Recently on my way back from Confirmation in a rural Parish of the Archdiocese of Dublin, I called into the small village of Ballitore in County Kildare, about sixty kilometres south of Dublin city. Ballitore is one of those places you have to want to go to, in order to get there. It is on no main road; the road through the village leads to no large town.
It is a charming village founded in the 1700’s by Quakers from Yorkshire who transformed the local valley into rich fertile farmlands, and developed the village as the only planned and permanent Quaker Settlements in Ireland. The Quaker Meeting House was built around 1708 by Abraham Shackelton, ancestor of Ernest Shackelton the Antarctic Explorer, who also was born in the area. A small museum and the old cemetery still reflect the Quaker Tradition of the village.
It was in the town-land of Ballitore that Paul Cullen, future Archbishop of Dublin and the first Irish Cardinal, was born and it was in that village that he received his first education in the local Shackelton Quaker School.
Paul Cullen was a man who was to shape the destiny of the Catholic Church in Ireland. Cullen, who had spent many years of his life in Rome, became Archbishop of Dublin on 1 May 1852 and became Ireland’s first Cardinal in 1867. He convened two National Synods of the Church in Ireland to re-establish ecclesiastical discipline in a country emerging from the terrible famine years.
Paul Cullen changed the face of Catholic Ireland. He built new Churches; he brought new Religious Orders from continental Europe into the country and established a network of schools and charitable institutions which have continued right down to our own times. He fought for a solution which would allow Irish Catholics full access to University Education and called Newman to Dublin to establish the Catholic University. He led the extraordinary devotional revolution experienced in Ireland in the second half of the nineteenth century.
Just in case you are beginning to have doubts, I have not come here today to give a lecture on the history of the Archdiocese of Dublin or of the Church in Ireland, but to celebrate with you, in this Eucharist, one hundred and fifty years of this Archdiocese of Brisbane and of Queensland.
It was, of course, Archbishop Paul Cullen who chose and proposed to the Holy See the first Bishop of Brisbane, James Quinn, a distinguished academic and educationalist who had opened and directed in Dublin the Saint Laurence O’Toole Seminary, a prestigious Catholic High School to prepare future candidates for Newman’s Catholic University.
Over the twenty six years of his Episcopate in Dublin the Holy See turned to Paul Cullen on numerous occasions to propose candidates to come to Australia – and indeed to other parts of the English-speaking world – to establish new dioceses or to become Bishops of already existing dioceses. Many of these candidates belonged to Cullen’s extended family and network of friends or alumni of the Irish College in Rome. Cardinal Francis Moran who became Archbishop of Sydney was Cullen’s nephew.
The Dublin Diocesan Archives note interestingly that the man who was to succeed Cardinal Cullen as Archbishop of Dublin, Cardinal Edward McCabe, had as a young priest volunteered to come to work as a priest in Australia.
Cullen transformed the Irish Church. Many people do not realise the poor state of the faith and religious practice which Cullen inherited. Church life had been greatly restricted during the times of religious persecution. The standards of religious education and ecclesiastical discipline had fallen to low levels. Religious practice and attendance at the Sacraments was low. Cullen conducted Confirmation ceremonies for thousands of children and young adults who had not frequented the sacraments for years. Within one generation Cullen changed the face of Irish Catholicism and brought renewal to almost every aspect of Catholic life and to the impact of Catholicism on Irish life and on the religious and secular culture of Ireland.
The Irish priests and sisters, who came to Australia in those early years, following the first groups of Irish immigrants, were very much filled with the same dynamism as Cullen and shared his rigorous style of Catholicism. In Ireland he had attempted to put in place the educational structures which would permit Catholics, for decades excluded from access to higher education, to be able to take their place as leaders in society. The early years of the Church here in Queensland were marked by a similar desire to produce a strong Catholicism with a clear sense of identity which would permit Catholics to exercise their rights fully and to impact for the good of society.
I am happy to be here as Archbishop of Dublin and successor of Cardinal Cullen to celebrate this anniversary with you but also to observe and learn more about how this initial input of Irish Catholicism into the Australian Church has grown and together with traditions of the first people of this country and of people from many nations of all continents, has come together to form the vibrant and distinctive Catholicism of Australia today. Australian Catholicism has indeed developed into a rich tapestry of different traditions united by the one Catholic faith for which we thank God.
The Irish Catholicism of Cullen and the early Australian Bishops was in many ways an uncompromising one. It was based on a strong sense of faith and identity determined to make its presence felt in the emerging Australian culture.
The aggressively defensive character, if you can say it that way, of that early Catholicism which had to fight the politically inspired proselytism of the day, has given way today to a strong ecumenical witness to the Christian faith in a culture which is heavily secularized. I will always remember that my first visit to Brisbane was on the invitation of the Uniting Church. I think that it only right to pay special tribute to the current Archbishop of Brisbane, John Bathersby, for his leadership in ecumenical collaboration, just one of the many talents and gifts and human qualities of your current beloved Archbishop.
