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Faith, Hospitality and Service: St Martha's Catholic Parish Strathfield 1916-2017.

Author: Damian John Gleeson

Publisher: St Martha's Catholic Parish, Strathfield, NSW

ISBN: 9780646941097

Paperback Pages: xvi + 124

Price: $20

Reviewed by Edmund Campion (*)

About ten years ago, someone got into the parish church at Strathfield in Sydney and smashed the heads off statues there. Gone--the faces and heads of Our Lord and Our Lady. Also damaged was the statue of St Joseph. This was a savage attack on the religious life of people who said their prayers in front of the statues. One of them was Mrs Eileen Yip, a craftsworker, who now set herself to restoring the statues. Mrs Yip's spirituality energised her for the task--'I said to Mary, if you want me to repair you, I cannot do it without the face. You must help me,' she prayed. Her devotion had a marvellous and long-desired outcome when she became a grandmother on the feast of the birthday of the Blessed Virgin.

The story of Mrs Yip and the statues is a high point in Damian Gleeson's very readable centennial history of the parish. The author gives equal time to priests and parishioners, which makes his book something of a novelty in Australian historiography. Last century, parish histories tended to be solely about priests and buildings.

The people of the parish included notable figures such as PM Frank Forde and feminist Jean Daly, but Dr Gleeson shows admirable restraint in dealing with them, not overloading his pages with facts upon facts. To write well is to know what to leave out. Strathfield has been fortunate in its schools, staffed by Dominicans for girls and Christian Brothers for boys, to whom the author gives proper recognition. He deals honestly with tensions over money, in pre-state aid times, between the third Parish Priest and the Brothers. Similarly, his account of a dispute over the Tennis Club--who owned the tennis courts, the club or the parish?--is fair-minded. He writes about real people, who sometimes disagree.

There is a short chapter on Archbishop Michael Sheehan who resided in Strathfield for fifteen years, waiting to take over when Archbishop Kelly died, which Kelly obstinately refused to do. After 15 years, Sheehan went back to Ireland, leaving behind the legacy of his Apologetics and Christian Doctrine to form the religion of generations of schoolchildren; and Norman Thomas Gilroy was rushed to Sydney to fill his place before the Irish-Australian bishops could dissent. This chapter seems a sanitised version of the story.

Of all the priests at Strathfield Dr Gleeson gives much space to one of the curates, Geoffrey Innes Davey who was there for five years and is, to my knowledge, the only curate to get an entry in the 19 volumes published of the Australian Dictionary of Biography. Before becoming a priest, Davey had a full life: civil engineer, Liberal Party candidate in a federal election, father of six children and a key figure in the administration of the Sydney archdiocese, where he was a member of the Jimmy Carroll-Tom Wallace team. After his wife's death, he became a priest, being ordained in the church she had designed. He remained close to the inner workings of the archdiocese and the author shows how his engineering skills served the schools of the parish.

A noticeable feature of the book is its employment of endnotes. In some 100 pages of text there are 666 endnotes (cf. Rev. 13:18), which page-for-page outscores the T306 footnotes of Dr C F Fowler's recent history of Pyrmont parish, a much bigger book. The late dean of Australian Catholic historians, Patrick O'Farrell, eschewed footnotes because he aimed to attract a wide readership. Dr Gleeson, on the other hand, makes a case for the usefulness of endnotes. So footnotes and/or endnotes may be coming back into fashion.

(*)Edmund Campion is a Sydney priest, and emeritus professor of history at the Catholic Institute of Sydney. His book Swifty: A life of Yvonne Swift, was reviewed in JACHS 37 (2)
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Author:Campion, Edmund
Publication:Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2017
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