School of Historical and Philosophical Studies - Theses

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    The foundation of Newman College: Victorian Catholic identity, 1914-1918
    Francis, Michael Philip ( 2015)
    This thesis examines the foundation of Newman College within the University of Melbourne, 1914-1918. Newman opened during a period when Catholicism was considered by many in the Victorian community to be synonymous with radicalism and anti-imperialist Irish nationalism. This identity was heavily constructed, and far from natural. Indeed, Newman College represented a dynamic site of contention in the ongoing process of identity formation within the Catholic community of Victoria during the early twentieth century. Its foundation became both emblematic of these cultural characteristics, and contributed to them. Throughout its development, clerical and lay leaders engaged in vigorous debate about what it meant to be Catholic: Conservative or progressive? Loyalist or radical? British or Australian? Rich or poor? Integrated or separated? Their various visions for Newman College reveal a web of complex conflicts over ethnicity, class and politics. Within the crucible of these often acrimonious disputes, Victoria’s Catholic identity as one that was distinctively Irish was shaped and consolidated. As an elite tertiary institution, the foundation of Newman College also provides a unique insight into the aspirations of middling and elite lay Catholics, so often forgotten in Church histories. Contributing to recent scholarship on the Irish diaspora, it challenges assertions of entrenched Catholic disadvantage by examining the lives of prominent laymen responsible for the Newman project. In addition to safeguarding religious principles, these Catholics wanted to cultivate a class of gentlemen who would raise the moral and intellectual standard of the community as a whole. In the early stages of the building project, secularism was considered the most potent threat to the Catholic community. Newman was envisaged as a religious shelter from the free-thinking university environment. Yet the enemy would shift in 1916 following the outburst of sectarian tensions which accompanied the Easter Rising and Archbishop Daniel Mannix’s political position on conscription and the efficacy of the Great War. In the face of wider community hostility, Catholics closed ranks and came together in spectacular displays of group solidarity, of which the opening of Newman College, an event attended by some 40,000 people, is an example. In this context, Newman came to be seen as a Catholic fortress, producing champions of the Faith numerous enough to resist sectarian discrimination wherever it was encountered in the professions. The thesis will, however, conclude by showing that such an outcome dismayed many prominent Catholics, whose political and cultural sensibilities often differed greatly from those of their Archbishop.