Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Carr, Thomas Joseph (1839–1917)

by John N. Molony

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Thomas Joseph Carr (1839-1917), by Lafayette Studios

Thomas Joseph Carr (1839-1917), by Lafayette Studios

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H35285

Thomas Joseph Carr (1839-1917), Catholic archbishop, was baptized on 10 May 1839 at Moylough, County Galway, Ireland. His father, a farmer of some substance, sent him to St Jarlath's College, Tuam, for his early education. At 15 he was admitted to St Patrick's College, Maynooth, where he was ordained priest in 1866. After two years as a curate in his native diocese, he taught at St Jarlath's and then returned to Maynooth in 1874 where he became professor of dogmatic theology, prefect of the Dunboyne establishment, and in 1880 vice-president of Maynooth. In 1879 he published an extensive work on recent developments in canon law entitled A Contribution on Church and Censures; next year he was appointed editor of the Irish Ecclesiastical Record which had lapsed under the editorship of (Cardinal) P. F. Moran in 1876.

The formative years of the young cleric were spent in an ecclesiastical climate in which Cardinal Cullen, as archbishop of Dublin (1852-78), devoted his talents and influence to strengthening the bonds between the Roman see and the Irish Church. The new direction was not lost on Carr and from the time of his appointment to the bishopric of Galway in 1883 he proved unswerving in his loyalty to Rome, became a firm defender of the prerogatives of that see and lectured regularly on its historical claims. While remembered at Maynooth as an uninspiring but painstaking teacher, and a scholar of considerable ability, Carr was more inclined to an active life of leadership and administration. In Galway he took a keen interest in the welfare of his people, especially the poorer classes, and promoted the foundation of technical and industrial schools to equip the young with the skills necessary to gain a useful livelihood.

By the early 1880s Archbishop Goold of Melbourne had become enfeebled in body and difficult in temperament. At the plenary council, held in Sydney in 1885, Carr's name was put forward as Goold's coadjutor. But as Goold died on 11 June 1886 Carr was appointed directly to the archbishopric on 29 September and received the pallium from Leo XIII in Rome on his way to Melbourne. He was there accorded a friendly and enthusiastic reception in June 1887. Moran had experienced some difficulty in establishing a working relationship with the old pioneer missionary Goold, and when he heard that Carr had been appointed to Melbourne, he exclaimed: 'All the Australian Bishops will now be thoroughly united!'. It was a hope that was fulfilled, at least in so far as the sees of Sydney and Melbourne were concerned, for until his death in 1911 Moran constantly consulted Carr on matters affecting both his own diocese and the general state of the Catholic Church in Australia.

At the time of Carr's arrival the colony of Victoria had settled to a period of peaceful prosperity after the rapid growth and tumult of the gold period. This stability reflected itself in the Catholic Church which had begun to assume the shape of a normal ecclesiastical organism with bishops in Ballarat and Bendigo since 1874; Carr himself consecrated the first bishop of Sale, James Corbett, in 1887. Before the financial collapse of the early 1890s Carr was able to administer with ease the structural changes consequent upon population growth and he caused new churches, convents and schools to be built. New religious Orders were introduced while the number of priests on the diocesan mission doubled in ten years to over 100.

The archbishop took a keen interest in the foundation of St Patrick's College at Manly, New South Wales, which opened in 1889 and, being convinced of the necessity of a sound educational standard in his clergy, Carr would not accept students for the priesthood unless they had matriculated. His zeal in that regard was modified by inordinate parsimony, induced by the financial depression, which he rationalized with the stated conviction that parents of ecclesiastical students ought to make sacrifices for the upkeep of their sons. As a result of this policy he lost eight students for his archdiocese in 1908 because he refused to pay their fees at Manly. Independent means, rare in an Irish Australian family in the period, became a yardstick upon which a vocation to the priesthood partially rested.

Carr shared with his episcopal contemporaries the attitude to the necessity of a Catholic education enunciated by Roger Vaughan who, as archbishop of Sydney (1877-83), regarded a secular education as anathema. Carr summed up his own convictions with the statement: 'Banish faith from the schools in one generation, and you have banished God from the country in the next'. Not content with slogans, the archbishop devoted a great deal of energy to promoting the Catholic school system, with the result that the number of children receiving a Catholic education in Victoria rose from 10,000 at the time of his arrival to almost 50,000 when he died. When training colleges for teachers were required, Carr immediately set up one at Albert Park in 1906 and then turned his mind to tertiary education by founding the Newman Society in 1911 with himself as its first president. On 11 June 1916 he blessed the foundation stone of Newman College, University of Melbourne, and although the major inspirational force in its development was his coadjutor Daniel Mannix, Carr was remembered as its founder by the erection of a chapel in his honour.

