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Steele, Owen Beevor (1898–1981)

by Denis Martin

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Owen Beevor Steele (1898-1981), monsignor, was born on 30 August 1898 at Gympie, Queensland, fourth of six surviving children of Jersey-born Charles Beevor Steele, a mining surveyor, and his Queensland-born wife Mary Frances, née Tymons.  His father was a direct descendant of Sir Thomas More, chancellor to Henry VIII; the family tree included Fr William Ullathorne and the English naturalist Charles Waterton (1782-1865).  Owen’s education began at Gympie convent school, followed by secondary education at De La Salle College, Armidale, New South Wales (1912-15), and the Central Technical College, Brisbane (1915), with private tutoring in Latin.  Attracted to the Catholic priesthood, he entered St Columba’s Seminary, Springwood, New South Wales, in 1916 and transferred to St Patrick’s College, Manly, in 1917.  He was ordained priest for the archdiocese of Brisbane in St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, on 30 November 1921.

Early the following year Steele was appointed curate in the parish of Beaudesert.  Three years later he became priest of a new parish, St Sebastian’s, in the Brisbane suburb of Yeronga.  Initially he used a house as both Mass centre and residence but set about building a church and a school, a challenge during the Depression when the weekly collection averaged £2 10s.  Foundation stones for the church and the school were eventually laid by Archbishop Duhig on 11 October 1936.  In 1938 Steele represented the Catholic Leader (Brisbane) at the International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest, visiting Jerusalem on the way.

When World War II broke out in September 1939, Steele immediately volunteered for service in the Australian Imperial Force.  His elder brother, Alan, was a regular army officer, who rose to the rank of major general.  Fr Steele was appointed a chaplain, fourth class, on 13 November 1939.  He served in England in 1940 and on the staff of the 9th Division in the Middle East in 1941-43.  For his work during the siege of Tobruk, Libya (1941), and in the fighting in North Africa culminating in the battle of El Alamein, Egypt (1942), he was twice mentioned in despatches.  From May 1943 he was a senior chaplain in the Queensland Lines of Communication Area.  He transferred to the Retired List on 31 December 1943.  In 1958 he was appointed MBE for his continued involvement with the welfare of ex-servicemen, especially the survivors of Tobruk.

Returning to Beaudesert as parish priest after his war service, Steele began developing the parish.  In 1949 he was elevated to the rank of domestic prelate, with the title of monsignor.  Beaudesert’s first public swimming pool was built on church land and in 1953 St Joseph’s Tobruk Memorial School was established at Beenleigh.  Assisted by two curates, Steele oversaw growth of the parish; on Sundays the three men celebrated three masses each in churches across the Logan area.

Steele had been inspired by the movie Boys Town (1938) in which Fr Flanagan (Spencer Tracy) of Omaha, Nebraska, had guided many boys through difficult times.  When the property, Beauparc, on the outskirts of Beaudesert, came up for sale in 1959, he purchased it with government assistance.  Boys Town, with accommodation for eighty-four boys under the care of the De La Salle Brothers, was opened two years later.  Reviewing his achievements later in life, Steele said 'nothing has given me greater satisfaction than to see Boys Town become a reality, offering a new chance in life to hundreds of boys who have had a rough or tough start'.

Short of stature but with something of an air of self-importance, the 'Mons' was held in high esteem by all who knew him, his parishioners above all.  They appreciated his impish humour, his talent for story telling, and his infallible memory for names and details.  Socially he mixed easily outside church circles, including at the local race club and cattle sales.  He grazed his own cattle on a property out of town.

In 1975 Steele retired, having worked with twenty curates in his thirty-two years as parish priest of Beaudesert.  He spent the next four years living in a cottage in the grounds of the La Salle Youth Centre at Southport.  In September 1979 he moved to Canossa Private Hospital, Oxley.  His autobiography, Altars & Artillery (1980), was published with assistance from Bill Boyan and Ian Pedley.  In 1980 he was appointed OBE.  Monsignor Steele died on 24 July 1981 at Oxley and was buried in Nudgee cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, vol 20, no 2, May 2007
  • Queensland Times, 27 May 1980, p 7
  • Gold Coast Bulletin, 28 May 1980, p 24
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 26 July 1980, p 25
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 25 Jul 1981, p 4
  • B883, item QX6074 (National Archives of Australia)
  • Steele papers (Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane Archives Office).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Denis Martin, 'Steele, Owen Beevor (1898–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/steele-owen-beevor-15521/text26733, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 20 July 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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