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Beovich, Matthew (1896–1981)

by Josephine Laffin

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Matthew Beovich (1896-1981), Catholic archbishop, was born on 1 April 1896 at Carlton, Melbourne, second of four children of Matta Beovich, a fruiterer who was born in Croatia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his wife Elizabeth, née Kenny, from Victoria. Matthew, who was very close to his deeply pious mother, attended Christian Brothers’ College, North Melbourne. Arthur Calwell was a schoolmate and remained a lifelong friend. Beovich worked in 1912-17 as a clerk in the Postmaster-General’s Department and continued his studies part time, gaining his matriculation. In 1917-23 he trained for the priesthood at the Pontifical Urban College of Propaganda Fide, Rome (Ph.D., 1919; DD, 1923); he was ordained on 23 December 1922. For the rest of his life his outstanding characteristic would be Romanità, defined by John Molony as `unswerving loyalty to the office, and affection for the person of the Pope, acceptance of Rome and what it stands for as the centre and heart of Christendom, subservience to the Roman curia … [and] a willing readiness to form and foster a local institutional Church according to Roman ideas’.

Returning to Melbourne in 1923, Beovich served for less than six months as assistant-priest at North Fitzroy before being appointed diocesan inspector of religious instruction. He established a central office, officially opened in 1932, to co-ordinate the Catholic education system and to liaise with the State education department. As director of Catholic education for the archdiocese of Melbourne in 1933, he worked on the production of a new catechism (1938), and also wrote Companion to the Catechism (1939). In 1925-33 he was secretary of the Australian Catholic Truth Society, and in 1932-39 he was a regular speaker on the radio program `Catholic Hour’.

On 7 April 1940 Beovich was consecrated Archbishop of Adelaide. There he presided over a Catholic community that grew rapidly, largely due to the influx of migrants after World War II. He warmly welcomed the newcomers, many of whom were from Italy, and embraced their devotional processions and festivals. His pride and joy was St Francis Xavier Seminary, which opened in 1942. He fostered friendly relations with the State’s civic leaders and, in an ecumenical initiative, with the heads of other mainstream Christian denominations.

In the 1940s and the early 1950s Beovich enthusiastically supported B. A. Santamaria and the lay apostolate, but he was disturbed by the Church’s entry into the political field in its fight against communism. He realised that the bishops could not evade responsibility for the Church-funded Catholic Social Studies Movement, but refused to endorse its successor, the National Civic Council and the new Democratic Labor Party. Annoyed at the way Santamaria and his patron Archbishop Daniel Mannix ignored the spirit, if not the letter, of the Vatican’s directives in 1957 instructing `the Movement’ to cease its political activities, he nevertheless managed to remain close friends with other bishops, regardless of their views about the organisation.

In March 1962 Beovich was awarded the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic for his services to migrants. Returning that year to his beloved Rome for the first session of the Second Vatican Council, he was dismayed at the opinions voiced by some of the younger bishops: `One wonders if they think the Holy Spirit was absent from some previous periods of the Church’s history, but is helping them now’. He had no doubt, however, that the Holy Spirit guided the Pope, so when John XXIII and Paul VI supported reforms, he did so too. Thus he encouraged the development of the senate of priests, the diocesan pastoral council, parish pastoral councils and the vernacular Mass. While distressed by the negative reactions to the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae (1968), he none the less understood that adherence to the letter of the encyclical would cause pain to some Catholics and established a natural family planning section within the Catholic Family Welfare Bureau.

A man of deep personal piety, Beovich stressed the need for faith, hope, charity, humility and willing abandonment to God’s will: `Nothing less is sufficient in a Christian; nothing more is required in a saint’. He retired on 1 May 1971. Paying tribute to the quiet, calm way he usually faced difficulties, his secretary recalled that the only time he saw him excited was during World War II, at a meeting in the town hall to protest against the bombing of Rome. Although gentle and shy, he could appear remote and austere, but was affectionately remembered for his sense of humour and his `jet-propelled’ arrivals and departures from Catholic functions. Beovich died on 24 October 1981 in North Adelaide and was buried in West Terrace cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • J. N. Molony, The Roman Mould of the Australian Catholic Church (1969)
  • M. M. Press, Colour and Shadow (1991)
  • K. Massam, Sacred Threads (1996)
  • B. Duncan, Crusade or Conspiracy? (2001)
  • Southern Cross (Adelaide), 2 Apr 1965 (entire issue), 29 Oct 1981, p 3
  • Australasian Catholic Record, July 1988, p 292
  • J. D. Laffin, Matthew Beovich (PhD thesis, University of Adelaide, 2006)
  • Beovich papers (Adelaide Diocesan Catholic Archives).

Citation details

Josephine Laffin, 'Beovich, Matthew (1896–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/beovich-matthew-12198/text21871, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 30 March 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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