Michael Gilchrist’s revised and updated biography Daniel Mannix: Wit and Wisdom, with a Foreword by Cardinal George Pell, will be released by Freedom Publishing early in 2004.This is the final chapter and postscript.
The Archbishop celebrated his 99th birthday at Portsea where he was reported to be in excellent health as the usual flood of greetings arrived and Fr Leo Clarke (later Bishop of Maitland) was kept busy with media people. The Tribune informed its readers that Dr Mannix “spent the day quietly in prayer and reading without his spectacles. The excitement of the day did not affect him and he went to bed at his usual time of about 8 o’clock”.
Among the many telegrams was one from a fellow nonagenarian, Archbishop Duhig of Brisbane: “Heartfelt greetings on your ninety-ninth birthday. You enter the last lap of the century with worldwide greetings”.
A few years earlier, Dr Mannix had told a priest of a recent dream about Dr Duhig in which they were both walking down a long jetty towards the Royal Yacht, Britannia. The walk had seemed endless and even Dr Mannix’s legs began to tire; but Archbishop Duhig kept striding forward purposefully. Finally, Dr Mannix collapsed on to his knees, unable to move, but Dr Duhig breezed ahead and was received on board the Britannia. By the time Dr Mannix could stagger forward again, the Royal Yacht was steaming into the distance.
Perhaps Dr Mannix might have foreseen the time when the widely popular, diplomatic “James the builder” would receive a richly deserved knighthood from the Queen. Nearly 40 years earlier, Dr Mannix had said he hoped Archbishop Duhig “would live long” and find ample time to attend Vice-Regal levees.
While Dr Mannix was at Portsea in early 1963, his secretary, Fr Leo Clarke, reminded him of the congratulatory message he had sent to Mr Calwell three years previously. The Archbishop was amazed that Fr Clarke still remembered it and that it had made such an impression on him. Fr Clarke explained that one could take the telegram any way one wished and said that he had kept the piece of paper with Mannix’s draft of the telegram on it. “Why would you do a thing like this?” asked the old man. Fr Clarke then pointed out that there was very little around in the Archbishop’s handwriting and that one day, a historian might pay £50 for it. Dr Mannix chuckled, exclaiming: “Well, you’re a mercenary young priest!” Nevertheless, he seemed tickled that his secretary should have remembered the old telegram.
The Archbishop then returned to Melbourne to review another St Patrick’s Day procession. He looked well and waved continuously to a large, enthusiastic crowd as cries of “Viva, viva!” and “Good on yer, Doc!” could be heard. When his car passed the just completed Southern Cross Hotel, Dr Mannix gave a special greeting to those lining the concourse. Later, Mr Sean Kennan, the Irish Charge d’Affairs in Canberra, who had attended the procession, called at Raheen to present the Archbishop with a replica of the Cross of Cong as a Jubilee gift from the people of Ireland. The original was held in Ireland’s National Museum and originally made in 1123 for the last King of Ireland, Roderic O’Connor.
On Anzac Day, Dr Mannix issued a statement which asked for prayers for world peace and for the souls of Australia’s dead servicemen. After emphasising the importance of the American alliance, he took note of the conflict in Vietnam and the emergence of newly independent Third World nations: “Our thoughts go to the small band of Australian soldiers who are serving in Vietnam, helping the people of that country to defend their freedom against a brutal and often murderous aggressor. The independence of small nations has always been dear to us. Like the Pope, we rejoice in the dawn of an age which has witnessed the birth of freedom for so many nations in Asia and Africa”.
The Archbishop’s thoughts turned also to the declining health of the much-loved Pontiff, John XXIII, and when he died in June 1963 Dr Mannix offered a warm tribute to his “paternal solicitude and breadth of vision”. Privately, his observations about John XXIII’s successor, Pope Paul VI, revealed some of the familiar irony as he remarked: “Well, he’s the best looking of the candidates, at any rate,” adding: “I believe that Pope Paul has said that he remembers me when I was leading the Australian Holy Year Pilgrimage [in 1925]. I don’t remember him, but that is not to be wondered at. I was the Archbishop and he was just a young Monsignor around the Vatican. Now he has come into his own, and I’m still sitting on the shelf”.
But, as Archbishop Mannix had said to Arthur Calwell 17 years earlier: “If I had ever wanted to be a cardinal, I would certainly have charted my life differently”.
In July, the Archbishop issued a statement reacting to recent comments by the Labor Leader and Deputy Leader as “objectionable”. The latter had denied the Constitutional validity of State Aid and Dr Mannix was quick to point out that precedents already existed in the Federal Government’s education policies in Papua-New Guinea and the ACT.
As if the unity ticket issue were not enough of an electoral handicap for Labor, the Archbishop remarked ominously: “It is said that the forthcoming Federal Conference of the Labor Party will deal with that Party’s attitude to the independent schools. If the Conference’s decisions reflect the apparent attitudes of the two ALP leaders, those who believe in the religious schools can only draw the conclusion that they have nothing to hope for from the ALP”.
