Trapped in a Closed World: Catholic Culture and Sexual Abuse.
Publisher: Garratt Publishing, 2017
Paperback, i-x/314 pages
Where Did All the Young Men Go?--Life stories from 1960s student
Editor: Paul Casey: email: email@example.com
Publisher: FeedARead Publishing, 2015
Paperback, i-vii/596 pages
Price: paperback: $18.95, postage $13.06; hardback: $27.90 postage $15.78
St. Columba's College Springwood--The Story of a Local Landmark: A History of the Seminary Years and Beyond
Author: Victor Michniewicz
Publisher: Victor Michniewicz, PO Box 100, Hazelbrook NSW 2779
Soft cover, A4, on full gloss paper, i-iv/228 pages
Price: $40, postage $10
Books reviewed by Michael Costigan (*)
This is not a full-scale review of these three volumes, which together total 1,138 pages. The article is more in the nature of an extended notice drawing attention to them in the light of their historic value and current importance, with a few reflections about that.
They are considered together because so much of their content is about life in a seminary that no longer exists, St Columba's College, Springwood. One of them, the hefty 596-page volume edited by Paul Casey, also presents reminiscences about the other NSW seminary now also consigned to history, St Patrick's College, Manly.
First, a word on terminology. As is the custom, the article will refer simply to 'Springwood' and 'Manly' rather than spell out the full names of the two institutions located in those Sydney suburbs. And when I speak of 'ex' or 'former' seminarians, 1 mean those who left the seminary without becoming priests, even though all the ordained clergy were also once seminarians. Furthermore, when I use the term 'ex-priest', for convenience, it is not because I reject sacramental theology's traditional view that, with ordination, one becomes a priest forever, 'according to the order of Melchizedek'--something that orthodoxy would affirm does not change with a dispensation from vows or obligations.
The appearance of the three books and the amount of attention given in them to Springwood means that by now it must one of the most written about seminaries in the world, in spite of it having been neglected to a degree by official Church archives since its closure in 1977. The trio have been preceded by not a few memoirs and biographies containing stories about life there, most notably Chris Geraghty's Cassocks in the Wilderness (Spectrum, 2001), which deals exclusively and some would say harshly with his time there in the 1950s.
The three books' significance is increased at this time for two reasons -the release in December 2017 of the Final Report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse; and, in its light, the urgent need for the Catholic Church to review seriously the way in which the clergy have been or are now trained and indeed the future of the priesthood itself.
The first two books listed above appeared while the Royal Commission was taking place. Some of the ideas canvassed in them came to the Commissioners' attention, partly perhaps but not necessarily from that source, and are reflected in the Final Report. The publication of the other book in the trio, Victor Michniewicz's History, with its positive evaluation of life at Springwood over nearly seven decades, took place, like the Final Report, in December 2017. It could be seen as a pity that the Commissioners did not have the chance to read it, since it might have tempered some of their more absolutist conclusions.
Kevin Peoples, who appeared at the Royal Commission, is the writer on Springwood in this threesome who most directly and outspokenly addresses its concerns, with his attempt to prove there is a causal connection between priests' celibacy requirement, inculcated in what he sees as a badly deficient seminary system, and the shocking phenomenon of massive clerical sexual abuse. His argument deserves respect and attention, but my view is that it does not in the end advance his case very far beyond the conclusion that celibacy may be the main cause of some of these shameful crimes, while it could well be just one among several factors in many others.
In Trapped, Peoples covers his close to two and a half years at Springwood, from 1964 to 1966, when the Francophile historian Monsignor Thomas Veech, after many years of teaching at Manly, was in the early stages of his eleven years as Rector and teacher there. He remembers Veech as one of three (in his opinion) 'eccentrics' on the staff, the others being Dr George 'Anyway' Joiner and Father Noel 'Say' Carroll. He quotes opinions about Veech from the memoirs of Paul Crittenden (favourable) and Chris Geraghty (less so), both indicating that he was a very private, anxiety-ridden man and a theatrical lecturer with a unique pedagogical style.
Another alumnus of Springwood and Manly, the ex-priest and historian Dr Peter Price, suggests in passing in his Australian Catholic Bishops at the First Vatican Council (Morning Star, 2017) that something like the neurological condition Tourette's Syndrome could have been behind Veech's tics, verbal outbursts and odd mannerisms. Price gratefully attributes much to the influence of his old teacher, who 'inspired in his students a burning love of history and a deeply compassionate approach to the colourful characters who populated his lectures'. Appreciation of that kind of inspiration prompted the priest historian Edmund Campion to dedicate the first of his many books to Thomas Veech, whom Peoples himself should thank for introducing him to Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Talleyrand, Samuel Johnson and other cultural icons.
