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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Carroll, James Patrick (1908–1995)

by Brian Croke

This article was published online in 2020

James Patrick Carroll (1908–1995), Catholic archbishop, was born on 3 December 1908 at Newtown, Sydney, second of five children of New South Wales-born parents Edward Carroll, boot clicker, and his wife Agnes Catherine, née O’Connell. James was educated at St Pius’ School, Enmore, followed by St Joseph’s (Christian Brothers) School, Newtown, and Christian Brothers’ High School, Lewisham. His priestly formation was at St Columba’s Seminary, Springwood, and St Patrick’s College, Manly. In 1930 he was sent to the Pontifical Lateran University, Rome, where he resided at the Irish College. He was ordained at the Basilica of St John Lateran on 30 May 1931, before undertaking a doctorate in canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University, with a thesis on Mass stipends (March 1935). In Rome and Naples, in his spare time, he discovered his lifetime passion for opera.

Returning to Sydney with both an internationalist and a Roman outlook—uncommon for a Sydney priest at that time—Carroll was appointed assistant priest at Balmain, Erskineville, and Darlinghurst (1935–37); taught seminarians as professor of philosophy at St Columba’s and St Patrick’s (1937–42); spent a year as assistant priest at Chatswood (1943); and then became parish priest of Enmore (1944–58) and then Woollahra (1959–91). In 1945 he became the spiritual director of the St Thomas More Society for Catholic lawyers, and in 1947 chief judge of the matrimonial tribunal in the archdiocese of Sydney. He was named a domestic prelate and honoured with the title Right Reverend Monsignor by Pope Pius XII in 1949. As canonical adviser to the archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal (Sir) Norman Gilroy, he accompanied him on visits to Japan in 1949, India in 1950 and 1952, and the Philippines in 1953. He was consecrated auxiliary bishop of Sydney and titular bishop of Atenia on 24 February 1954. Pope Paul VI elevated him to titular archbishop of Amaseia and auxiliary archbishop of Sydney on 15 October 1965.

On his elevation as an auxiliary bishop, the Catholic Weekly described Carroll as ‘probably Australia’s leading authority on Canon Law,’ and as the originator, at Enmore, of ‘one of the most modern kindergartens in the State’ (1954, 5). Gilroy immediately appointed him to the Archdiocesan Education Board and entrusted him with securing the future of Catholic schooling at a time of rapid population growth and unprecedented financial pressure. Carroll quickly realised this required a reorganisation of Catholic schools in Sydney, with religious orders committing to lifting the standard of their work, and some form of government assistance, especially towards the payment of salaries for increasing numbers of lay teachers. Most of the rest of his working life was devoted to these two tasks.

At the same time, Gilroy had Carroll replace the auxiliary Bishop Patrick Lyons as episcopal leader in Sydney of the Catholic Social Studies Movement (the ‘Movement’), formed to counter communist influence in the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the unions. Unlike in Melbourne, where exposure of the Movement’s activities was a major cause of a split in the ALP and the formation of a new Democratic Labor Party, Gilroy and Carroll took the position that members should stay in the New South Wales Labor Party and fight from within. They felt the Movement’s time had passed, with its essential aim already achieved. Carroll was especially clear that the Movement must be under episcopal direction if it were to remain a Catholic organisation. The bishops enjoyed good relations with the Catholics who dominated the ALP State cabinet and caucus, and Carroll feared that one likely consequence of the split in the party outside New South Wales would be to put at risk its then permissive state aid policy.

In 1957 the Federal ALP conference amended the party platform to disallow aid to non-government schools, requiring Carroll and the New South Wales government to tread more warily. In 1957 and 1958 he began informal discussions with the attorney-general, Reg Downing, and the education minister, Bob Heffron, who both supported state aid. With the approval of both Gilroy and Premier Joe Cahill, Carroll’s meetings expanded to include the ministers Jack Renshaw and Pat Hills, and the secretary of the State ALP, Bill Colbourne. Carroll developed an approach of building bipartisan political support and avoiding public agitation.

With Gilroy, Carroll worked to reorganise Catholic secondary schools in Sydney. Their 1962 report demonstrated their intention to make Catholic schooling more rational, higher in quality, and more cost-efficient. In negotiations with the State government they had been developing both a systematic program for political support and a coherent philosophical position to underpin their case. The latter was articulated in Carroll’s Independent Schools in a Free Society: The Contemporary Pattern of Education in Australia ([1962]). On 10 September he and Gilroy presented a five-point plan for financial aid to Heffron, by then the premier.

It was agreed to begin small with scholarships and grants for science laboratories. The decision was made for the 1963–64 State budget, only to be blocked by the ALP’s Federal executive. These two planks of the Gilroy-Carroll platform were more or less implemented nationally by Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies in 1964. In May 1965 the Liberal (Sir) Robert Askin was elected premier with a positive aid policy, beginning with payment of interest subsidy on loans for school buildings. The relationship that developed between Askin and Carroll proved very beneficial for Catholic schools, with the first recurrent grants from 1968.

