James Quinn: First Catholic bishop of Brisbane

McLay, Yvonne Margaret (1975). James Quinn: First Catholic bishop of Brisbane PhD Thesis, School of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Classics, The University of Queensland.

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Author McLay, Yvonne Margaret
Thesis Title James Quinn: First Catholic bishop of Brisbane
School, Centre or Institute School of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Classics
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 1975
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Open Access Status File (Publisher version)
Total pages 294
Language eng
Subjects 430112 Biography
220401 Christian Studies (incl. Biblical Studies and Church History)
Formatted abstract
Title: "James Quinn, First Catholic Bishop of Brisbane".
Y.M. (Anne) McLay.

Now - as in his lifetime - Bishop James Quinn is a controversial, and to many an unattractive, though highly significant figure of the foundation years of the Catholic Church in Queensland. My interest was aroused in discovering his true personality through my work in the history of Catholic education in this State, especially that of Mother Vincent Whitty and the first Sisters of Mercy. After several years of research I am still ambivalent towards him, I feel, however, this ambivalence is due to the paradoxes inherent in his personality rather than to any deficiency in my research. I have tried to show in this thesis the complexity of his character that these paradoxes caused.

Bishop Quinn died in 1881, but the foundations of his work in Queensland were laid by 1875. To appreciate the shape of the Church that soared grandly from these foundations, to understand the conflict and the turmoil that surrounded the man and his creation, the bishop must be first seen in his original environment, Ireland and Rome. Chapter I delineates his roots in the Old World, examines his attitude as an Irishman to the English and to Irish nationalism, considers the effects of his long years of study in Rome, and tries to make a preliminary assessment of his liberal-conservative tendencies. His work as educational administrator and his relations with Archbishop Cullen and John H. Newman in the Dublin of the 1850s are treated in fair detail as a paradigm of the future.

The period 1861-1875 was researched as thoroughly as possible and is treated under two themes which attempt to highlight the paradox within his personality, a paradox that was caused by the conflict between his liberal and conservative traits. Internally it was conservatism that won, a conservatism inherited from his Old World origins and reinforced by the challenges to his authority in Queensland from members of his own church. He reacted to these challenges with an extreme autocracy. Nevertheless his monolithic church soared grandly with a basic unity. Immigration, education, and land were its main motifs.

Yet Quinn was a decided individualist. This individualism coupled with his strong pragmatism to lead him into a radical stand in his reaction to the freedoms of the New World, a stand whose ecumenism was profoundly suspect to less liberal confreres. Chapter III examines his dominant concept of "tolerance" and the various alliances into which it led him. His basic goal nevertheless remained, the building of a monarchical church, to achieve which he sought social integration within an increasingly liberal society. To achieve such social harmony, however, he adopted many radical stands and took advantage of the politics of democracy. Ideologically he upheld his stance by a theology at times unexpectedly liberal in a Vatican I bishop and by a social philosophy of cultural pluralism. It was on the rocks of immigration, land, and education that this social policy foundered.

The years 1875-1881 were somewhat of an epilogue to these two basic themes. During them his conservatism overcame his liberalism. This victory was caused by an upsurge of internal challenges to his authority as much as by the final defeat of his greatest desire – to retain a niche for his schools in the general education system of Queensland. The internal challenges were the more ironic in that perhaps the greatest came from non-Irish clerics whom he had encouraged to settle in the colony, in an attempt to conquer its geographical vastness as well as to display a cosmopolitanism consistent with his liberal tendencies. Rejection and ill-health combined to push him into a triumphalism and flamboyant Irishism. Yet the period was not all tragedy, and his creation continued to soar, with the bishop and his people fundamentally at one within his predominantly monolithic church.

He failed, however, to resolve the conflict inherent in his own nature. The greatest conflict lay between the demands of his institution and the personal human needs of himself and his people. Because the conflict was unresolved in his own life-time, no single consistent judgment can be made of his behaviour and character. But this can be said - he was a leader, if a grandiose and autocratic one; he did lay firmly the foundations of the Catholic Church in Queensland, even if the Church was an absolute monarchy that seems unacceptable to our open-ended era; he did set a tradition for Queensland Catholics of cultural tolerance and a relatively high degree of social integration.
Keyword Quinn, James, 1819-1881
Catholic Church -- Queensland -- History
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Document type: Thesis
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Created: Mon, 22 Feb 2010, 08:55:37 EST by Ms Natalie Hull on behalf of Social Sciences and Humanities Library Service