Whither Australian Catholicism? Whither Irish Catholicism? What kind of Catholicism must we foster to face the years to come with all the challenges and unknowns that we will encounter?
The first thing we have to do is to learn is to trust in the Spirit. We must have a confident Catholicism. There are still those who seek to make of the Church a retreat into a secure comfort zone in the midst of challenging ideologies and ways of life. We still have prophets of doom regarding the situation and the future of the Church. There are those who would unwittingly compromise authentic Christian belief with the culture of the day. In the first reading the Prophet Isaiah reminds us that even in the wilderness of uncertainty it is the Spirit alone who generates fertile land, where justice and integrity will prosper and where God’s people will live in peaceful home. The Spirit alone must guide our path and our discernment, not our fears and anxieties, not our own personal preferences or comforts, not the philosophies or the ideologies of the day. The pioneers of the Church in Queensland always courageously stood out and above the thought patterns of their times.
The vision of Saint Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians is equally a vision which assures us that the Church will never be without the gifts of the Spirit, who will continue to raise up in the Church teachers and preachers and witnesses. The Spirit will guide the Church in Brisbane with men and women – clergy, religious and lay persons – whose impact on society will follow that of the pioneers of the Church in Queensland. Theirs was never the witness of armchair observers or critics from the sidelines, but of those who like Archbishop Quinn never looked back to the comfort of his days in Dublin, but who from his first days in his adopted homeland knew and shared at first hand and sought to alleviate the harsh realities of his contemporaries, creating a unique pastoral style of closeness to people’s lives which has long been the tradition of the Church in Queensland.
The Gospel reading reminds us of how Jesus took up the words of Isaiah which foretold the mission he was anointed to carry out. It was a mission to preach Good News, freedom, sight and vision, release from burdens and the proclamation of the Lord’s favor on us.
This is the mission which all of us who are baptized and confirmed are called to take on as Christians in the midst of the surprises and the unknowns and the new expressions of harshness which afflict contemporary society. That mission is anything but a defensive message, a message calling to a Church to close ranks and close in on itself in the face of the surrounding indifference or at times hostility.
Evangelization means bringing the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and bringing the Jesus Christ of the Gospels right into the heart of our lives and bringing the light of that Gospel into the lives of others as a message which brings a unique light and vision to their life. As a Catholic community we must all learn better to know and read and understand and assimilate the Gospels. We have to develop our understanding of the Jesus that is revealed to us in the scriptures, and interpreted in the tradition of the Church, rather than forge our own vision of Jesus, based on our own anxieties or insecurities or desires or on the fashions of the times. We need to allow that Jesus of the Gospel to enter into and change our hearts, at every stage of our life and work.
James Quinn lived and ministered in the Dublin of the early nineteenth century and was there an enlightened pioneer in shaping the future of the Church in Ireland in the post-emancipation years. Providence called him suddenly and to his surprise to minister in a cultural situation which he would never have expected. He responded to that initial call of the Spirit without hesitation and lived out that call day by day in obedience to the Lord until the end.
As Christians, in Dublin or here in Queensland, we have to be ready to move out of the physical and even spiritual comforts to which we have been accustomed so that we can respond to the call of the Lord, not in dreamed of better times of the past, but in the realities of our times and before the unknowns of the future. Mary, Mother of Jesus and model of all discipleship accompany us on that path.
The small village of Ballitore, where Cardinal Cullen was born, is experiencing a comeback and is being restored. It escaped the ravages of modern development which robbed many of its neighbouring villages of any original character. The austere simplicity of its origins is the secret of its modern attraction.
In the midst of the ambiguities and uncertainties of contemporary progress and development, the Church in Queensland or in Ireland has to rediscover how the purity and simplicity of the essential message of Jesus Christ, who came to reveal to us that God loves us, remains the vital challenge to the many false sophistications of the culture of our times.
Whiter the future of the Catholicism of Brisbane and Queensland? Young people present here today, that is your task. You are part of a great heritage. Allow the Jesus of the Gospels to shape your lives in the tradition of the great heritage that is yours. Do not be trapped in indifference to the message of Jesus Allow your lives to by shaped by its authenticity and simplicity and bring that message with the same vigour as did the early Catholic community here into the today and the tomorrow of your world and our world.
The commitment and the discernment of the founders of this Church sprung up and were centred on the Eucharist and an identity in prayer with the Lord. The Eucharist builds the Church. The Eucharist is the centre of all Christian life. May the Church of Jesus Christ in Brisbane and Queensland grow strengthened at the table of the Word and of the Eucharist and flourish in reflection of the Word of God, in prayer and in Christian love today and for generations to come.
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin
July 30, 2009
Released by Catholic Communications Office with the permission of the Archbishop of Dublin