Difficulties and opportunities
Labor’s inability to come to terms with State Aid and open conflict between the Federal and NSW branches of the Party over the issue provided opportunities both for the Catholics and other State Aid supporters, as well as for the hard-pressed Menzies Government seeking an enlarged majority in the House. The cagey Menzies continued to hesitate, despite opinion polls favouring government grants, increasing ecumenical co-operation, the disappearance of the Irish problem, the importance of DLP second preferences and a lack of organised opposition to State Aid.
During the year, Mr B.A. Santamaria held further discussions with Mr Holt, arguing that 1963 was the time to take a decisive step on State Aid, a step which could only prove beneficial to the Government at a Federal election.
On 8 August, Victoria’s bishops met at Raheen and reaffirmed their commitment to Catholic education, no matter what hardships might be involved. They also sternly rejected Labor’s position on education that while Catholics and others might found schools for conscientious reasons they could expect no government grants:
“What the ALP Conference had to decide was not whether we had a right to establish our own schools but whether a Labor Government would be authorised to expend public funds to which Catholics contribute their full share on the education of children who happen to attend these schools. In substance, the attitude of the ALP Federal Conference is that nothing is to be spent on these children. The decision of the 1957 Conference still prevails”.
As the weeks slipped away in 1963, and the Archbishop continued to make his voice heard about the Archdiocese and the political scene, there seemed no reason to suppose that he would not pass the century milestone as he had passed so many others already. His mental and physical condition apparently gave no cause for concern.
On 15 October, Dr Mannix signed a circular calling for parish co-operation with Fr Noel Ryan’s research project on the performance of Catholic students at Melbourne University. The next day, he issued a statement on the establishment of a new system of Catholic regional high schools.
In the meantime, Bob Santamaria’s talks with Mr Holt had finally borne fruit and on Friday, 1 November,
Mr Santamaria was able to inform the Archbishop that a State Aid breakthrough would be announced in the Prime Minister’s policy speech on 12 November. It was just over 50 years since Dr Mannix had become involved in the fight for educational justice and, as Santamaria recalls, the Archbishop paused for a few moments before replying: “I have never stopped speaking about this question in all the years since I came from Ireland. But I thought I had wasted my time. I haven’t wasted my time. But we do not owe it to anything I have done. We owe it to the men who have stuck to their guns”.
Later in the day, Bishop Fox called with some photos he had taken of the Archbishop. Fox recalled that as Dr Mannix looked at the pictures he was “in quite good spirits and quite as alert as usual”. He then told the Archbishop that he was taking a week off for a holiday in Bendigo. Fr W. Dew also spent time with Dr Mannix that day and remembers that no pressure was put on him to leave.
The following Monday, Dr Mannix received nine visitors in his usual unhurried way. One of them was again Bob Santamaria who stayed half an hour and discussed the proposed building of Mannix College at the recently established Monash University. According to Santamaria: “He said to me I’d be grateful to you if you’d take these plans down to Sir Michael Chamberlain on your way home. If I die, that College will never be built.’ And he just burst out laughing”.
Mr Santamaria next raised the matter of his previous day’s telecast when he had condemned the circumstances surrounding the recent death of the South Vietnamese President, Ngo Dinh Diem, and wondered whether his outspoken remarks had done more harm than good. Dr Mannix replied: “The greatest harm you could ever do would be not to stand by your friends, especially when they’re dead, and the rest of the world condemns them”.
On Tuesday morning, the Archbishop complained to his housekeeper of not feeling well but as the morning wore on, said he was feeling better. However, after lunch, he suddenly collapsed and his personal physician, Dr John T. Cahill, was summoned and shortly after, Msgr Moran arrived to administer the last rites.
It was soon evident that Daniel Mannix had not long to live, and as the news went out over the radio, a relay of visitors kept vigil at the bedside, including the Anglican Archbishop, Dr Frank Woods, Bob Santamaria, Arthur Calwell and Bishop Fox. The Archbishop seemed periodically to recognise people around him and nodded his head several times, but when he tried to speak, no sounds came out.
As Wednesday dawned, Dr Mannix was still hanging on to life and when Bishop Fox said he would celebrate Mass for him, Mannix nodded perceptibly and seemed to understand what was said. Sister M. Chrysostom from the nearby Caritas Christi Hospice tended the prelate almost continuously for the last 20 hours of his life, and as he finally lapsed into unconsciousness, he clasped the Sister’s hand and would not let go. Finally, at 12.35 pm on Wednesday, 6 November 1963, he breathed his last.
The nation’s press, which had once castigated the Archbishop for his political views, was now lavish in its tributes. The Age extolled Dr Mannix’s worldwide reputation, the international scope of his vision and his historical role in Australia: “He was a reformer both within his own Church and in
the broad fields outside it. In the first half of this century he was in the centre of fierce controversy on national and political questions and, while the passage of years brought a gentler temper to his reforming zeal, he was still in this past decade, a powerful voice with a political persuasion. “He commanded loyalties and respect at all levels among clergymen and laymen. He was a great Irishman who served his communion in Australia – his adopted country – as faithfully as if it were on his native heath. He was a unique figure in the Australian story and one of historic proportions”.
