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Thompson, John Christopher (1893–1958)

by Brian Maher

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

John Christopher Thompson (1893-1958), Catholic priest and educationist, was born on 1 June 1893 at Drumcondra, Dublin, son of James Thompson, saddler, and his wife Mary Jane, née Clery. Educated at the Christian Brothers' O'Connell School in Richmond Street, St Vincent's College, Castleknock, and University College, Dublin (B.A. Hons, 1913; M.A., 1922, National University of Ireland), John began his novitiate in the community of the Vincentian priests on 19 October 1913 and was ordained priest on 16 March 1919 at Holy Cross College, Clonliffe. Following a short period at Castleknock, he taught philosophy at the Irish College, Paris. In 1922 he became lecturer in English and history at St Mary's College, Hammersmith, London (relocated at Strawberry Hill, Twickenham, from 1923); the college became the exemplary teacher-training establishment for the Catholic Church in England. He also obtained a diploma in education (1929) from the University of Oxford.

In June 1929 Thompson was appointed the first director of Catholic education in New South Wales. The creation of the post was largely due to Dr Michael Sheehan, the coadjutor archbishop, who had eventually convinced Archbishop Michael Kelly and other bishops of a crisis in educational standards. After visiting France and Germany to review teaching methods, Thompson arrived in Sydney in late November. He never returned to Britain or Ireland. In March 1930 he was appointed to the additional post of resident vice-rector at St John's College, University of Sydney, under Maurice O'Reilly; he was to become rector on O'Reilly's death in 1933.

Catholic schools were staffed mainly by nuns and brothers, whose formal teacher-training was brief, perfunctory and uncoordinated. Thompson consulted bishops, clergy, religious superiors and school principals. He developed training courses, examinations and texts, insofar as his limited resources permitted. The Catholic community, emerging from the Depression, had little to offer. C. J. Duffy, his successor, said that Thompson had no office, no staff and no finance. He attended State and national conferences, pressing the need for a liberal, as distinct from a specialist, education. In 1946 he vigorously opposed C. E. Martin's proposal that there should be a 'core curriculum' of compulsory subjects. By the 1950s, when the religious Orders had, with Thompson's encouragement, improved the quality of their teachers, and a strong diocesan administration of education had emerged, his role gradually diminished.

As rector of St John's College, Thompson was well respected, but he was extremely shy in contrast to his fiery predecessor. He was spiritual director to the Sydney University Newman Society as well as to the superior council of the Society of St Vincent de Paul in Australia. In 1940 he had been a foundation councillor of the Australian Catholic Historical Society. Despite his reserve and gentle demeanour, he was an able controversialist. He jousted with Professor John Anderson with voice and pen, conducted weekly sessions on Catholic doctrine on radio-station 2UE (and later 2SM), and published articles, including a treatise on medical and legal ethics.

For some years Thompson suffered from heart disease. He died of a coronary occlusion on 6 June 1958 at Rockhampton, Queensland, and was buried in Rookwood cemetery, Sydney. William Pidgeon's portrait of Fr Thompson is held by St John's College.

Select Bibliography

  • Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society, 7, no 1, 1981, p 28
  • Catholic Weekly (Sydney), 12 June, 11 Sept 1958
  • Vincentian Provincial Office archives, Raheny, Dublin.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Brian Maher, 'Thompson, John Christopher (1893–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/thompson-john-christopher-11848/text21207, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 23 December 2014.

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

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