Academic journal article Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society

The Two Ronnies: Priestly Influence on a Neophyte-A Case of Clerical Grooming?

Academic journal article Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society

The Two Ronnies: Priestly Influence on a Neophyte-A Case of Clerical Grooming?

Article excerpt

No, not the Ronnie Corbett and Ronnie Barker, of recent television fame, but rather two Ronnies who, in different ways, have had a definite influence in my life. One I never met, but was a distant hero of my youth, the other changed the direction of my life to a significant degree. The former was Monsignor Ronald Knox, who flourished as a writer and Bible translator in the mid twentieth century; the latter was Father Ronald Harden, a priest of the Archdiocese of Sydney since 1951, whose recent death (2015) has occasioned these recollections. Both were Ronnie to their friends.

My twelfth birthday in 1954 was a momentous occasion for me in that, from thence forward, I was entitled to use and borrow from the Randwick Council senior library. Previously I was restricted to the children's library, which, though interesting enough for a young reader, lacked the challenges that the world of adulthood was about to unleash. There was never a time in my adolescence that I was without a couple of books in my hands from that inexhaustible source, which was a great boon since right through my secondary school years I was spending thirty hours a week working in our family business--a fruit shop, milk bar and general store near Coogee beach. The idle hours were an opportunity to read of things that stimulated the imagination and opened my mind to a wider world than the church-orientated milieu of a suburban Sydney boy from a mixed Italian and Irish, and intensely Catholic, background. My father once told me that one of his customers had said, speaking of me, 'You'll have to watch that boy. He reads a book walking down the hill to the shop, and doesn't look as he crosses the road!' Not wanting to waste time, I did indeed read as I walked, but, I assured my father, I always looked-out for traffic (not that there was much then) as I crossed the road. Two indicators of the infrequency of passing cars in those days come to mind: Keith Rowe and I used regularly play tennis (emulating Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall) in Oberon Street, vacating the roadway for the occasional vehicle. And our local G.P. (Dr Kevin Hume) would borrow my father's pre-war Vauxhall each week to do his house calls. Cars were rarer then. How times have changed!

Ronald Knox's translation of the canonical Gospels, in a paperback edition, was a staple source for religious instruction given daily by the De La Salle brothers in my senior years at their small Coogee school. The brothers themselves were extraordinarily impressive. Five men, living in cramped conditions, taught every class from third class primary to fifth year secondary, every period, every day. As well, they had to do all the cleaning and administrative work. In those days, when there was no government assistance to Catholic (or other private) schools, the working-class Catholic community made demands on the religious dedication of the sisters and brothers who ran our schools to an extent that would be simply unimaginable to-day. Every class (except for first year high school) was a composite class, everyone following the curriculum of the higher grade in the composite, and discipline maintained by cane or strap. Or at least that was the practice until Brother Xavier John Hayes came as our principal in 1956. Almost his first action was to ban the use of corporal punishment on the boys--an unheard-of example of liberal thinking for the time. He maintained that it was unthinkable for one person to hit another, and certainly no way for a teacher to communicate Christian values to those under his care. I benefited greatly from Brother Xavier's humanity in more ways than one. In his senior religion classes, he would speak discursively about current trends in Theology, certainly opening my mind to the world of the theologians who, though under a cloud from the Roman authorities in the narrower world of the 1950s, were to come into their own at the Second Vatican Council in the next decade.

Ronald Knox was not one of those progressive theologians. …

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