Sovereign Pontiff, Pius XII, proclaimed in the well-known words 'Catholic education for all Catholic children in Catholic schools'...In days to come many of the Catholic youth of this Western land may kneel at your feet in this sanctuary, and there receive, at your hands, the sublime powers of the priesthood of Christ...You are an exile of Erin for the cause of Christ, chosen to dwell for His Name's sake in this beloved land of ours that lies extended beneath the beams of the Southern Cross..."
The editor of the Record newspaper added simply:- "He is a man of strong character, athletic and robust, and with his brilliant parts he should go a long way."
The Priests' testimonial said:- "We rejoice in your youth, which yields promise of a long and fruitful reign".
Archbishop Prendiville was to go forth in a way that not even the inspired oratory of Fr. Hannigan could express. He was just thirty-three and the youngest Catholic archbishop in the world.
A young priest at the Cathedral - later to be drawn by providence into a special relationship with him, Dr. Launcelot Goody, suggested to him the motto for his coat-of-arms:- "Da mihi animas, cetera tolle". It may be translated as "grant me souls, take all else away", or "nothing else matters to me except the salvation of souls". Dr. Goody suggested it to him because he thought it was a very suitable motto for a bishop, and because it was the motto of the famous Cardinal Merry del Val, Secretary of State to St. Pius X.
For thirty-five years, Archbishop Prendiville lived the motto with consuming zeal.
Watchman in the House of Israel
Archbishop Clune died two years later on the feast of Our Lady Help of Christians, 24 May, 1935, while his coadjutor was overseas making the required regular report on the archdioecese to the Pope and visiting England and Ireland recruiting students for service in the priesthood of Perth archdiocese. On 20 August, 1935, he returned to take up his full jurisdiction as Archbishop. Typically, he asked that there be no public or civic receptions.
The "House of Israel", the archdiocese, sprawled out from near Bindoon to Albany and Esperance and from near the Indian Ocean to the South Australian border. It had about 62,000 Catholics, out of a total of 80,300 for the whole state, the total population of which was 439,000. In Australia, as a whole, there were 10,000 Sisters and 2,000 clergy. The facts and figures for the archdiocese - and indeed, a very good chronicle of the activities of the Church in WA - are available to the reader for the period of Archbishop Prendiville's ministry in D.F. Bourke's "The History of the Catholic Church in WA" and in the Record newspaper.
In 1935, there were 65 priests, 52 diocesan priests, 13 priests from religious orders. At Archbishop Prendiville's death in 1968, there were two dioceses covering the same area. Perth had 209 priests and the new diocese of Bunbury (placed under the pastoral jurisdiction of Bishop Launcelot Goody in 1954) had 40.
In 1935, there were 39 religious brothers (35 of the Christian Brothers Congregation) and 687 nuns. In 1965, Perth had 93 brothers and 1,102 nuns and Bunbury had 12 brothers and 138 nuns. In 1935, Perth had 38 parishes and 82 churches and in 1965, Perth had 97 parishes and 106 churches while Bunbury had 25 parishes and 58 churches. Visible additions to the Archdiocese of Perth alone from 1935 to 1968 are recorded by Bourke (op. cit. p.267) as follows:-
Whether the statistics are strictly accurate and perfectly reconciled does not matter. They tell a story of prodigious and brilliant effort to provide for an exploding Catholic population. Local vocations to the priesthood increased by 40 in the first five years of the Archbishop's leadership and by 80 in the next five. The Catholic population grew in the same period from 52,000 to 160,000. At his death, the media spoke of him as "the quiet builder" and the legend of him is of endless openings of institutions (often two a Sunday) and endless bricks and mortar. But the myth tells only a little of the real story. They were signs of something deeper and far-reaching - a very efficiently considered pastoral plan to keep ahead of needs in a manner that provided both for that time and the foreseen future. It was almost impossible to foresse the future. When Archbishop Prendiville took up office, a European war was imminent. He could not have foreseen that within a few years, Darwin would have been bombed and Perth would be threatened with evacuation and foreign occupation, of the big influx of European Catholics that followed the war. He believed strongly in grouping Catholic families into small geographic units. He considered a parish of 300 Catholic families a big parish. His vision of an effective pastoral strategy was based on the pastoral dictum that was very strong in the Irish seminaries, especially in All Hallows: souls are saved in the English-speaking world by personal contact, an interpretation of the Good Shepherd symbol, "I know mine and mine know me". He once said that the size of a parish should be determined by the ability of a priest to know his parishioners with some intimacy and that it was better to let priests work on their own than to risk the conflict that could arise if they had to work closely together. He was simple and down-to-earth in the matter of interpersonal relations especially those between younger and older clergy. The recruitments and deployment of priests became very important to him. "I never had one too many", he said. After his consecration as coadjutor, he visited the whole archdiocese including rural towns and isolated farming settlements. Then he went to Rome to present the required regular report on the local church. His courageous leadership became visible even before the death of his predecessor to whom he was intensely loyal. Archbishop Clune told him he could recruit three or four priests as he was worried about the ability of the diocese to absrob them creatively. Archbishop Prendiville returned with 24 (between 1935 and 1950 he recruited 95 overseas). On his way home with the new recruits secured, he remarked to somebody "I wonder what the old man will think".
