Robert Dunne, 1830-1917, Archbishop of Brisbane: A biography

Byrne, Neil J. (1990). Robert Dunne, 1830-1917, Archbishop of Brisbane: A biography PhD Thesis, School of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Classics, The University of Queensland.

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Author Byrne, Neil J.
Thesis Title Robert Dunne, 1830-1917, Archbishop of Brisbane: A biography
School, Centre or Institute School of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Classics
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 1990
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Open Access Status File (Publisher version)
Total pages 331
Language eng
Subjects 430112 Biography
210303 Australian History (excl. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History)
2204 Religion and Religious Studies
Formatted abstract
The thesis is a biography of an Irish priest and schoolmaster who emigrated to Queensland from Dublin in 1863 and subsequently devoted much of his time to settling Irish immigrants on the Darling Downs. He later became the bishop of Brisbane in 1882, archbishop in 1887 and died in 1917.

The first chapter deals with Dunne's early life in Lismore, County Waterford, establishing him as the product of an Irish shopkeeping family, forced to struggle because of the early death of the provider, yet retaining strong middle class attitudes. Dunne's spirituality, received from his devout parents, reflected their attachment to Mount Melleray Abbey in the nearby Knockmealdown Mountains. This chapter is based largely on Dunne's reminiscences included in hundreds of home letters during the period 1863-1913.

The second chapter deals with Dunne's theological education in Rome, a time during which he is completely overshadowed by the brilliance of his elder brother, David, who finally declined ordination to the priesthood. Dunne's relationship with his brother is one of the most significant in his life. His student years leave him with a love for classical and renaissance Italy but with a somewhat critical view of ecclesiastical institutions. It is during this period that Dunne assents to the political conservatism of his family background, a development encouraged by the violent anti-clericalism of the Roman Republic of 1848.

Dunne's return to Ireland and his years as a teacher at St Laurence's seminary in Dublin are the focus of Chapter Three. During these years he works under Dr James Quinn, a former Roman colleague, and also enjoys to some extent the patronage of Cardinal Paul Cullen, the Archbishop of Dublin and Dunne's former seminary rector. Through his brother he becomes acquainted with John Henry Newman, an English academic who had offered David Dunne a lectureship at the Catholic University. His association with the university leaves Dunne with a lifelong interest in higher education. However, financial worries and family pressure to side with his mother and sister against the marriage of his brother force Dunne to consider emigration. He does so in 1863 when James Quinn, the newly appointed bishop of Brisbane, offers him a position as his secretary and the administrator of his cathedral.

During his six years as a priest in Brisbane, Chapter Four, Dunne develops an intense dislike for ecclesiastical politics, the Australian church at that time being divided between the Irish and English Benedictine factions. His refusal to side with Quinn against Archbishop Polding and also to assist him in a series of internal conflicts with his own religious priests, nuns and laity and a disagreement over the affordable rate at which the diocese could be developed, led to a falling out between Quinn and Dunne resulting in the latter's transfer to Toowoomba in 1868.

Chapter Five deals with Dunne's fourteen years as the priest in charge of the Darling Downs, Queensland's largest agricultural settlement. His constant visits to the selections convinced him that assisting the people to occupy and develop the land should be the foundation of the church's social policy. He placed land settlement above the more urban preoccupations of church and school building. He also encouraged catholics and protestants to work together in conquering the land. Bishop Quinn had been responsible for inaugurating Irish agricultural colonies in the inland but it was Dunne who sustained and developed them. He also interested himself in prison and hospital reform in Toowoomba and softened sectarian ill-feeling by playing down the Irish nationalism of catholics and their claims for state supported schools.

Dunne's productive ministry was abruptly terminated when Bishop Quinn removed him from Toowoomba in 1880 and offered him no subsequent appointment in the diocese. The following year, the subject of Chapter Six, saw Dunne return to Ireland seriously considering entry into Mount Melleray Abbey. The inescapable materialism of colonial life had left him longing for spiritual solitude. If not for his nomination as Quinn's successor in Brisbane, Dunne may have ended his days as a monk. The appointment was a political compromise. Dunne's nationality made him acceptable to the Irish while his tolerant and enlightened views had endeared him to the English Benedictine archbishop of Sydney, Roger Bede Vaughan, who placed the mitre on Dunne's head in June 1882.

Chapters Seven and Eight look at Dunne's attempt over twenty-five years to implement the catholic social policies which he had devised for Australian conditions and had found to work in rural Queensland. His diocese would be one in which the spiritual and material welfare of the people would be the primary concern. The poor would be encouraged to abandon their health-destroying jobs on the railways and in the mines to take up small farms where christian family life could flourish. Land settlement plus friendliness towards protestants, temperance, thrift and education, and the use of the ballot box rather than the rebel's pike to secure political aims were Dunne's recipe for catholic progress and social integration. Although ostracised from the Australian hierarchy and criticised by many of his own clergy, especially for his reluctance to build imposing churches, Dunne held tenaciously to his policies and his persistence was rewarded by the emergence of 'flood-tide' catholicism-a solid corps of wealthy, middle class and socially acceptable Irish and Australian-born Irish catholics. One of Dunne's greatest rewards for sponsoring good relations between the churches was the concession of a degree of state aid to catholic schools in 1900 through a broadening of the scholarship system.

Chapters Nine and Ten deal with Dunne's declining years and his constant battle against ill health and internal and external attempts to interfere with the running of his archdiocese. Critical of his administration was Cardinal Moran of Sydney, the head of the catholic church in Australia. Dunne finally chose as his successor, James Duhig, a young bishop whose abilities Dunne had predicted when he first discovered him as a lad in his cathedral congregation. Duhig arrived in Brisbane as coadjutor archbishop in 1912 but the hand over of power was slow and painful. Dunne found Duhig energetic but too extravagant to be trusted with unlimited access to the archdiocesan funds. When at last he felt confident to allow Duhig to manage all aspects of church administration, Dunne retired to the solitude of his episcopal residence. He rarely appeared in public after 1907 although men of the highest civil and ecclesiastical rank came to him for advice. He died quietly in January 1917 leaving very few brick-and-mortar monuments to his memory. No mythology has ever surrounded him, unlike his contemporary Cardinal Moran or his junior colleagues, Daniel Mannix and James Duhig. Yet at the time of his death no one doubted Dunne's real contribution to both church and state. He was a spiritual man but not so heavenly-minded as to be indifferent to the problems of the world. His chief priority had been the spiritual and material welfare of his people. He hoped to lead them into a secure and harmonious future age in Queensland characterised by friendly relations among all Christian denominations and a common commitment to higher education and to the development of the state by means of extensive land settlement. Even before his death, this age had dawned.
Keyword Dunne, Robert, 1830-1917.
Catholic Church -- Queensland -- History.
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