This assessment was shared by a wide range of public figures: the Prime Minister noted Dr Mannix’s “power of persuasive speech which I have never known surpassed”; Mr Calwell linked Archbishop Mannix with Cardinal Moran as one of the two greatest figures in the history of the Church in Australia; Mr Henry Bolte, the State Premier, called him “one of the outstanding men of Australia” and Melbourne’s Anglican Archbishop described Dr Mannix as “a legend in his own lifetime”.
Not all the comments were as positive. The Methodist Spectator grumbled: “Those who remember the first World War will recall the fierce controversy which some of the Archbishop’s statements engendered. Many people whose sons and daughters were fighting in France deeply resented the frightful carnage being described as ‘a sordid trade war’.”
The Spectator considered that the Archbishop had fostered “an hysterical attitude to communism” although it conceded he was “an amazing churchman”.
Such reservations were hinted at in Archbishop Simonds’ panegyric after the Requiem Mass: “It is, however, one of the ironies of human life that, when the spotlight of political prominence is unduly played upon ecclesiastical leaders, their truly greatest work is often overshadowed in the minds of men. Archbishop Mannix’s incursions into the affairs of State were not his greatest contribution to Australian life.”
The Archbishop was, continued Simonds, “primarily a man of God” and in this regard was beyond reproach. As a Church leader, he said, Dr Mannix “had little difficulty in commanding the loyalty and devotion of his priests and people”.
Dr Mannix’s body lay in state at the Cathedral from Friday, 8 November, to the following Tuesday. During that period, an estimated 200,000 people filed past to pay their last respects. At one stage, on Sunday afternoon, a line of people, four deep, extended from the front door of the Cathedral along Gisborne Street and around the corner into Albert Street.
As the casket was lowered into the vault, a drummer and bugler from the Southern Command played Last Post and Reveille while, in the Domain, the Army fired a thirteen-gun salute at minute intervals for the man who, for 46 years, had been a Chaplain-General of the Australian Military Forces.
Flags flew at half-mast on numerous major city buildings including the State Parliament, Flinders Street Railway Station, the Elizabeth Street Post Office and the Eastern Hill Fire Station. The Myer Emporium, Australia’s largest department store, displayed a gilt-framed picture of Dr Mannix along with a black stole and a Roman Breviary. A caption read: “In tribute to a great and noble man”.
So ended one of the most eventful eras in the history of the Church in Australia and, without question, the episcopate of the most remarkable churchman of any denomination in the nation’s history.
The world and the Church have changed out of all recognition since the heady days of the Mannix episcopate. To many younger Catholics, the man who was once a household word is now a forgotten relic of a forgotten era in the history of the Church. The religious milieu and the sectarianism of the first half of the 20th century seem light years away from today’s permissive, secular, indifferent culture.
Since Dr Mannix’s death, the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) has seen the liturgy and most aspects of Catholic life transformed beyond recognition. In our ecumenical – even indifferent – era, the triumphalist religious pageantry of the Mannix period may seem quaint, even embarrassing to some. The settling of the State Aid question has seen Catholic schools become a de facto part of the nation’s educational edifice, encountering at times something of an identity problem in the process, while Irish cultural influence, already declining well before Dr Mannix’s death, has all but disappeared as the Church becomes increasingly multicultural.
What, then, remains as a legacy of the Mannix era? How well did the Archbishop’s extraordinary natural endowments serve his Church or the wider community?
The Mannix charisma and wit undoubtedly inspired unprecedented loyalty from both Catholic laity and clergy. Thanks to this, his episcopate saw the firm consolidation of the work of his predecessors in the building of schools, churches, convents and charitable institutions, and the survival of the Catholic educational system during the difficult times of the depression and the post-war classroom crisis. And by dint of Dr Mannix’s easy dominance of the Australian Hierarchy for most of his episcopate, his impact on the Church was felt well beyond the bounds of his own Archdiocese of Melbourne.
By the end of the Mannix era, the majority of Catholics were no longer hewers of wood and drawers of water but an assimilated part of the nation’s socio-economic fabric, proportionately represented in the professions and skilled trades. Dr Mannix had ceaselessly exhorted his community to use its talents and aptitudes and aspire to higher things, providing financial inducements to achievement for the talented, but poor, among his people.
No doubt the most modern aspects of Dr Mannix’s Church leadership – and anticipating by many years Vatican II – were his readiness to foster lay participation in the affairs of the Church, keep his mind open to new ideas and delegate responsibilities to trusted subordinates. As a result, the Melbourne Archdiocese was usually in the forefront of innovation and the most intellectually vibrant See in Australia. It was a place where, as Dr Max Charlesworth – a one-time critic of the Mannix-supported Movement – put it, the Archbishop was prepared “to let a hundred flowers bloom”.
Like his mentor, Archbishop Thomas Croke of Cashel, Dr Mannix saw himself as his people’s tribune and duty bound to employ his God-given talents in their service – in the spiritual and temporal domains.
It is difficult not to admire a man who so trusted and respected others, displayed such scintillating wit, spurned dependence on modern amenities and had the courage to offer unpopular views.
There are all too few leaders of this calibre today in either Church or State.
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