His other major initiative was to establish the local diocesan seminary of St. Charles at Guildford in 1942. He had been advised by the Apostolic Delegate of the day to do so and, with his willing obedience, would have done so, no doubt. But he later told a priest that his greatest concern was to secure an adequate supply of priests both at home and abroad. He went beyond, if not contrary to, the delegate's advice. The archdiocesan archives contain several letters which show that he was extremely reluctant to release Perth priests for work in other dioceses. He felt that he could not spare them. And all because of a carefully considered pastoral strategy that suited that period, was simple to operate and held great promise for the support of the Faith for the future.
The upwardly social and geographically mobile parishoners are poor indicators fo the circumstances of their great-grandparents of the 1930s and 1940s.
The state was depressed financially and cars were fewer. People frequently wlaked to Mass and the Archbishop believed that they should not have more than a mile to walk.
The pastoral policy was severe on the priests who had to struggle with debts and often lonely, isolated and tough living conditions. To their credit, and his capacity to lead them, they faced the challenge successfully and with admirable loyalty to the Archbishop. Money was very hard to find and he worried incessantly about the archdiocesan and local parish debts. The basic wage was only £5 a week in those years. There were severe building restrictions. But almost no human challenge could dampen the Archbishop's indomitable courage and everyone knew that nobody was being driven harder than he drove himself.
Overview of ministry
It is too close in time, even if it were within the competence of the writer, to single out and evaluate the most distinctive features of his ministry for the local church in Perth. But the following can be put forward with coinfidence, at least pending a much deeper biographical study of his life and times:-
He designed a pastoral administration of remarkable vision, effectiveness and depth of spiritual insight;
He built up a powerful apostolate of the laity;
He developed near ideal relationships with the civic community of WA;
He presented an image of spiritual leadership that was self-sacrificing to the ultimate limits of self-donation.
In the midst of alost frenzied development of schools (which generally were the first buildings in an area), presbyteries and churches and constant recruitments of personnel, he standardised methods of recording pastoral information and insisted on their meticulous maintenance. In the early years of his pastoral visitation he was known to tear before the eyes o fthe astonished pastor outowrn or unworthy church vestments. He learned financial management easily and quickly rather than having it as a great natural endowment. He respected deeply and trusted his financial secretary and made it clear to the secretary's overview of diocesan and parish financial accounts was to be heeded. Rarely did he administer a sharp reprimand to somebody. His strongest expression of dissatisfaction often was a saying:- "I'll bide my time..." Sometimes he publicly (but very gently) disciplined a priest by drawing his name deliberatley (but as if by chance) from the hat at the quarterly conference of clergy, much to the amusement of his confreres.
In his dealings with his subordinates he was formal, but always considerate. He did not tolerate uppishness easily but conducted his consultations with a lot of humour. The Papal letter of appointment told him to govern "from the pinnacle of principles that are divine, but to cherish that human touch that will make (him) a Father to the flock".
He pushed himself unsparingly in the development of an archdiocesan and parochial administration, working from a small central office in the Archbishop's house. His administrative style was highly person-centred. When he heard fo some Catholic parishoner who was in need of government or civil action, he was quite prepared to write to the person's local member (of parliament). He approached Prime Minister Curtin and later Prime Minister Menzies to ease restrictions that were retarding church building and development.
When the great influx of migrants came after the Second World War, he developed a special administrative service for them, including the recruitment of special non-English speaking chaplains which drew public acclaim from the Commonwealth Minister of Immigration.
Two apostolic delegates reported, independently of each other, that the archdiocese of Perth was one of the best organised and administered dioceses in the Catholic world. Speaking at the centenary celebrations of the archdiocese in 1946, Archbishop Duhig said: "For its Catholic population, I would say that Perth is the best equipped city in Australia in Catholic institutions and it has few rivals in the world". Despite the difficulty of obtaining finance from banking institutions and the endless difficulty of servicing loans, he made continuous progress, and with the aid of a very able financial secretary (Fr. Patrick O'Mara) he went ahead with costly developments. The diocese had a difficult history of coping with debts. Archbishop Clune spoke of "the heavily-mortgaged mitre of Perth", but Archbishop Prendiville grew bolder with his developments, and in fairness to his clergy, after initial murmuring and gasping they faced the challenge very bravely indeed. Burke, in his history, quotes a letter from Fr. O'mara (p.253) to a Melbounre student of architecture in 1963 that shows the bold, simple plan of action followed by the Archbishop.