Kevin Peoples, a Victorian from Terang attending a NSW seminary as a priesthood candidate for the Wagga Wagga diocese after Bishop O'Collins of Ballarat had declined his application, was in his late twenties when he joined mostly younger men in the lower Blue Mountains in 1964. He was testing a late vocation, finding the process so agonising that his Springwood time, as he recalls, was unhappy for him in a number of ways.
Because of its references to current legal issues in Victoria, Trapped cannot be sold there until those matters are resolved. Meanwhile, it has been publicised effectively through book launches in some other States and the ACT. It has been hailed in launching speeches and in the words of other commentators quoted in its two opening pages, where Bishop Patrick Power says he finds that the author 'enables his readers to see what has gone wrong'. Summarising the book's message, Pat Power adds that 'clericalism, misogyny and mandatory celibacy are demonstrably major factors in this unfolding tragedy'.
The book is partly but not wholly an autobiography. It is a passionately written manifesto. The further and higher education provided for Kevin initially by a generous Bishop Henschke at Chevalier College, Bowral, and Springwood, rounded out later at university, has left him a polished writer, a good learner and a diligent researcher, at ease quoting from an extraordinary range of past and present experts in many fields. He makes dogmatic assertions, some well open to challenge, on almost every page.
In general, the twenty-three other Springwood 'old boys' who have told their life stories in Where Did All the Young Men Go? write frankly but with more restraint than Kevin Peoples when voicing criticisms of aspects of seminary life as they knew it in the 1960s. Most of them say good things about their Springwood experience, while not overlooking defects. The editor's own essay is an example of both firmness and moderation. After expressing measured agreement with Chris Geraghty's 'disparaging' remarks about seminary education in his three-volume memoirs, Paul Casey acknowledges that education at Springwood nevertheless 'set me on the path of life-long education'.
Casey deserves praise for his initiative and success in organising this volume. He invited fellow survivors of the sixty-seven students who spent all or part of the period from 1960 to 1967 at Springwood and Manly to write about their lives before, during and after those years. Most of the twenty-three resulting essays, of greatly varying length but with a mean average of about 9,500 words, tell fascinating life stories. Inevitably there are a few factual repetitions as well as a rich diversity of stories and viewpoints in the 596 pages.
In presenting the work of the essayists, the editor has divided them into four categories: ex-seminarians who left from Springwood (four in number); those who left from Manly (seven); ex-priests (nine); and priests who remained in the ministry (three). In his Introduction, Casey refers to James Franklin's seminal paper Memoirs by Australian Priests, Religious and Ex-Religious, published in the 2012 issue of the ACHS's Journal. Noting that Franklin's 'very useful' list contains only one work by a seminarian who did not proceed to ordination (Gerard Windsor's Heaven Where the Bachelors Sit), he must be pleased that as many as eleven ex-seminarians wrote articles for inclusion in his collection.
In addition to his own model 48-page essay, Casey, an ex-priest of the Maitland Diocese, wrote a six-page Introduction and a 23-page wrap-up Conclusion, in which he attempts a preliminary analysis of the contents. Presumably he was also responsible for putting together, as Appendix 1, the 21 pages of notes about all 67 original members of the class, listed in alphabetical order. This section contains what for me is the jewel in the whole volume--the expanded eulogy for the late Father Dennis 'Killer' Corrigan by his friend and last carer, Shane Melmeth. Corrigan, also a Maitland priest, whose uncompromising radicalism, compassion, abhorrence of legalism and yearning for peace took him to many different places in Australia and elsewhere, from Tasmania in Archbishop Guilford Young's day (he was Dr Young's friend and bete noir) to the Philippines during the Marcos dictatorship. In a career with multiple tribulations, he survived one of the worst when a law court found him innocent of a child sex abuse charge.
In a short review of a collection like this it is not possible to do justice to what so many essayists have said. While it may be invidious to single out some of them, I will take the risk of naming several of my favourites. They are the ex-seminarians Geoff Hicks and Casimir Zawaszki; the ex-priests Bill McMahon, Tom Moore and Tom Fox (who took the wonderful photo on the book's front cover); and the still ministering priest Frank Devoy.
