Recalling the installation of an Archbishop


THE MOST Reverend Eris Michael O’Brien DD PhD MA was appointed the second Archbishop of the Archdiocese in late 1953.

Aged 58, he had already forged a strong reputation as an emerging leader in the Australian Church as well as an accomplished scholar in the field of Australian history.

Such was his recognition that in 1948 and 1950 he was selected to join the Australian Government delegation to the United Nations.

A priest of the Sydney Archdiocese, he had been appointed auxiliary bishop, assisting Cardinal Gilroy of Sydney in 1948, and was elevated as auxiliary archbishop in 1951.

Events surrounding Eris O’Brien’s appointment and installation in late 1953 – 64 years ago this year – were brought to attention by a recent, and unexpected, acquisition by the Archdiocesan archives.

The position of Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn had become vacant following the resignation through ill-health of Archbishop Terence McGuire on August 8, 1953.

With no archbishop, Bishop Guilford Young, the auxiliary bishop, was appointed apostolic administrator, pending the selection of a replacement for Archbishop McGuire.

This came after only three months with the announcement on November 16 that Archbishop Eris O’Brien, auxiliary of the Sydney Archdiocese would be the new archbishop in Canberra and Goulburn.

The announcement came just over a month before Christmas, with the enthronement/ installation set down for December 28 – the Monday following Christmas Day, which in 1953 fell on a Friday.

On what was a busy day for him, Archbishop O’Brien’s enthronement took place at the Cathedral of Sts Peter and Paul in Goulburn.

This was followed by an official luncheon at nearby St Patrick’s Hall, and then an afternoon tea, to enable the Archbishop to mingle with parishioners, in the gardens of Goulburn’s Our Lady of Mercy College.

The new archbishop and other dignitaries then travelled to Canberra where an installation ceremony took place at the St Christopher’s Church, Manuka (referred to in media coverage as the pro-Cathedral). This was followed by an evening reception at Canberra’s Albert Hall.

Among the tasks assigned to him on the day, Bishop Guilford Young had responsibility for reading during the enthronement ceremony, an “address of welcome and pledge of loyalty from the priests of the Archdiocese” to their new Archbishop.

It is the text of this address, typed, signed by Bishop Young, and placed in an attractive red leather presentation cover that has recently come to the Archdiocesan archives.

It reads in part:

We wish to express our sincere happiness and pride in knowing that you come to us already long renowned for your scholarship, held in affectionate regard as a Christian humanist, a loyal Auxiliary by a Cardinal of the Church, and, above all, with a priesthood enriched by thirty-five years of devoted service to the cause of God and His Church.

A report in the diocesan newspaper Our Cathedral Chimes notes that the priests of the Archdiocese were then individually presented to their new archbishop.

It would be reasonable to assume that the address in its leather cover would have been presented to the new archbishop.

But this appears not to have happened. Just over 12 months later, Bishop Young was transferred to Hobart as coadjutor archbishop, and subsequently succeeded to the position as Archbishop of Hobart.

He remained there until his death in 1988. The address appears to have remained with him as it was recently located by Hobart archdiocesan archives staff among Archbishop Young’s personal papers.

We are pleased that it has now returned to our Archdiocese, where it properly belongs.