150 years since an invitation, on 1-2 October 1854, with enduring consequences for the church in Australia and New Zealand.
Father Southerwood's Significant Tasmanian anniversaries: 2004 in the ACHS May Newsletter brought the year 1854 and Bishop Willson to my attention. Fr Southerwood reminded us that 2004 is the 150th anniversary of Willson's visit to Rome and the ordination there of Tasmanian-born John Fitzgerald, the first Australian-born diocesan priest. Willson's passing through London later in the year brought consequences for the church not just in one diocese but in Australia and New Zealand. As is documented by Fr Southerwood in The Convicts' Friend, Bishop R.W. Willson and Margaret Press in Julian Tenison Woods, 'Father Founder', on the evening of 1 October, Willson met the young Julian Woods. Within a day he had invited Woods to his Tasmanian diocese, with a view towards lay pastoral work and completing studies towards ordination. Woods accepted. Exactly two weeks later, Willson, Woods and others in their party sailed from England, Woods was never to return. Australia and the church in Australia became his home and his place of mission.
Without that invitation from Bishop Willson, there would be no Australian or New Zealand Sisters of St Joseph as we know them. It would not be as easy to name the further pastoral impact among priests, religious and lay faithful resulting from the absence of Woods from Australia, specifically in South Australia and then the Eastern states and Tasmania. There would also be a gap in scholarship in Australian natural science.
Both Willson and Woods had visited Fr Jean Vianney in the previous months. Woods visited at the suggestion of his Marist director, Fr Peter Julian Eymard. He had also planned to visit Rome. but his limited funds did not allow it. In addition, while among the Marists, his health was failing. Eymard encouraged him to accept that this was 'God's special design connected with his vocation'. The Cure, said Woods. 'understood many things that were scaled to him' and consoled him as the visible path to ordination was closing through his illness. Eymard made a deeper impression on Woods than anyone else in his life, had confidence in his vocation, but was unable to provide the next step ahead. The path to hope opened with Willson.
There are noteworthy elements in Willson's invitation and Woods' acceptance. When the two met, Willson thought he had completed the many tasks of his trip back to Rome and England and was preparing to return to his diocese. At Vespers at St George's, Southwark, he was introduced to twenty-one year old Woods by the dowager Countess of Shrewsbury. She and her late husband, a leading layman and generous benefactor to the church, were Willson's friends from earlier years. Margaret Press writes of the bishop's 'ability to perceive and grasp an opportunity ... His conversation with the pleasant young man of apparent piety and marked zeal resulted in a suggestion that Julian might consider joining the small group of clergy in Hobart Town, and be ordained there'.
The next day Willson visited his friend, the former Oxford scholar and convert to the church, Canon Frederick Oakeley. His diary entry reveals his purpose: 'called on Canon Oakeley about Mr J. Edmund Woods whom I met yesterday at St George's'. He could have consulted no one better. Oakeley had been Woods' mentor since his mid teens and had encouraged him for years in his desire for priesthood. He gave Woods spiritual direction, he also taught him Greek and Latin. He and Woods had founded a Franciscan tertian community, where members kept their secular jobs, lived and prayed in community, as well as teaching in the parish and visiting the sick and dying. Oakley was instrumental in Woods' path to the Passionists and, indirectly, later, to the Marists and knew Woods' disappointment through illness in both groups. He knew his friend, Fr Faber's warm opinion of Woods when Woods, at Oakeley's suggestion, lived among Faber's community of Oratorians. Near the end of his life, Woods said no director bad ever helped him as much as Oakeley, and second to Oakeley was Eymard. Oakeley knew Woods, his family and his experience of nearly four years of study and religious life towards his goal of ordination. It is interesting that this scholarly, amiable English priest also received Caroline Chisholm into the church. Through those he counseled, he influenced Australia greatly. (Oakeley's popular appeal remains with us in another way, in his hymn translation, O come, all ye faithful.)
For his part, when Woods met Willson, Woods felt his attempts towards priesthood had come to no conclusion. He longed for priesthood and religious life remained close to his heart, but he was at a total loss as to how to reach his goal. After his return to London from the Marists, he had taken up a study of medicine, with the thought that this could help him in his future as a priest. After three months in this lull of unknowing, he was introduced to Willson through the prayerful countess he had met in France the previous year. This meeting in France was memorable to both, as she had shared the memory of her loved husband's recent death and even near the end of Woods' life, he recalled what she had shared. She, her sister and nephew were staying at a resort favoured by the English ten miles from Monthel, where Woods was studying among the novices and scholastics at the Marist St Joseph's. At least twice Woods had visited them, in response to her nephew's invitation, and had taken the energetic walk through the mountains with a Marist companion. The countess knew his heart was in his religious calling. On his first visit, his companion was a Marist who had just been ordained. The same hope was with Woods. When they met a year later at St George's, Southwark, his Marist hopes had been dissolved. That morning, 1 October, Bishop Willson of Hobart Town was present in the sanctuary at Mass and been introduced to the people. That evening at Vespers, when Willson presided, the Countess introduced him to Woods. Until meeting Willson, Woods had no inclination to go to the Australian colonies. In fact he had regarded the thought of going there with aversion. But, in this ebb of no direction came Willson's invitation. As Julian reflected towards the end of his life, 'thus my field of labours appeared to be chosen and my vocation decided'.
Willson's invitation did not work out as either Willson or Woods expected. After the convict chaplaincy, the hopes of both were not fulfilled. What did happen proved the providence at work beyond human planning: Woods moved to South Australia, where the longed-for goal of ordination was achieved. After a few years in his bush parish he met Mary MacKillop, whose longings for religious life coincided with his vision and longings to found a religious sisterhood like one that deeply impressed him in France. His vision and plan gave to Mary MacKillop the concrete shape, the practical expression for her longings. Together they responded to the needs of the poor, the 'ordinary labouring' class in the Australian church. By their shared faith, unstinting dedication and extraordinary courage, the Sisters of St Joseph were born.
Someone remarked that it would be more important to note the anniversary of Woods' arrival in Australia, that is, 30 January 1855, than the invitation to come. Certainly Woods' ordination, on 4 January 1857, is more important, or even Woods' joyfully going, at Bishop Murphy's invitation, to the Jesuits at Sevenhill to prepare for ordination. That does not rule out considering how and why Woods came to Australia. The meetings of 1-2 October 1854 show God can do more with our actions than we imagine. By Willson's perception and following the inspiration of the moment came the invitation whose consequences have influenced the shape of the church in Australia and New Zealand. In Woods. we see that when, having tried every available means, the heart does not know how or where to turn to achieve one's goal before God, God's direction can take over. Woods wrote years later on the anniversary, of his ordination: 'We must do what we have to do early, for the opportunities never, never return nor do they last long'. (4 January I884). His invitation to Australia was such an opportunity.
4 August 2004, Feast of St Jean Vianney
The Australian Catholic Historical Society Inc. Newsletter
Editor: Elizabeth Johnston.
PO Box A621, Sydney South 1235
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org ph: 02 9954 0691
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|Publication:||Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2004|
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