In 1967 the Australian bishops established the Federal Catholic Schools Committee to oversee the campaign for improved aid and appointed Carroll chairman; he also chaired the parallel State Catholic Schools Committee. From 1967 to 1970 he, increasingly in conjunction with Fr Frank Martin (from 1970 the director of the Catholic Education Office in Melbourne), met regularly with the Commonwealth minister of education and science, Malcolm Fraser, and the leader of the Opposition, Gough Whitlam. A Federal system of recurrent grants was implemented in 1969, to commence in 1970.

Carroll was always concerned that public demonstrations of Catholic muscle, as advocated by the Australian Parents Council, might provoke hostile responses and prejudice the cause he had been advancing. After rowdy protests outside Sydney Town Hall in June 1969, he considered it time to change tactics. When he announced on 12 November 1972 that the policies of both parties were acceptable to Catholic schools and parents he was quickly contradicted by the APC and some fellow bishops. However, he had helped shape the policy of both parties, and he was aware that a Labor victory was likely in the forthcoming Federal election, meaning he would shortly have to work with a Whitlam government.

Following the 1972 election, Whitlam established the Australian Schools Commission, providing Commonwealth support for all schools based on their assessed needs. Each State formed a Catholic Education Commission to receive, spend, and account for the substantial funding now being paid. The New South Wales bishops made Carroll chairman of the Catholic Education Commission, New South Wales (CECNSW), a position he occupied from 1975 to 1985. Meanwhile, the quickly escalating financial aid was threatened by a protracted case in the High Court of Australia challenging the constitutionality of Commonwealth grants. Carroll joined with Martin as the fulcrum of the defence for the churches. During the term of the Fraser government (1975–83) he liaised with the successive ministers for education (Sir) John Carrick and Wal Fife on policy development. In 1977 he was appointed CMG. Following the election of another ALP government in 1983, he met with the new minister of education, Susan Ryan, several times.

Carroll’s other preoccupation from the 1960s to the 1980s, which he saw as integral to the development of Catholic schooling, was teacher education. By October 1968 he had developed a proposal to build a new Catholic Teachers College in Sydney. This soon became an idea for a single Catholic College of Advanced Education for the eastern States, intended to incorporate theological and religious education as well as teacher education. He was closely involved in the 1982 amalgamation of colleges in Sydney to form the Catholic College of Education Sydney, which was followed in 1991 by the establishment of the Australian Catholic University (ACU).

Quietly spoken and naturally gentle, Carroll avoided publicity. Even his ideological and political adversaries acknowledged his intellect, grace, and humility. He rarely took any form of holiday, but every year scheduled time to watch football and cricket matches at the Sydney Cricket Ground, and to attend performances of opera and ballet. He also liked to swim, preferably at Nielsen Park when least crowded. Often considered a loner, he was in reality a consummate networker, with a much-remarked memory for people and their names and a sincere approach to those who dealt with him. He inspired great loyalty in those with whom he worked. Proud of his Irish descent, he enjoyed reconnecting with friends and family in Ireland.

Carroll retired from his role as auxiliary archbishop of Sydney and archdiocesan vicar for education on 23 July 1984. He remained chair of the CECNSW until June 1985, and chair of the Sydney Archdiocesan Catholic Schools Board until 1986, and he continued as parish priest at Woollahra until 1991. After collapsing in his Woollahra presbytery from a stroke, he died on 14 January 1995 at Darlinghurst. His requiem Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, was attended by the governor-general, current and former prime ministers and premiers, ministers for education, and other community leaders, as well as by lay teachers and students from the Sydney Catholic schools whose future he had done so much to secure. He was buried in Botany cemetery, Matraville. His memory lives on in ACU’s James Carroll Building at North Sydney (opened in 1988), and the James Carroll scholarships from the Catholic Education Office, Sydney.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Catholic Weekly. ‘New Bishop Elect Is Distinguished Canonist.’ 5 February 1954, 5
  • Catholic Schools NSW Ltd. Minutes and papers, Catholic Education Commission NSW
  • Catholic Schools NSW Ltd. NSW and Federal Catholic Schools Committee
  • Catholic Schools NSW Ltd. Catholic Education Board
  • Croke, Brian. ‘Archbishop James Carroll and Australian Education.’ Victor J. Couch lecture, Australian Catholic University, Sydney, 1997
  • Croke, Brian. ‘Prelates and Politics: The Carroll Style.’ Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society 22 (2001): 31–45
  • Hogan, Michael Charles. The Catholic Campaign for State Aid: A Study of a Pressure Group Campaign in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, 1950–1972. Sydney: Catholic Theological Faculty, 1978
  • Luttrell, John. Norman Thomas Gilroy: An Obedient Life. Strathfield, NSW: St Pauls Publications, 2017
  • Personal knowledge of ADB subject
  • St Mary’s Cathedral Archives, Sydney. Carroll Papers
  • Wilkinson, Ian R., Brian J. Caldwell, R. J. W. Selleck, Jessica Harris, and Pam Dettman. A History of State Aid to Non-government Schools in Australia. Canberra: Department of Education, Science and Training, 2007

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Citation details

Brian Croke, 'Carroll, James Patrick (1908–1995)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/carroll-james-patrick-28122/text35834, published online 2020, accessed online 21 September 2020.

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