Cathblog - Mannix: The Legacy

By Clifton Pugh, The National Portrait Gallery



Recently I received an invitation to speak at the conference organised by the Archdiocese of Melbourne to mark the centenary of Archbishop Daniel Mannix’s arrival in Australia and 50th anniversary of his death.

Entitled Daniel Mannix: His Legacy, the conference held at the State Library of Victoria, re-assessed Mannix’s impact and contributions, particularly during his 50 years in Australia.

Two significant Irish participants were the keynote speaker, Emeritus Professor Dermot Keogh, and Patrick Mannix, a distant relative of his namesake, who wrote a thesis and in 2012 published a book on his famous ancestor, The Belligerent Prelate: An alliance between Archbishop Daniel Mannix and Eamon de Valera.

Daniel Mannix: His Legacy was a stimulating conference and the papers are to be published, given the significance of Mannix not only for the Church but also for the wider community.

I was asked to speak at the conference on Mannix’s role in the establishment of Melbourne’s Catholic residential colleges, namely Newman and St Mary’s Colleges at the University of Melbourne and Mannix College at Monash University. I also explored why Mannix’s commitment to higher education for Catholics did not extend to an Australian Catholic university and argued that, in the contemporary context, this new higher education apostolate of the Australian Church would have had Mannix’s patronage (a topic for another blog). 

On the day of his arrival in Melbourne, Easter Sunday 1913, Mannix gave his first public address, during which he advocated that:  ‘Every inducement should be held out to Catholics to take their proper place in the Universities’.

Given Australia’s stage of development and the relative disadvantage of Catholics, he saw university colleges associated with secular universities as the appropriate means to achieve this goal. They allowed Catholics to attend university ‘with all due and sufficient safeguards for their faith and the practice of their religion’ (The Advocate, 29 March 1913, 22). Mannix was committed to improving Catholics’ access to higher education, thereby qualifying them for the professions and increasing their influence on and participation in Australian society.

Amongst the first responsibilities delegated by Archbishop Thomas Carr of Melbourne to Mannix as his Coadjutor Archbishop was the establishment of the Catholic residential college planned for the University of Melbourne.  Mannix chaired the College Executive Committee which over the period 1914-1918 oversaw planning for and construction of the Walter Burley Griffin-designed Newman College and the arrival of the first (male) students in 1918. 

The second project in support of Catholics attending secular universities was St Mary’s Hall and later St Mary’s College at the University of Melbourne.  These had their origins in an earlier hostel for Catholic women studying at the University of Melbourne established by the Loreto Sisters.

Building on this foundation, in 1917 Mannix requested the Loreto Sisters to secure a property for the Archdiocese near the University of Melbourne as a residence for women students.  Thus, St Mary’s Hall, the first Catholic women’s college at an Australian university, also welcomed its first students in 1918.

While some plans exist that suggest the original College Executive Committee intended to include a women’s wing at Newman College, this was not realised in the 1918 project. 

Over the ensuing decades Mannix and other key players argued strongly against the co-location of men’s and women’s residences.  By the mid-twentieth century, however, St Mary’s Hall had the resources to expand and the most suitable site was adjacent to Newman College. 

Further, the University of Melbourne was in need of space and seemed to be eyeing this vacant land.  Finally in 1963, the decision was taken, with Mannix’s endorsement, to commit the land to a new Catholic women's college.  

While St Mary's Hall came into being during Mannix’s early years in Melbourne, his approval for its relocation and the establishment of St Mary's College (in 1996) occurred in his hundredth and final year. 

During 1963 Mannix was also actively involved in plans for a Catholic college at Melbourne’s new university. 

It had been the intention of Monash University to have a less traditional form of student accommodation, namely its Halls of Residence, but Mannix approached the interim University Council and won support for an affiliated men’s college, if the Church could secure land nearby – the Church fortuitously had a property directly opposite the main entrance to Monash University. 

Planning for the new Catholic college progressed and, in his hundredth year, Mannix was anxious that, if the college was not initiated in his lifetime, it might not eventuate.

By mid-1963 plans had been drawn up and, the month after Mannix’s death in November 1963, formal affiliation of the college was secured. It was named Mannix College in his honour, a fitting recognition given his steadfast promotion of the Church’s involvement in university colleges.

In the founding of Newman College, Mannix played a very active role in planning and fundraising for the project.  In contrast, he had to rely on others, in the frailty of his final years and after his death, for the realisation of the college that he envisaged at Monash University.

His efforts to establish university colleges, particularly Newman College and St Mary's Hall, occurred alongside his pastoral, liturgical and public duties and driving wider developments for the Catholic community such as new parishes, schools and other ministries. 

University colleges remain relevant in the new millennium and are still an effective means for the Church to participate in higher education.  At its best collegiate life is a rich experience, immersing students in a residential learning community that offers them academic, cultural and wider personal growth and, in the case of Catholic residences, like Newman, St Mary’s and Mannix Colleges, also a further spiritual dimension.

A 2009 study undertaken by the Australian Council for Educational Research (Research Briefing—Australasian Survey of Student Engagement) found that “residential students’ learning, development and satisfaction” were greater than for their counterparts living off campus and that “residential life is often seen as a formative part of the overall university experience”.

Mannix recognised ‘the culture and learning and other advantages’ of a university education and advocated that the key means for the Australian Church to improve Catholics’ access to higher education was Catholic residential colleges in secular universities (The Advocate, 29 March 1913, 22). 

He strongly promoted these endeavours during his 50 years in Melbourne and I am confident that he would take pride in the respective achievements of Newman, St Mary’s and Mannix Colleges, which flourish as testament to his vision.

Professor Gabrielle McMullen AM is Emeritus Professor, Australian Catholic University.

Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources.

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