Guilford Young Commendation Ceremony

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Guilford Young Commendation
15 March 2013

On the occasion of the Graduation Ceremony last year, I dwelt for a few minutes on the contribution of the founder of your College, the late Archbishop Eric D’Arcy, who was my immediate predecessor. He was the person who made the final decision in favour of establishing this college. At the time when those matters were being discussed, there was the question of finding a suitable name for the College, and in the end the decision was reached that it should be called Guilford Young College, who was Archbishop D’Arcy’s predecessor. He was the Archbishop of Hobart for 33 years, from 1955 till his death on 16 March 1988. This ceremony always takes place as close as possible to the anniversary of his death.

I thought it might be important for you, and for the record, for me to make some observations about Archbishop Young, and my personal recollections of him. He was the Archbishop for the first 27 years of my life as a priest, and so he made a very profound impact upon me, as indeed he did on many, many others as well. He was that kind of person.

He was actually born at Sandgate, which at the time was, as I understand it, a small town just north of Brisbane. With the growth of the city it has now been absorbed into the large city that Brisbane has become in recent years. However, when he was quite young, the family moved further north to Rockhampton and that was the place of his upbringing.

He was the second in a family of six boys. His father was a shearer, and apparently was absent from the family home for extended periods because of work. His mother was a very strong influence in his upbringing, and indeed it was the same for the whole family.

He received the name of Guilford apparently because the doctor who attended his mother at the time of his birth had not married, and his name was Guilford, so the parents thought it would be a nice gesture to name one of their sons after him. It is my impression that from the time Guilford Young was born, he was always someone special – as a small child growing up,  as a sec ondary student, and as a young man who commenced his preparation for the Priesthood at a very young age.

In 1934, he was chosen by his bishop, the Bishop of Rockhampton, to transfer to Rome to complete his studies for the priesthood at the College known as Propaganda Fide College. Students came from all over the world, especially from Africa and Asia to study at the college, and to prepare for the priesthood. It was a very special experience which he later enabled me to have as well, to spend some years in Rome and to be in a college with students from more than 50 nations.

Because of his age, Guilford Young had to wait six months longer than others in his class to be ordained a priest which finally occurred on 3 June 1939.  It was at that time that the dark clouds of war were forming over Europe and together with some other students the young priest almost immediately made his way back to Australia, travelling from England to the United States, then by car across America, and finally across the Pacific Ocean to Australia. After he arrived home, he began his ministry as a priest in his home town of Rockhampton.

After nine months however, he moved to Sydney to join the staff of the Apostolic Nunciature, where the Pope’s diplomatic representative resided. With his knowledge of languages, the young priest was able to visit many of the prisoners of war, particularly Italians, and offer them comfort and support. He then moved to Brisbane to be a member of the staff of the college where students for the priesthood in Queensland were given their formation.

In 1948, at the age of 31 years, be became a bishop, at the time the youngest in the world. He served in the diocese of Canberra-Goulburn for the next six years, until he became the Archbishop of Hobart at the very young age of 38 years in 1955.

Guilford Young was a person of great enthusiasm and energy; he was very intelligent, very good with language, a convincing speaker and a person with a great sense of justice. One of the issues where he felt there was great injustice was in the field of Catholic Education. Until the early 1970’s there was no government assistance for Catholic schools. Parents of students paid their taxes like everyone else, but there was no financial support by the governments either state or federal, for the schools they attended. Funding came from the parents, the religious congregations who staffed and conducted the schools, and the parishes which built many of the primary schools which you attended earlier in your school life.

It was through the strong and persistent lobbying and arguing by the likes of Archbishop Young, that the injustice of the situation was finally recognised, first with grants to build libraries and science blocks and finally with assistance for capital expenditure and for the running of the schools and colleges. We owe much to the Archbishop for the vigorous way he kept up his fight for justice.

One of the great experiences in the life of Archbishop Young was to participate in all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council in the years 1962-1965 along with the bishops from all over the world. He loved every moment of the experience and he was one of the very few Australian Bishops who understood what was really going on at the Council. It was seen as a time when the Church was opening the doors to the world.

The theme of today’s Commendation Ceremony is “Open doors into the future.” The phrase was used by Pope Benedict in a letter he wrote in 2007 on the theme of hope. It is the theme chosen for Project Compassion during Lent this year. Archbishop Young also opened up doors of hope which you and those who come after you are able to enjoy.

I wish to thank the Principal, Mrs Bobby Court for her readiness to take on for yet another year the leadership of this great college. It is no easy role, that of  being the Principal of a large secondary college like this, and all of us know the high level of dedication with which Mrs Court carries out her responsibilities.

I thank all the teaching administrative and support staff for their readiness to be part of what Guilford Young College has to offer to the students in years 11 and 12 this year. I also thank the member of the Governing Council for their contribution, along with the members of the College Board under the chairmanship of Mr Michael Harvey. I congratulate all those who have received commendations and those who are taking up leadership roles this year.

On Sunday, 13 March 1988, Archbishop Young came to the priest’s house at Sandy Bay where I was the Parish Priest. He often came to us for the meal after his Sunday morning commitments. On this occasion, I had to leave the table early to catch a plane, so I excused myself and went up stairs to pack my bags. When I was ready to leave, I just opened the dining room door to say goodbye. The Archbishop responded, and then he said “Thank you for all you are doing.” They were the last words I ever heard him say, but they are words I will always treasure. Thank you.