But perhaps the most moving, rare and educational story comes from the Dutch-born ex-priest Adrian Van Klooster, who battled alcoholism and was suspended 'a divinis' by Pope John Paul II while spending over four years in a Western Australian gaol for child sexual abuse.
This book should be classified as a collection of first-class sociological and historical data, available for careful analysis, not least by all those advocating, advising on or seeking to implement church reform.
The picture of life in Springwood grew much broader for me when, late in the day, Victor Michniewicz's monumental History of St Columba's College, covering all the years since Cardinal Moran blessed its foundation stone in 1909, appeared.
This is a love story if ever there was one. Michniewicz is himself an ex-seminarian who spent three full and joyful years, 1971 to 1973, at Springwood, before he decided he was not called to be an ordained priest. He went on to train as a teacher in a period in which it was decided to reopen St Columba's, keeping that name, as a high school serving the Lower Blue Mountains community. To his delight, Victor received a teaching appointment there from the founding Principal, Sister Anne Henson, in 1984, five years after its reopening. He remained there until retirement, for close to thirty years.
Researching the history of St Columba's became Michniewicz's part-time labour of love for several decades. Handicapped by the disappearance or destruction of many of the seminary's records, he nevertheless was able to unearth more than enough material to enable him to complete and self-publish this superb, handsomely produced publication. The History, printed on full gloss A4 paper, features fifteen informative chapters as well as hundreds of historic photographs, many made available by past students and most never before made public.
Michniewicz recounts in detail, with illustrations, the story of all the
College's buildings, erected progressively as the need arose, and its other landmarks. He traces the seminary's history, with some of what he would regard as setbacks, like the presence in the Springwood complex, from 1942 to 1957, on Cardinal Gilroy's insistence, of a minor seminary. This was in accord with Rome's newly adopted understanding of the previously used term, altered to mean a school-level institution aimed at cultivating vocations in boys as young as twelve. The end of the experiment after fifteen years opened the way for Springwood to revert to being the kind of place it had been before the Cardinal's apparently ill-considered decision.
Chapters with marvellous photographs and sketches on some of the students' cultural and outdoor activities away from the classroom and the chapel give a clue to why so many who lived in the college, even if briefly, retain affectionate memories.
In a chapter of special interest, the author paints pen portraits of some of the personalities on Springwood's staff from the beginning, including all of its ten Rectors, one of whom was Dr Justin Simonds, a future Archbishop of Hobart and Melbourne. Standing out in the not always positive memories of those past students who knew him would be the legendary Monsignor Charles Dunne, who had a record thirty-four years' association with Springwood, including fourteen (1948-62) as Rector. More than half a century after his death, Charlie Dunne still has a mixed reputation with ex-students but is recalled as a fine teacher in spite of his allegedly autocratic, sadistic and omniscient style. He is praised in words quoted by Victor Michniewicz from one anonymous 'old boy' as 'a Rector of whom any ecclesiastical college could be proud'. Present-day critics who knew him may dispute that.
The author of the History is another who speaks fondly of Dunne's successor, Tommy Veech, and his teaching methods as well as his success in bringing about changes in seminary life in accordance with Vatican IPs requirements. Such changes were also occurring around the same years, not always with the enthusiasm of some of those in charge, at Manly and elsewhere, including Corpus Christi College in Victoria and Propaganda Fide College in Rome.
Past students may be expected to welcome the several pages devoted by the author to the heroic services given to Springwood by the Sisters of Our Lady Help of Christians and ancillary staff. It invites questions, of course, as commentators like Kevin Peoples would suggest, about the involvement of women in general and female religious in particular in old-style seminaries.
Any attempt to return to the way candidates were prepared for the priesthood in the era covered by this praiseworthy History and the other two books, whatever the mistakes and virtues of that way, will surely fail. It is desirable that we learn as much as possible about it now. But it is gone forever.
Those who produced the three volumes, each in his own manner, have performed a service to those responsible for making or applying future policy on the priestly ministry. They do this by supplying information and questions needing to be taken into account both in reacting to the challenge of the McClellan Royal Commission and in planning for root and branch Church reform.
(*)Michael Costigan was Associate Editor of The Advocate (Melbourne); founding Director of the Literature Board of the Australia Council; and first Executive Secretary of the Australian Bishops Committee for Justice, Development and Peace. He is an Adjunct Professor of Australian Catholic University.
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|Title Annotation:||Where Did All the Young Men Go?--Life stories from 1960s student; St. Columba's College Springwood - The Story of a Local Landmark: A History of the Seminary Years and Beyond|
|Publication:||Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2017|
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