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William Joseph (Bill) Daniel (1930–1994)

by David Strong

This article was published:

William Joseph Daniel (1930–1994), Jesuit priest, theologian, and teacher, was born on 26 April 1930 in Melbourne, second of four children of Thomas Francis Daniel, public servant, and his wife Eileen Catherine, née Mooney. His father, who had been dux of Assumption College, Kilmore, was a clerk in the Department of Defence; he transferred from Melbourne to Sydney by 1934. Bill attended Brigidine Convent, Randwick (1935–36), St Patrick’s College, Strathfield (1937–41), and St Ignatius’ College, Riverview, Sydney (1942–46). He entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus on l February 1947 at Loyola College, Watsonia, Victoria.

Daniel began his seventeen years of training with two years study of Jesuit spirituality, after which he took initial vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Then followed studies of philosophy at Loyola College (1950–52), and of Latin, Greek, and French at the University of Melbourne (BA, 1957; MA, 1958). Graduating with first-class honours, he studied Homeric religion for his master’s degree, while teaching Greek at Loyola College, and tutoring in Latin at the university.

As a break from his studies, Daniel had spent 1953 teaching at St Ignatius' College and in 1958 he was at St Louis School, Claremont, Perth, where he was sports master, teacher of Latin and religion, and director of a religious group for junior students. He then studied theology (1959–62) at Canisius College, Pymble, Sydney, and was ordained by Cardinal (Sir) Norman Gilroy on 3 January 1962 at St Mary’s Church, North Sydney. In 1963 Daniel taught Latin and spiritualty at Corpus Christi College, Werribee, Victoria, before undertaking his last year of spiritual training at Münster, Germany. He took his final vows on 2 February 1965.

Pursuing postgraduate studies in moral theology (1965–66) at the Gregorian University, Rome, Daniel wrote a doctoral thesis, published in 1968, on ‘The Purely Penal Law Theory in Spanish Theologians from Vitoria to Suárez.’ He returned to Canisius College in 1967 to teach moral theology. In 1969 the Jesuit theologate moved to Melbourne, where for the rest of his life Daniel taught at the Jesuit Theological College, Parkville, which was a constituent college of the ecumenical United Faculty of Theology. He also lectured at the Catholic Theological College, East Melbourne, and the Yarra Theological Union, Box Hill. He was elected to represent the Australian province at the Jesuits’ 32nd General Congregation (1974–75), and from 1984 to 1990 was superior of the provincial residence at Hawthorn.

Daniel was a founding member of the Catholic Moral Theology Association of Australia and New Zealand that began in the 1970s. In the last decade of his life, he contributed regularly to theological journals including the Australasian Catholic Record, Compass Theology Review, and Pacifica, writing essays on in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), abortion, AIDS, marriage and divorce, priorities in health care, trade unions, and the 1987 Vatican instruction Donum Vitae, which outlined the Roman Catholic Church’s position on biomedical issues. Several books featured chapters by Daniel, including Test Tube Babies (1982), in which he defended a church position on IVF, and Making Our Peace (1987), which included his essay ‘Christians and War: The Just War in the Nuclear Age.’ He discussed Aboriginal land rights and Catholic social teaching in Finding Common Ground (1985), while his final publication was an essay on Aboriginal self-determination in Reconciling Our Differences: A Christian Approach to Recognising Aboriginal Land Rights (1992). His interest in Aboriginal rights was reflected in his membership (1978–82) of the Federal government’s Uranium Advisory Council, which was created after the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry (1976–77).

Writing clearly and economically, Daniel related the Catholic tradition of moral theology to modern scholarship and contributed to the emerging field of bioethics. For instance, he argued that the case against IVF should be based on the need to revere parents as procreators, rather than the need for the dignified care of embryos. He based his argument on previous church doctrine, especially on Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae (1968) and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s ‘Declaration on Procured Abortion’ (1974), and he was critical of Donum Vitae.

As a person Daniel was intelligent, cultured, and humane. A man of deep rather than numerous friendships, he was a strong rather than a light-hearted, easygoing presence. He tended to drive people rather than to lead, while his reserved, formal, even pompous manner did not encourage closeness. As a teacher, he encouraged considering all perspectives on a matter before taking up a position. For a quarter of a century he was one of Australia’s leading moral theologians and was widely consulted on matters of medical ethics and social justice. For his last sabbatical in 1991, he worked among the poor in Santiago, Chile, and for the Jesuit Refugee Service in Bangkok, Thailand. Diagnosed with terminal cancer in October 1992, he continued teaching while receiving treatment. He died on 23 October 1994 at the Freemasons Hospital, East Melbourne, and was buried in the Boroondara cemetery.

Research edited by Samuel Furphy

Select Bibliography

  • Begley, John. ‘William Joseph Daniel (1930–1994).’ Jesuit Life, no. 45 (April 1995): 4–10. Jesuit Province Archives, Hawthorn, Melbourne. Copy held on ADB file
  • Byrne, Brendan. ‘William Daniel.’ Jesuit Life, no. 45 (April 1995): 1–3. Jesuit Province Archives, Hawthorn, Melbourne. Copy held on ADB file
  • Jesuit Province Archives. Summarium Vitae Defuntorum. Father William Daniel, S.J
  • McGirr, Michael. ‘In Memoriam, William Joseph Daniel SJ, 1930-1994.’ Eureka Street, November 1994: 4
  • Pacifica: Australian Theological Studies. ‘William Daniel SJ.’ 7, no. 3 (October 1994): 324
  • Strong, David. The Australian Dictionary of Jesuit Biography, 1848–1998. Sydney: Halstead Press, 1999, 78–79

Citation details

David Strong, 'Daniel, William Joseph (Bill) (1930–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2018, accessed online 30 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

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