Perhaps even greater was his ability to entice members of the religious orders to the diocese. One Christian Brother provincial councillor, now deceased, said of him: "Prendiville seemed forever to be enticing us to come to Perth and its suburbs". The religious responded to his invitations with the greatest genorosity. They knew that he valued them deeply and maintained close contact with them with the minimum of interference with their freedom to conduct their apostolates yet with plenty of challenges to their zeal and self-giving, something that they realised.
The apostolate of the laity
Pope Pius XI, in the mid-thirties, in a famous encyclical, called on the Catholic laity of the world to come forward and "to participate in the work of the hierarchy and clergy" (that is how he defined the role of the laity) "to dispel the darkness growing over the face of the earth."
The Archbishop took up the challenge with characteristic fervour, ably assisted initially by a young Jesuit, Fr. Harold Lalor and a later succession of great chaplains throughout his episcopacy. He believed that individual lay people would not impact properly on the secular structures of society unless they grouped themselves into active, formative and supportive organisations. Fr. D. Bourke in his history (op. cit. p.213) and Fr. J.P. O'Brien in the Record following the Archbishop's death (June 1968) gave an edifying and remarkable chronicle of the lay organisations and guilds covering youth and parents and almost every aspect of professional life - doctors, teachers, dentists, chemists - the theatre and film-world and direct apostolicy groups - the lot. To strengthen them, he encouraged them to affiliate nationally. In his later years, he welcomed to Perth Cardinal Cardijn, founder of the Young Christian Workers ,whose method of social reflection became deeply embedded in the formation of Catholic socila leaders and continues to make a significant impact nearly a half-century later.
The Archbishop made two powerful contributions to the lay apostolate in Perth.
The first was to insist that all social formation as well as action had to begin from a spiritual base. This had early pastoral results. The Catholic Girls Movement very early provided religious vocations for most of the religious orders of woem - more than ten entered and persevered in the Good Shepherd Order. They were challenged very clearly and strongly by the spiritual call of the Gospel message and demands were made on them. The Archbishop established and regularly visited the training headquarters of the movement at Marian Lodge. One Good Shepherd sister recently remarked reverently and affectionately of him: "When he got past the initially very formal introductions, 'the individually and collectively I congratulate you' and 'with all the sincerity at my command' (Prendivillia well-known to the older priests and laity) you found a man of extraordinary simplicty and he affected us deeply".
The second contribution was his scrupulous concern to keep the Church from close involvement in party-politics. In a way it followed from his concentration on the spiritual base for every activity. He himself exerted strong but unobtrusive leadership always with the utmost concern to preserve clearly the image of the Church as a spiritual agency.
At the second annual Communion breakfast of Christian Brothers' College Old Boys on the last Sunday of August, 1993, he said: "The sight of so many men approaching the altar rails must have been a source of edification to all who witnessed it. As a Catholic Association, I would impress upon you that the General Holy Communion is the outstanding annual event. Social gatherings are indispensable adjuncts towards the fostering of that spirit of friendship and fellowship that ought to exist within the ranks of an Association, but the Annual General Communion takes pride of place. If you appreciate the self-sacrificing work of the brothers on your behalf, then they will ask for no further proof of the genuineness of your appreciation than that you should be true and loyal to the principles of religion inculcated by them in your student days."
One of his greatest achievements in this regard was his policy on state aid for Catholic schools. He took the view that it was primarily the Catholic parents who should, as Australian taxpayers, take up the issue of state aid. If they were united into one body, and definite requests formulated and presented to individual politicians in an atmosphere of peace and reasonableness, much good could be expected (Bourke op. cit. p.263 and A. Gallagher's unpublished MA thesis, University of WA).
The Archbishop never amde a public statement on school funding without consulting them. He gave them his full confidence and watched their efforts with interest and open-house willingness to advise and support them. He maintained a very close relationship with the Council of theFederation of Parents and Friends' Associations when it formed itself as a united body in 1954. He and its first president, Mr. Bill mahoney, maintained regular contact and the Archbishop relied on them and on him especially to safeguard the image of the Church on the political scene, a trust that Mahoney and his successors justified admirably. He also gave them as a chaplain the Director of Catholic Education, Monsignor James Bourke.
In the late fifties, considerable difficulties developed in the dioceses of the east in the interface between the Catholic social movements and the political parties. The Archbishop urged the local Catholic groups to distance themselves from the difficulties in the east and in this he followed closely from the line taken by Cardinal Gilroy in Sydney.
