Faith & Spirituality in Review - Madonna Magazine

Faith & Spirituality in Review

Staff 10 March 2017

Helen Doyle, The Church on the Hill: A centenary history of St Brigid’s Crossley, and its Irish-Australian community, Bridin Books, 2014.

St Brigid’s Church at Crossley became briefly the subject of Australia-wide attention a few years ago. The move by the Koroit parish priest to sell the church was opposed vigorously by local families.

Helen Doyle, a gifted historian, traces the unique character of this community and its families back to its beginnings. The first Irish to settled in the district in the 1840s during the Great Famine and were soon joined by family members and friends. Many of the families were neighbours in County Clare. The land around Tower Hill was rich and suited to potato farming. It was closely settled, and farming was lucrative enough to support large families in a simple life.

In the Western district the Irish families were a Catholic enclave in an region of largely Protestant land owners. With their memories of the Famine and of religious persecution, the centre of the immigrants’ life became the church, school and hall where the religious and social events that marked their year were celebrated.

The community represented in a distilled form the Irish strand of Australian Catholicism. Archbishop Mannix opened the church and regularly spent his holidays with other Irish-born bishops at nearby Koroit. The Crossley Hall also became notorious in 1916 at a recruitment meeting which was disturbed by rowdy protesters. The Melbourne papers called into question the patriotism of Irish Catholics. In the Referendum, voters in the Crossley area rejected Conscription by a margin of 198 to nil.

Helen Doyle tells the story of the community simply, with an eye for detail. She brings history and the buildings to life, and includes a list of the families who lived in the Crossley area. That listing and the many photos throughout the book will surely make many readers discover connections with their own family histories.

William Morris, Benedict, Me and the Cardinals Three: The story of the dismissal of Bishop Bill Morris by Pope Benedict XVI, ATF Press, 2014
For a serious book, Benedict, Me and the Cardinals Three might seem a very jaunty title. But it fits well. For all the sadness of the story he tells, Bishop Bill Morris tells it well and without self-pity. To the cardinals who wanted him to go quietly, too, he must have seemed like a court jester, always bouncing back with impertinent questions about truth and honesty. And in these years of Pope Francis, a person who exudes joy in the midst of humiliation, and is insufficiently clerical, is entitled to use light hearted words about Catholic doings.

The sadness of the dismissal is that Bill Morris was an unassuming, informal, outgoing, pastoral bishop after Pope Francis’ heart. Indeed he ran foul of the critics who reported his every move to Rome because he smelled too like the sheep. After he was judged to be unreliable and asked to resign, he asked if he could delay his retirement in order to support the families of children who had been abused in a Catholic school, and to be with the victims of the terrible floods that ravaged the diocese. The people were always his concern. His request was refused.

Yet this is not an angry book. He acknowledged the touches of humanity he finds in his judges and critics. Indeed, the sad thing about the story is that good men should have in good conscience acted so unreasonably and unfairly. It speaks of the foetid air that Pope Francis warns against in the Catholic Church.



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