Archbishop James Carroll

(1908-1995)

Archbishop James Carroll1995 saw the passing of Archbishop James Carroll, the founding chairman of the Catholic Education Commission NSW. He retired as chairman on 19 June 1985. He also held several national positions in Catholic schooling. Through these key positions he presided over the transition from a collection of Catholic schools managed by religious and privately funded, to a coherent system of Catholic schools which is substantially lay managed and government funded.

James Carroll recognised early on that the question of government financial support for Catholic schools was one of elementary political and social justice. His influential 1961 booklet Independent Schools in a Free Society is still the most cogent and articulate expression of the case for what came to be called "State Aid". So too, he recognised that the provision of government financial support was a decision for public servants and politicians. It was therefore through the business of convincing politicians and bureaucrats of the justice of the Catholic schools cause, and the fundamental contribution of these schools to Australian society, that State Aid was largely achieved and eventually supported across the political spectrum. Indeed, political even-handedness was characteristic of his style. His close working relationship with so many of Australia’s leading public figures from the 1950s to the 1990s covered all sides of party politics, not just one (as often claimed). Moreover, in many cases, a working relationship developed into firm, lasting and loyal friendship. Anyone privileged to hear the tribute paid by the then Prime Minister Bob Hawke to the Archbishop at the Opening of the James Carroll Building at Australian Catholic University, on Grand Final Day in 1988, will have been struck by the profound and genuine respect and affection the Prime Minister had for the Archbishop. It was only typical of many such relationships upon which have been built bi-partisan government support for Catholic schooling. The present and former Prime Ministers, Premiers and Ministers for Education - both Liberal and Labor - who attended his funeral at St Mary’s Cathedral on 17 January 1995 bear witness to genuine respect and friendship, not merely civic duty.

Born in the inner-Sydney suburb of Enmore, James Carroll was educated by the Christian Brothers at Lewisham and then studied for the priesthood. Evidently, he was an outstanding student and was therefore sent to Rome to complete his studies. It was in Rome that he was ordained in May 1931 before embarking on a Doctorate in Canon Law.

He was an auxiliary bishop of Sydney from 1954-1984, having been promoted to titular Archbishop of Amasea in 1965. At the same time, from 1959 to 1991, he was Parish Priest at Holy Cross, Woollahra and lived there until his sudden death. For several generations of students and parishioners at Holy Cross "the Doc" (as he was affectionately known) was a great friend, confidant and counsellor. His wisdom and learning, his engaging smile and shrewd insight, and especially his gracious and humble manner, were acknowledged and admired by all. He was indeed the Christ-like servant of his people. James left everyone, young and old alike, with the feeling that he was their special friend. And he was.

In all his educational work, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Archbishop Carroll’s style was low-key and unobtrusive, preferring to win the hearts and minds of decision-makers rather than engineer public protests and threats. His formidable intellect and capacious memory proved a decisive advantage, while his wide learning and culture gave him an uncommon ability to relate to people from all walks of life and ideological backgrounds. He also possessed a strong impulse for social justice and a keen sense of pastoral mission, which helps explain the affection and intense loyalty of his colleagues and friends. They all appreciated the sheer privilege of having known and worked with such a dedicated and extraordinary man. For many, however, this humble priest’s greatest achievement has been the preservation and development of Australian Catholic schools, and the education of lay teachers for those schools. Requiescat in pace.