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Prendiville, Redmond (1900–1968)

by Katharine Massam

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Redmond Prendiville (1900-1968), Catholic archbishop, was born on 11 September 1900 at Wood, parish of Brosna, County Kerry, Ireland, youngest of at least thirteen children of Garrett Prendiville, farmer, and his wife Hannah, née Sullivan. Educated at the local National school and at St Brendan's College, Killarney, Redmond began studies for the priesthood at the seminary of All Hallows College, Dublin, in September 1918, but was expelled for playing cards on the night before a retreat. He studied philosophy and history at University College, Dublin (B.A., 1922, National University of Ireland), and theology at St Peter's College, Wexford (1921-25). Selected for the Kerry Gaelic football team in 1924, he played in the all-Ireland final and was named 'man of the match'. He was ordained priest at St Kieran's College, Kilkenny, on 11 June 1925.

Arriving in Perth on 15 September 1925, Prendiville was appointed to the cathedral parish of St Mary's, with particular responsibility for the church of St Francis Xavier, East Perth, and the working-class area around it. Walking city and suburban streets to visit parishioners replaced football as his main exercise. His reputation for having a 'mighty memory' for names was established in these years. The Catholic Young Ladies' Club—a precursor of the Catholic Action movements of the 1940s and 1950s—doubled its membership under his direction. In 1929 Prendiville was appointed administrator of the cathedral parish. He brought the construction of the cathedral's new sanctuary and transept to a successful close, and managed the opening ceremonies with adroit tact. The old parish hall was converted into offices, and he adopted the strong administrative style that remained his trademark.

On 22 October 1933, after only eight years as a priest, Prendiville was consecrated titular archbishop of Cypsela and coadjutor archbishop of Perth, becoming, reputedly, the youngest archbishop in the Catholic world. The decision to appoint a 'local man' as coadjutor was a popular one, and one affirmed by Archbishop Clune. The new archbishop undertook a busy programme of visitation, observing first-hand and for the first time the realities of life in isolated parishes, and gaining, he remarked in letters, a different appreciation of the activity and comfort of the cathedral presbytery. In 1935 he succeeded Clune as fifth bishop and second archbishop of Perth. He was named bishop assistant at the Papal throne and Count of the Holy Roman Empire in 1958, the year that he welcomed Monsignor (Cardinal) Joseph Cardijn, international founder of the Young Christian Workers, to Perth for the movement's Australian conference.

Between 1933 and 1968 the number of Catholics in Western Australia increased from 80,000 to over 213,000. Prendiville recruited priests who spoke European languages to minister to the spiritual needs of immigrants. He held that Catholics should be able to walk to Sunday Mass in under half an hour: during his episcopacy sixty-one new churches and chapels were built in the Perth archdiocese. Furthermore, by overseeing the construction of 240 new buildings and 54 separate projects to extend existing ones, he earned his title of 'the builder'. He was also responsible for setting up St Thomas More College at the University of Western Australia which was officially opened in 1957.

The archbishop's policy of financial 'self-help' in parishes galvanized the support of the increasingly affluent Catholic population in postwar Western Australia. Institutions were staffed and often separately funded by religious Orders, including the twenty-one new communities invited to Perth during his years in office. In the spirit of the Second Vatican Council (1962-63), he 'ceaselessly encouraged' a network of organizations of Catholic laity, both devotional and activist, and handed over responsibility to priests and people in the parishes. His episcopacy spanned the Depression, World War II, and a period of increasing social and cultural change, both in Australian Catholicism and beyond it. Under the motto, da anima cetera tolle ('nothing else matters except the salvation of souls'), he aimed for, and achieved, a strong institutional framework of specialist Catholic associations to expand traditional activities in the archdiocese.

Prendiville suffered two strokes in 1946 and was frequently admitted to hospital over the ensuing years. His public appearances had to accommodate a partial paralysis in one arm. He suffered an aortic lesion and died of a cerebrovascular accident on 28 June 1968 at St John of God Hospital, Subiaco; following a requiem Mass at St Mary's Cathedral, he was buried in Karrakatta cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • J. T. McMahon, College, Campus, Cloister (Perth, 1969)
  • D. F. Bourke, The History of the Catholic Church in Western Australia (Perth, 1979)
  • West Australian, 29 June 1968
  • West Australian Catholic Record, 4 July 1968
  • Prendiville papers (Archdiocesan Catholic Archives, Perth)
  • private information.

Citation details

Katharine Massam, 'Prendiville, Redmond (1900–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/prendiville-redmond-11453/text20415, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 22 August 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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