October 2008

Encounters

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Daniel Mannix & BA Santamaria

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz
Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

In 1935 to be Catholic was to be Irish, and the hierarchy ruled its flock with a firm doctrinal hand and an unchallenged tribal authority - no one more so than Daniel Mannix, the venerable Cork-born archbishop of Melbourne. Tall, gaunt and magisterial, Mannix was already ancient. Born in 1864, he had become a contentious ecclesiastical figure in the Irish nationalist movement. Shipped to Australia, his stand against conscription led to demands for his deportation. In 1920, the Royal Navy prevented him landing in his insurgent homeland and he returned to Australia, reviled by the Protestant establishment and revered by his spiritual constituents.

A pious Catholic, Bob Santamaria was no son of Erin. The energetic and ambitious child of an Italian greengrocer, he'd worked long hours in the family fruit shop in Brunswick, won a place at university and joined the Campion Society, a lay organisation dedicated to the study of papal encyclicals and social theory. At 20, he was already convinced that he was an agent of the Almighty, "forehead marked with sign of Cross", chosen to stem the tide of secular materialism that threatened to derail God's plan for the world. To begin his mission, he needed the archbishop's imprimatur for a new weekly publication, the Catholic Worker.

Fifty years his senior and the former head of a seminary, Mannix had doubtless encountered many zealous young men. For almost two hours he meandered, leading the discussion over topics as diverse as the war in Abyssinia and the policies of Roosevelt, until Santamaria began to think he was getting the brush-off. As Mannix rose to end the interview, Santamaria restated his request. Did he have His Grace's permission to establish a Catholic paper? You don't need it, Mannix replied, extending his hand with "an unexpectedly firm grasp".

On that handshake was sealed an alliance that did not falter until Mannix's death, 28 years later. Appointed soon after to run Catholic Action, Santamaria left the prelate's mansion, Raheen, "jumping for joy". Using the authority of the church and the methods of the communists to fight a secretive war in the unions, he engineered a split that kept Labor out of power for decades. When the Vatican condemned Santamaria's "Movement" as theologically unsound, Mannix declared him "the saviour of Australia".

Aged 99, Mannix collapsed on Cup Day 1963 and died the next day, Santamaria at his bedside. They had just learned that DLP preferences to the Liberals had secured state aid for Catholic schools. Eventually outliving communism, Santamaria turned his apocalyptic ire on capitalism, winning him pre-posthumous rehabilitation by some of his old enemies before his death, in 1998.

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Shane Maloney is a writer and the author of the award-winning Murray Whelan series of crime novels. His 'Encounters', illustrated by Chris Grosz, have been published in a collection, Australian Encounters.

Chris Grosz is a book illustrator, painter and political cartoonist. He has illustrated newspapers and magazines such as the Age, the Bulletin and Time.

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