Father Emmet Costello passed away last week, shortly after the former Jesuit student Bill Shorten became Opposition Leader. Some said the priest wanted to see both the PM and his alternative claimed for the Jesuits, writes Tony Abbott.
- The Australian
Emmet, in fact, was often a critic of his own order, as he was of the institutional church generally. His habitual disappointment with the Catholic hierarchy, though, was the frustration of a doting parent for a wayward child or a dedicated coach for an underperforming athlete. If the risen Jesus really was "my brother and friend", as Emmet fervently believed and frequently declared, how could this not dominate one's life? If Christianity really was God's best gift to the world, how could the church not be more conscious of what it had to offer? Emmet's real complaint was not out-of-touch bishops or priests who were dull preachers so much as that the church no longer took its mission as seriously as it had when he dedicated his life to it.
Deep down, he was fiercely proud of the Jesuits' impact on the world at large. The Jesuits, he was convinced, had been established to be the church's SAS: fighting for their faith way behind secularist lines, in the media, academe and business. Other Jesuits may have given up the struggle and retreated to a religious ghetto or embraced a social gospel that made them virtually indistinguishable from any other well-meaning social reformer. Not Emmet. Anyone in public life or on any perch of the modern world's commanding heights could expect a letter or a call from Emmet, full of advice, praise and the invitation, sometimes merely hinted at, to talk about life's higher purposes.
Like his great Jesuit forebear Matteo Ricci, evangelist to the Manchu court, he thought the best way to "baptise the world" was to baptise its leaders. It's not that Emmet was uninterested in those who were less likely to succeed. Certainly his memorable homilies, quick wit and charismatic teaching had wide appeal. Still, he took the traditional Jesuit view that the world would become more Christian more quickly if the church's shock troops concentrated their efforts where they were most likely to turn the tide of battle.
From a Fiji-based Australian family with extensive commercial interests in goldmining and later in tourism, the early years of his priesthood were spent in Melbourne. From the early 1970s he was based in Sydney: successively at St Ignatius' and St Aloysius' colleges, and the Jesuit parishes at North Sydney and Lavender Bay. There are few former students of those fine schools, from that day to this, who escaped his influence. Many were taught by him; many more wished they had been taught by him; more still had heard stories about him or had heard his own stories from the pulpit.
Some of these involved the well-known people whose lives he had touched, such as Sir Warwick and Lady Fairfax. This engendered the occasional accusation of snobbery - which was unfair. Emmet enjoyed good food and good conversation but, regardless of the company, his life was utterly purposeful. It was entirely directed to helping his interlocutors to be their best selves and, as far as possible, to cultivate lives based on a relationship with Jesus through the sacraments of the church.