Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Maas, Christianus Leonardus (Leo) (1911–1973)

by Henk Overberg

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Christianus Maas, c.1972

Christianus Maas, c.1972

photo supplied by Wim Verbakel

Christianus Leonardus Maria (Leo) Maas (1911-1973), Catholic priest, was born on 24 December 1911 at Helmond, the Netherlands, fourth of seven children of Petrus Hubertus Maas, textile worker, and his wife Petronella Maria, née Bombay, both devout Catholics. Leo was educated at the Canisius and Hogere Burger schools, and the seminary of St Willibrord, Uden. In 1931 he began his novitiate at St Franciscus Seminary of the Society of the Divine Word, Teteringen. He was ordained priest on 22 August 1937. Commissioned as a missionary priest on 31 July 1938, he reached the island of Flores, Netherlands East Indies (Indonesia), in December. On 15 July 1942 he was captured by the Japanese and later interned as a prisoner of war at Pare, Celebes (Sulawesi).

Following his release in November 1945, Maas spent seven months recuperating in Melbourne before returning to the Netherlands. On 11 December 1948 he was again posted to Flores. While in transit in Melbourne, he was persuaded by Archbishop Mannix and Arthur Calwell to remain as migrant chaplain to the growing Dutch Catholic community in Victoria.

Despite his frail health, Maas unleashed astonishing energy and activity in Melbourne, although he retained his longing for Indonesia, which he never saw again. He encouraged Dutch immigrants to come to Australia, providing them with initial accommodation. In 1950 he bought a large house at Kew which he converted into a reception hostel for young, single male immigrants (about 3000 men passed through the hostel before it closed in 1973). In 1951 he devised a scheme to bring out some 300 migrant farmers and their families, and place them as share-farmers throughout Victoria. Next year he converted an old boarding house, The Gables, at Daylesford into a reception centre and proceeded to sponsor the emigration of a further 278 Dutch families between 1952 and 1958.

Pastoral care of Dutch settlers constituted a further aspect of Maas's activities. He clearly understood that successful settlement was best based on continuing the old patterns of life. To be able to celebrate Christmas in the accustomed Dutch manner, he formed a church-choir which became the St Gregorius Dutch Male Choir in November 1952. Maas founded (1949) a monthly newsletter, Onze Gids, and established (1952) the Catholic Dutch Migrant Association. He encouraged it to set up Providence Hostel, a home for abandoned children, at Bacchus Marsh in 1957. In the late 1960s Maas raised the issue of an ageing community; by the time of his death Providence Hostel was changing from a child-care to an elderly-care complex.

Known as an expert on settlement, both within Australia and abroad, Maas was appointed to the Order of Oranje-Nassau on 30 April 1955. Among his fellow countrymen in Australia he became a folk-hero. No theologian, but a practical man, he was more at home begging for money than with the niceties of theological debate. Nevertheless, the Catholic aggiornamento of the 1960s, in which his Dutch colleagues took such a leading part, affected him deeply, and he repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with the conservatism of the Australian Catholic Church in his annual reports to his order.

Taciturn and persistent, Maas was inclined to keep his own counsel and only lowered his guard with his confrères in the Netherlands. He died of cerebrovascular disease on 8 July 1973 in St Vincent's Hospital, Fitzroy, and was buried in Melbourne general cemetery. The Dutch national anthem was sung at his requiem Mass celebrated at St Patrick's Cathedral.

Select Bibliography

  • T. van der Meel, Geschreven Portretten van Nederlandse Emigrantenpriesters in Australië (The Hague, 1994)
  • Onze Gids, 1950
  • Society of the Divine Word, Annual Report, 1961, 1963, 1968
  • Dutch Societies Courier, Aug 1973
  • correspondence between C. L. M. Maas and his sister, 1935-73 (privately held).

Citation details

Henk Overberg, 'Maas, Christianus Leonardus (Leo) (1911–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/maas-christianus-leonardus-leo-10885/text19327, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 1 October 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2016

Christianus Maas, c.1972

Christianus Maas, c.1972

photo supplied by Wim Verbakel