The Archbishop's encouragement extended also to the caring and welfare agencies, both lay and religious, especially the Catholic hospitrals, orphanages, homes for the aged and Bushies Scheme for the religious instruction of Catholic children in the outback. In the 1935 report to Rome, reference was made to the care of the deaf and dumb, the schools for youth with social and emotional difficulties, the orphanages and the home for old people.
This puts the Diocese in a position to cater for its Catholic children from the time of their birth to see them through their youth, and finally, the old men and women are catered for by the Little Sisters of the Poor in their last venerable days. (Bourke op. cit. p.209).
The Archbishop fostered and extended that service with the help of several other religious orders to the end of his episcopacy.
During his ministry, the Catholic University College of St. Thomas More was opened in 1957 to foster the Catholic life of Catholics at the University of WA and later of other tertiary institutions. The succesive Rectors of the College were trusted consultants to the Archbishop on many occasions.
Public image of the Church
On the death of the Archbishop in 1968, the Premier of WA, Sir David Brand, said of him: "His name will become part of our history. He was a quiet man of great character, a man of vision with tremendous faith in WA. I honour him as a man of unfailing courtest and respect for everyone with whom he came in contact." (Record, June 1968).
The statement sums up the general image he maintained for himself and the Church in the eyes of the civic authorities. He was the hidden spiritual leader of a church that was clearly concerned with the spiritual dimension and yet was positive and supportive of those who carried public responsibilities. Wherever an issue affected the Church or an individual Cahtolic, he was always ready to appeal for action by them. Nobody has ever said what his party political voting was. He kept serenely aloof from political entanglement.
The Cross in his life
In his later years, the Srchbishop ocasionally expressed reservations about the haste with which he pushed his pastoral initiatives. He met resistance as well as great loyalty in the development of his numerous projects and he felt it keenly. Archbishop Young (Hobart) said after his death that "he exhausted himself in building the Church." Archbishop Liston (Auckland) referred to him as "a prelate of stature and graciousness".
He was a deeply sensitive man and easily suffered hurts which he carefully hid. As early as 1946 he suffered a mild physical collapse of some kind which later caused him difficulty in celebrating the Liturgy publicly. But although he became more retiring, he maintained the pace of his pastoral activity unrelentlessly.
He took people's concerns deeply to his heart. When he made the annual clerical changes, he kept the letter unposted for several days, out of concern for the priests involved, and for the impact of the changes on people. He was an anxious man, and yet he trusted very much those to whom he assigned responsibilities.
He took very little, if any, time off from the job. He went to the Catholic presbytery in Rockingham for two evenings a week but even there he kept a diary and endlessly went back and forth to it as ideas came to his mind.
He expected loyalty, especially from those closest to him, because of his own total dedication to the Church and to the Pope as Vicar of Christ.
When he made a public appearance, he chose his words with exquisite care and he was a brilliant, inspiring speaker. A few examples are worth remembering. When he consecrated the Good Shepherd Convent chapel in September, 1939, he spoke of the Sisters' work as caring for those conditioned by environmental handicaps "to see mire in the lily and mud in the sun". He spoke of the St. John of God Sisters' sacrifices in the early days at Kalgoorlie in the words "they laid their virginal bones in the desert". Of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart he said: "they were an order sprung from their own Australian soil, with all the luxuriant fragrance and fructivity of a tropical clime. They sought no earthly reward except the love of faithful hearts and the courage of noble souls." He spoke of the Christian Brothers as "the noble and self-sacrificng band of religious, who carried the lamp of Faith and culture across both hemispheres. They seek no earthly reward. Their life's ambition is to imprint the image of Christ, whose faithful followers they are, on the souls of our youth." Many other groups would have experienced his eloquence.
To the end he remained in command, even though he suffered from sever hepatitis from which he never recovered, and which he contracted at the Second Session of the Vatican Council in 1964. He grasped clearly where thearchdiocese was right to the end. On the day he entered St. John of God Hospital, a few weeks before his death, he kept four appointments.
On Friday, 28 June 1968, he closed the earthly part of his life in St. John of God Hospital with his sister, Sr. Mary Lawrence OP, beside his bed and a nursing niece, Sr. Lucilla of the St, John of God Sisters, caring for his hours of transition to eternal life. He was very conscious to the end, prayed continuously and encouraged the many priests who came to support him in his passing to give him absolution and absolve him. He himslef asked forgiveness from all who were close to him in the work-place, the staff at St. Mary's Cathedral and elsewhere. "It won't be long now" he said to his niece, and very shortly afterwards died in great serenity.
He was blessed with souls - and let all else go. Da mihi animas. Cetera tolle.
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