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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Meany, James (1879–1953)

by Bridget Griffen-Foley

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

James Meany (1879-1953), Catholic priest, was born on 17 May 1879 at Knockasnuff, Blarney, County Cork, Ireland, son of John Meany, farmer and publican, and his wife Margaret, née Cronin. Educated at the National School, Blarney, Presentation Brothers' College, Cork, and St Colman's College, Fermoy, James was ordained at All Hallows' College, Dublin, on 24 June 1904.

Arriving in Sydney in November that year, Meany was a curate at parishes at Leichhardt and Concord and then at St Mary's Cathedral. Quiet, practical and hard working, he was appointed diocesan inspector of schools in 1910. In his diplomatic but insistent annual reports, he urged schools to ensure that pupils completed their primary education by the age of 14 so that they would be free to attend secondary school, and emphasized the need for more boys' schools and male religious teachers.

In 1919 Meany became parish priest at Drummoyne, a position he retained until his death. Commissioned to build a new church, he promised 'give me but a few weeks and I'll get matters going'. Archbishop Michael Kelly appointed him a parish priest consultor and diocesan assessor in 1920 and a member of the advisory committee (later chairman) of Sancta Sophia College, within the University of Sydney, in 1925. Meany retained a personal interest in the students, even helping them in their choice of songs for musicals.

Meany attended the International Eucharistic Congress at Chicago, United States of America, in 1926 as he was secretary of the organizing committee for the 1928 congress, to be held in Sydney. In 1927 he began renting time on radio 2UE to publicize the congress and to allow Rev. Dr Leslie Rumble to broadcast on Sundays explaining Catholic doctrine. Meany raised the finances to allow Kelly to form the Catholic Broadcasting Co. Ltd, which obtained a licence for radio 2SM in 1931. The station broadcast sessions on the doctrine and history of the Church, special religious events, appeals for charities and Rumble's popular 'question box'. Becoming managing director, Meany liaised with the postmaster-general, co-ordinated charity drives and ran the extended Good Friday and Christmas Day sessions. Kelly was impressed by the station's efficiency; in 1946 it earned a net profit of £4015.

In 1929 Meany had been created a domestic prelate with the title of monsignor. Appointed a director of the Catholic Press in 1935, he found the paper moribund and in 1942 oversaw its amalgamation with the Freeman's Journal to create the Catholic Weekly, the official organ of the Sydney diocese. In 1949 he became chairman of the Catholic Press Newspaper Co. Edited by James Kelleher, the Catholic Weekly was a modern, pictorial tabloid, featuring local and international news, statements from Cardinal (Sir) Norman Gilroy, and pages for women and children. It campaigned for state aid for Catholic schools and implacably opposed communism. By 1950 sales had doubled compared with the combined circulation of the weekly's predecessors.

Constantly called upon to fulfil administrative roles, Monsignor Meany was chancellor of the archdiocese in 1937-44 and a diocesan consultor from 1942. He was a scratch golfer. On its formation in 1939 he accepted the presidency of St Michael's Golf Club, Little Bay, then helped to put the club on a sound financial footing. In 1941 he was appointed chaplain of the Catholic Club and subsequently joined the board of the Catholic Club Land & Building Co. He also attended screenings at the Commonwealth Film Censor's Office and represented Catholic schools on the National Fitness Council and the Repatriation Department's Soldiers' Children's Education Board.

A courteous and dignified man who won the devotion of all who worked under him, Meany had to relinquish some duties in the late 1940s as his health was failing. Nevertheless, about 1950 Gilroy asked him to help to conduct a secret investigation into the activities of the Catholic Social Studies Movement. When his doctor advised him to take a six-month break in 1951, Meany remained on the boards of radio 2SM and the Catholic Weekly.

'To me God is a pure spirit, incorporeal, but try as I may I fail to conceive the immaterial without in some way giving it material form', Meany had explained in 1936. However, he came to feel some ambivalence about his secular responsibilities. In 1950 he suggested to Gilroy that monsignori should wear their robes at all times; he was a poor example and 'the worst offender', having convinced himself that in the hurly burly of his commercial work 'the purple' was an embarrassment to others.

On 23 June 1953 Meany died in his radio 2SM office, Sydney. After a requiem mass—presided over by Gilroy and broadcast on 2SM—at St Mark's, Drummoyne, the church he had built, Meany was buried in Rookwood cemetery. His estate, sworn for probate at £12,372, was left largely for Catholic school children at Drummoyne.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Duncan, Crusade or Conspiracy? (Syd, 2001)
  • Freeman’s Journal (Sydney), 6 Nov 1919, p 22
  • Catholic Weekly (Sydney), 5 Mar 1942, p 4, 29 June 1950, p 3, 25 June 1953, p 1
  • 2 July 1953, pp 7 & 24, 8 Oct 2000, p 14
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 5 Apr 1940, p 1
  • Newspaper News, 1 July 1953, p 28
  • Meany file (Sydney Catholic Archdiocesan Archives)
  • Australian Broadcasting Control Board, MP 522/1, 2SM (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Bridget Griffen-Foley, 'Meany, James (1879–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 24 November 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

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