Redmond Prendiville 1900-1969

Redmond Prendiville 1900-1969

Redmond Prendiville

Archbishop of Perth Australia

1933 – 1968

A Memory by Canon Jim Foley

In an earlier blog, entitled ‘A Glimpse of Rome’, I made a passing reference to the Spartan life led by students for the priesthood in the Roman colleges in the wake of World War II, with an honourable mention of the desk which was part of the very limited furnishing of the room allotted to me, room 48 looking on to the Via delle Quattro Fontane.   The desk had seen better days when the surface was as smooth as could be, with perfectly inlaid parquetry from the skilled craftsmen at the court of Louis XIV (1643-1715). By the time it came my way in 1948, much of the fine inlay had been prized out by distracted students of philosophy, leaving a particularly uneven working surface behind them and an equally uneven working knowledge of philosophy ahead of them.

What I did not mention before, was another item in my room, a framed photograph that hung on the wall in a dark corner of the room and, for a time, escaped my attention. When it finally caught my eye, I realized that it would be just the right size when removed from the wall, where it served no useful purpose, and from its frame which was nondescript, to act as a kind of level playing-field for at least the front of my lumpy antique desk.

In the process of dismembering the picture, I noted that it was signed by Redmond Prendiville who conveyed his best wishes to anyone who chanced upon his portrait. In time and out of idle curiosity, I made it my business to find out more about the sitter who proved to be the archbishop of Perth, Western Australia. The question of how a signed photo of the Bishop of Perth could have found its way into Room 48 in the Scots College in Rome, 1650 miles from his place of birth in Kerry and 8290 miles from his diocese in Perth, Western Australia, remains unanswered.

At a distance of almost seventy years I regret that I did not hold on to that picture. However, my decision to pursue the matter was given a shot in the arm when a number of families from St Augustine’s decided to immigrate to Perth, and now find themselves sharing in a Catholic heritage which owes so much to the vision and energy of archbishop Prendiville.

Redmond was ordained priest on 11 June 1925 in his twenty-fifth year. He was nominated co-adjutor bishop of the Diocese of Perth, Australia, and the photo was probably taken on the occasion of his episcopal ordination in 1933, aged 32, which made him the youngest bishop in the Catholic world. He remained in Perth till he died in office thirty-five years later in 1968.

He was in Rome during the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) as I was myself. How much I now regret not searching him out then and explaining to him how he had, unwittingly, made my academic life just that bit more bearable and how his good wishes had not fallen on deaf ears, and perhaps asked his indulgence for using his portrait to flatten the vandalised surface of an antique desk. The portrait deserved better.

Others have written at great length about the bishop’s remarkable contribution to the development of Christianity in Australia. Mine is a much more modest purpose. However some biographical details are called for.

He was born on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, 8 Dcember 1900, near Castleisland in County Kerry, Ireland, the youngest of a large family. His parents were Garrett and Hannah Prendiville (nee Sullivan). His vocation followed the familiar path of so many young men in those early years of the twentieth century Ireland, although it had its dramatic moments.

In September 1918 he began his studies for the priesthood at All Hallows Missionary College, Dublin. There he was caught up in an episode which led to his untimely departure. The Dean, who was a student prefect with more authority than was good for him, chanced upon a group of students playing cards which, surprisingly, appears to have been strictly forbidden. There are those who, with hindsight, claim that young Redmond was no more than an ‘innocent bystander’. No quarter was given and the alleged miscreants were rounded up, told to mend their ways, and shown the door. Their crime seems to have been compounded by the fact that it took place on the eve of the annual retreat! I should have thought that that was as good a time as any for a game of poker.

Notwithstanding this setback, he completed his studies for the priesthood at St Peter’s College, Wexford. This included qualifying for a BA degree in Philosophy and History at University College, Dublin in 1922. He was eventually ordained in St Peter’s College in June 1925.

The All-Ireland Final: Kerry v Galway

14 December 1924

During his time at St Peter’s, his athleticism had not passed unnoticed.  In 1924, the year before his ordination, the managers of the Kerry Gaelic Football Team appealed to the Rector of St Peter’s to allow him, by way of exception to college rules, to play for his native county in the All-Ireland final against Galway. This was an offer the Rector felt he could not refuse without running the risk of being discredited by the citizens of Kerry, if not by the entire Irish Nation at home and abroad.  Not only did Kerry win, but Redmond was named ‘the man of the match’ with all the publicity that this accolade generated. When ordained bishop of Perth, he had occasion to visit All Hallows where he and a red-faced Dean made their peace on the strength of Luke 20.17: ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the corner stone’.

Australia here I come!

15 September 1925

Father Prendiville’s decision to immigrate to Australia was probably inspired by the fact that several members of his family were already there and settled in Perth. In time they too would make their mark on society. At all events, he took up his first appointment as a priest of the Diocese of Perth in 1925, a few months after his ordination. This was to St Mary’s Cathedral. A matter of a few years later, in 1929, he was appointed Administrator of the Cathedral parish.

A Good Shepherd who knew his sheep

He brought to this appointment a strong tradition from his home country of parish visitation. He never forgot a name and quickly established diocesan societies that engaged energetically in every aspect of society and was able to combine this with a deep commitment to traditional piety and devotion. The statistics reflect the life of a society in Australia which was both vibrant and pioneering, in spite of the depression of the thirties and the increasing threat of yet another world war.

Between his Episcopal Ordination in 1933 and his death in 1968, the Catholic population of Western Australia had increased from 80,000 to over 200,000. He was quick to welcome not only his fellow co-nationals and provide for their spiritual wellbeing but also showed the same concern for the many other nationalities who aspired to make a new life there, recruiting priests from almost every European language, and did his utmost to help them preserve their Catholic faith as well as to integrate fully into Australian society.

In the Diocese of Perth alone he established over sixty new parishes overseeing the building of their churches and schools. His ambitions for Catholic education were not limited to primary and secondary schools. He was the inspiration behind the foundation of St Thomas More College in the University of Western Australia. He invited Religious Orders with special charisms to share in the spiritual life of the diocese and anticipated the vision of the Second Vatican council with a strong commitment to the apostolate of the laity.

Is it any wonder that I regret not holding on to that picture?   I appeal to our ex-patriate parishioners, now a part of that tradition, to visit the Cathedral in Perth which owes so much to Archbishop Prendiville’s initiative and vision and say a prayer for him and for me, even though some might think my debt to him is more trivial than most.

Picture of Jim Foley at his vintage desk 1948 pen in hand.

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