As a political figure Carr, while determined to uphold his personal convictions on such matters as the Roman primacy and related dogmatic beliefs, about which he engaged in vigorous debate with Professor John Rentoul, Bishop Goe and others, none the less remained on cordial personal terms with his adversaries; and when birth control met with his public condemnation in 1908 he received letters of congratulation and support from many non-Catholics, including one from the Council of Churches. He was regular in attendance at government levees, formed a firm friendship with the Earl of Hopetoun and his wife and, while standing aloof from the political arena, evinced his belief in Federation and attended the opening of Federal parliament in 1901. His interest in the social question was neither doctrinaire nor sectarian and in his public addresses he supported child endowment, housing policies for the masses, the development of educational facilities for women and assistance for Aboriginals. Theoretical notions on the need to help the underprivileged were quickly translated by Carr into practical action, and he helped in the foundation of St Vincent's Hospital and a home for foundlings at Broadmeadows.

In 1913 Mannix was appointed as Carr's coadjutor. The archbishop quickly handed over to him much of his administrative affairs and stood prudently aside while the younger man threw himself into public life with alacrity. To the Australian hierarchy, Carr had become a figure of quiet, balanced, moderate common sense who acted among them as a conciliatory agent and who never permitted his Irish background to override his concern for the consolidation of the Catholic Church in Australia. When the Irish delegates had visited Australia in 1889 Carr expressed considerable unease, but agreed to receive them while making it clear that he took no political stand and, on the continuing problem of Ireland, he maintained a detached attitude despite his love for his native land on whose art and culture he frequently lectured. Thus, when the conscription issue arose, he was able to retain his conciliatory tone while rejecting an overture from the State Recruiting Committee of Victoria which asked that a pronouncement be read in the churches calling on recruitment as a 'Christian duty'. Carr replied courteously: 'Catholics know perfectly well what their interests and duties are … they resent the invasion of the State into Church management'.

Carr himself, together with his contemporaries, regarded his completion of St Patrick's Cathedral in 1897 as the finest visible token of his archiepiscopate. He was aware, however, that stone speaks in a muted voice and his foundation of the Austral Light (1892), the Tribune (1900) and the enduring Australian Catholic Truth Society (1904), together with the publication of his own Lectures and Replies (1907), bore testimony to his concern with the problem of educating and informing his laity. Recognizing the deleterious effects of the over-consumption of liquor amongst his people, he did all in his power to inculcate the virtue of temperance without inclining to the extreme of wowserism. He founded the League of the Cross and he obliged children to take a pledge at confirmation binding them not to drink alcoholic beverages until the age of 21.

An excellent shot, card-player and clubman, Carr was at ease in any company, whether that of children or vice-royalty, and at his table all felt the conviviality of his urbane character. With the passing years his geniality seemed to transmit itself into a physical characteristic so that his obesity became the outward sign of a spirit at peace with all its surroundings: Tom Roberts said, 'He's a man you could tell anything to — except something trumpery'. By 1916 he was suffering from cancer and a trip to New Zealand was to no avail. He died in Melbourne on 6 May 1917 and was buried in his cathedral. His episcopate had been one marked by stability, tranquillity and growth, guided by his reliance upon the Roman Church and its central authority; he had visited Rome in 1898 and 1908. In the words of Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson, by his 'wisdom, tact and Christian goodness [Carr had] endeared himself to the Australian people'; while the prime minister W. M. Hughes, doubtless mindful of Mannix's succession, mourned this 'great and good man' who 'strove always to promote peace and goodwill amongst all sections of the community'.

Select Bibliography

  • P. F. Moran, History of the Catholic Church in Australasia (Syd, 1895)
  • Australasian, 6 Nov 1897, 9 Apr 1898, 27 Sept 1902
  • Argus (Melbourne), 7 May 1917
  • Advocate (Melbourne), 12 May 1917
  • Carr papers (Melbourne Diocesan Historical Commission Archives, Fitzroy, Melbourne).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John N. Molony, 'Carr, Thomas Joseph (1839–1917)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/carr-thomas-joseph-5511/text9381, published in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 23 April 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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