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Johnston, Henry Aloysius (1888–1986)

by J. Eddy

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

Henry Aloysius Johnston (1888-1986), Jesuit priest and seminary rector, was born on 17 October 1888 at Downpatrick, Northern Ireland, son of Henry Johnston, clerk, and his wife Kate, née Woods. A younger brother also became a Jesuit. Henry was educated at Mungret College, Limerick, and entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus at Tullabeg College in 1906. He studied at the Royal (National after 1909) University of Ireland (BA, 1910; MA, 1912), gaining first-class honours in ancient classics in his masterate while also teaching at St Stanislaus College, Tullamore (1910-11). In 1912-14 he taught at Clongowes Wood College, Kildare. After reading philosophy at St Mary’s Hall, Stonyhurst, England (1914-16), he returned to Ireland to teach at Tullabeg (1916-18) and then studied theology at Milltown Park, where he was ordained priest on 24 October 1920. Back at Tullabeg, in 1922 he completed a doctorate in theology for the Gregorian University, Rome, although the degree was not conferred until 1963.

Responding to a call from Corpus Christi College, the recently established seminary at Werribee, in 1923 Johnston travelled to Victoria, and, after teaching at Xavier College, Melbourne, took up his appointment in 1925. Essentially a professor of philosophy, he also taught liturgy and music, and on occasion scripture and moral theology. In 1930 he became rector of the college, remaining so until 1947. Almost four hundred student priests came under his influence. Noted for his professional poise, practical equanimity and unshakeable self-confidence, he was a rigid, seemingly aloof disciplinarian: he treated all students alike and set an example of impeccable priestly behaviour. Industrious and orderly, without being pettifogging, he had a passion for detailed knowledge and accuracy.

The years at Werribee were the highlight of Johnston’s life in Australia, but his work extended beyond them. He taught (1949-53) at Canisius College, Pymble, Sydney, and then served as parish priest and superior (1954-56) at St Mary’s, North Sydney. In 1957 and again in 1961 he was tertian instructor at Sevenhill College, Clare, South Australia, and between those appointments taught Greek, Latin and history at Loyola College, Watsonia, Melbourne. From 1962 to 1966 he served as parish priest and superior at Immaculate Conception Church, Hawthorn. After further stints of teaching at Werribee (1967-70) and Watsonia (1970-73), he worked (1974) with the Marist Brothers at Campion College, Kew. He spent 1975-77 at the provincial’s residence, Hawthorn, before returning to St Mary’s (1978-82) as chaplain to the nearby Josephite Sisters.

Incisive of mind and tenacious of purpose, Johnston was a formidable Irish gentleman, scholar and cleric. A passion for knowledge and accuracy also informed his work as a polemicist, a writer of apologetic tracts, and a radio personality. His somewhat steely smile and halo of tightly curled white hair gave him a special aura. He maintained an iceberg calm and relentless logic at all times. Yet, although he appeared reserved, even cold, he could be counted on for sympathetic advice. He had a respect for individuality, if within strictly defined boundaries. His popular publications included Plain Talks on the Catholic Religion (1936), A Critic Looks at the Catholic Church (1944) and A Seed That Grew (1956), a history of North Sydney parish. Father Henry Johnston died on 4 September 1986 at Kew and was buried in Boroondara cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Corpus Christi, no 1, 1962, p 46, no 2, 1967, p 163, no 3, 1974, p 25
  • Jesuit Life, no 22, 1986, p 27
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Citation details

J. Eddy, 'Johnston, Henry Aloysius (1888–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/johnston-henry-aloysius-12703/text22903, published in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 1 October 2014.

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

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