FAITH, IRELAND AND EMPIRE:
The Life of Patrick Joseph Clune CSSR, 1864–1935, Archbishop of Perth, Western Australia
by Christopher Dowd OP
St Paul’s Publications, Strathfield
Reviewed by Michael E. Daniel
In recent years biographies of several Australian Catholic prelates have been published. This excellent study of the life and ministry of Patrick Clune, Archbishop of Perth, is a valuable contribution to Australian Catholic Church history.
The author, Rev Dr Christopher Dowd OP, is the Provincial Historian for the Australian Dominican Province, and Catholic Chaplain at Monash University.
Patrick Clune was born in 1864, the same year as Daniel Mannix, in County Clare, Ireland. He studied at St Flannan’s College, Ennis. Sensing a call to be a missionary, he studied for the priesthood at All Hallows College, Dublin, before being ordained in 1886. He chose to be ordained for the Goulburn diocese, partly because some of his siblings had already migrated to Australia.
Clune’s first appointment was as a schoolmaster at St Patrick’s College, Goulburn. Although this was cut short by some sort of health breakdown, his talents for administration and leadership soon became apparent, and he was appointed the administrator of the Goulburn cathedral.
Clune gradually discerned a calling to religious life, and was given permission to return to the British Isles to test his vocation as a Redemptorist, entering the novitiate in 1893.
Although he was counseled that he might never have the opportunity to return to Australia, after a few successful years as a missioner, the opportunity arose when the Redemptorists accepted an invitation from Bishop Gibney of Perth to open a house in his diocese.
Clune was chosen to be a member of the foundation party that arrived in 1898. He soon became a renowned and tireless missioner, with him travelling extensive distances across Western Australia to preach missions, in some instances to remote communities. He subsequently became the superior of the Redemptorist house in Wellington, New Zealand, in 1905, and Perth, in 1909.
Internal Redemptorist reports contain interesting character profiles. While he was praised for being a sound administrator and leader, he was criticised for being on too familiar terms with members of the laity, particularly men, for example by smoking and drinking with them. Ironically, Clune’s ability to mix freely with all classes of people was to serve him in very good stead in the next phase of his ministry.
In being appointed superior of the Perth monastery, Clune returned to a diocese on the brink of crisis. Bishop Matthew Gibney had overextended the financial commitments of the diocese to crisis point. The Church’s solution was to force his retirement – which he reluctantly agreed to – and appoint another bishop.
Given his sound administration skills, including ability to raise donations, and manage money prudently, Clune was chosen and was consecrated a bishop by Cardinal Moran on March 17, 1911. His first priority was to manage the debt, which stood at just over £200,000. Through fundraising and sale of property, he was able to pay down almost half the debt within four years.
During World War I, Bishop Clune actively supported the war effort. He was also commissioned into the AIF as a chaplain, travelling to the Western Front in 1916 in that capacity, where he earned the respect of troops serving there.
Unlike Melbourne Archbishop Daniel Mannix, he was in favour of conscription. Bishop Clune’s political views regarding Ireland also differed from Mannix’s. Bishop Clune’s support for the Empire was already apparent before his episcopal consecration – particularly through his panegyric at the death of Edward VII.
Bishop Clune seems to have supported the concept of Ireland as a dominion within a British Empire. Being in the British Isles in 1920, and having witnessed the volatile situation in Ireland, Bishop Clune had acted as an intermediary between British Prime Minister Lloyd George and Irish rebel leaders.
Although Bishop Clune seems to have made significant steps in getting rebel leaders to agree to a ceasefire, members of the British cabinet refused to agree to it. While the rebel leaders respected Bishop Clune, they regarded him as being out of his depth in becoming involved in political affairs.
Fr Dowd notes that the rate of building church facilities slowed down considerably in the 1910s, as Bishop Clune’s priority was to manage the debt. However, the 1920s and into the 1930s saw another period of expansion, with a considerable number of churches and schools being built.
Bishop Clune was also instrumental in introducing a new range of ministries into the diocese: early childhood education, distance religious education, education for intellectually disabled boys, a nursing home for the frail aged, and a formal Catholic presence at the University of Western Australia.
He also organised for contemplative Carmelite nuns to open a house in Nedlands, with the monastery in the process of construction at the time of his death.
Bishop Clune also worked closely with state authorities. For example, he ensured that the curriculum taught in Catholic schools met state standards by allowing, for example, state school inspectors to visit Catholic schools.
His pioneering approach to education also saw Catholic teachers – particularly nuns and brothers – undertake formal instruction in pedagogy. Many of Bishop Clune’s projects were frustrated by financial constraints – for example, an ambitious project to rebuild the cathedral utilising designs by Fr Cyril Hawes, the priest-architect of the Geraldton diocese – was shelved due to a lack of money.
Sensing the decline in his health, Bishop Clune sought and was granted his request for Rev. Redmond Prendiville to be consecrated his coadujutor bishop with right of succession in 1933. Bishop Clune died on May 24, 1935.
Fr Dowd’s biography is an impressive study of a prelate who has been overlooked by scholars for too long. The extensive footnotes and bibliography attest to the thorough research Fr Dowd has undertaken in archives not only in Australia, but overseas as well.
At the same time, this is a well-written and highly readable study, one that this reviewer found extremely hard to put down. This work is highly recommended.
Michael E. Daniel is a freelance writer.