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Arthur Francis Fox (1904–1997)

by Max Vodola

This article was published online in 2021

Arthur Francis Fox (1904–1997), Catholic bishop, was born on 27 August 1904 at East Brunswick, Melbourne, youngest of seven surviving children of Sydney-born William Robert Fox, boot closer, and his Victorian-born wife Mary, née Williams. He was educated by the Sisters of Mercy at Our Lady Help of Christians school, East Brunswick (1911–13), then by the Christian Brothers at Parade College (1914–20) and St Kevin’s College (1921–22), both in East Melbourne. Three of Arthur’s sisters joined the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. In 1923 he entered Corpus Christi College, Werribee, as part of the new seminary’s first intake. A contemporary, Patrick Kelly, later recalled he was ‘slim and oval-faced … neat, dapper, courteous, [and] purposeful’ (Kairos 1997, 6). On 13 July 1930 he was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Daniel Mannix at St Patrick’s Cathedral.

After serving in the parishes of Oakleigh, Coburg, and East St Kilda, Fox was appointed assistant priest at St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1939. Efficient, dutiful, and meticulous, he was appointed by Mannix to a number of senior administrative positions within the archdiocese in 1944, including chancellor, cathedral dean, and private secretary to the archbishop. Mannix had already received episcopal assistance in 1942 when Justin Simonds was transferred from Hobart as coadjutor archbishop with right of succession, but Simonds was effectively excluded from diocesan administration, with Fox taking instructions directly from Mannix. Fox served as vicar general (1946–63), and in 1956 Pope Pius XII appointed him auxiliary bishop to Mannix and titular bishop of Rhinocorura. He was consecrated on 20 January 1957.

A prominent spokesman for the ageing Mannix, Fox was a strong supporter of B. A. Santamaria and the breakaway Democratic Labor Party following the bitter Australian Labor Party split of 1955. On 15 May 1960, two months before a by-election for the Federal seat of Bendigo, Fox publicly declared that a Catholic in good conscience could not vote for the ALP because of its failure to oppose the Communist Party of Australia. It was a particularly stinging attack given that the prominent Melbourne Catholic and Mannix supporter Arthur Calwell had only recently been elected as federal leader of the party.

Following Mannix’s death in 1963, Fox continued as auxiliary bishop under Simonds, but his influence was curtailed. He resided at St Mary’s Star of the Sea, West Melbourne (1963–65), then at Our Lady of Good Counsel, Deepdene (1965–67). He attended some sessions of the Second Vatican Council in Rome (1962–65)—his first visit to Europe—but he had little to contribute to the council’s theological awakening and agenda for renewal and modernisation. As Simonds battled declining health, Fox was delegated to administer the archdiocese in 1966. He publicly supported Australia’s decision to send troops to the Vietnam War and defended conscription.

On 29 November 1967 Pope Paul VI appointed Fox the fifth bishop of Sale, and he was installed at St Mary’s Cathedral on 31 January 1968. He was a diligent pastor and administrator, courteous but always formal with priests, religious, and laity alike. Like other bishops at that time, Fox had to contend with an expanding Catholic education system and the transition of responsibility for teaching and management of schools from religious orders to lay staff. He advocated consistently for government funding of Catholic schools and on 4 April 1979 appeared as a witness in the Defence of Government Schools (DOGS) case before the High Court of Australia, which found that the Commonwealth had the power to fund Catholic schools. Major parish ceremonies and pastoral visitations were opportunities for Fox to speak out strongly against communism, abortion, and artificial contraception.

At the national level, Fox served on numerous committees of the Australian Episcopal Conference such as apostleship of the sea (1959–65), seminaries (1968–70, 1973–78), and development and peace (chairman 1971–78). He retired in 1981 and moved to the Melbourne suburb of Blackburn. In later years he was afflicted by complete blindness. He died on 16 February 1997 at South Blackburn and following a requiem Mass on 20 February was buried in the vault at St Mary’s Cathedral, Sale.

Research edited by Samuel Furphy

Select Bibliography

  • Duncan, Bruce. Crusade or Conspiracy? Catholics and the Anti-Communist Struggle in Australia. Sydney: UNSW Press, 2001
  • Griffin, James. ‘Bishop Infamous for Anti-Labor Sentiments.’ Australian, 7 March 1997, 12
  • Henderson, Gerard. Mr Santamaria and the Bishops. Manly, NSW: St Patrick’s College, 1982
  • Kairos (East Melbourne). ‘A Life Spanning the 20th Century: Bishop Arthur Francis Fox, 1905–1997.’ 9–16 March 1997, 6
  • Melbourne Diocesan Historical Commission. Diocesan Clergy Personal Information Form, Arthur Francis Fox
  • Murphy, Jeffrey J. ‘Romanità Mark II: Australian Bishops at Vatican II (The Second Session: 1963).’ Australasian Catholic Record 79, no. 3 (July 2002): 341–63
  • Noone, Val. Disturbing the War. Richmond, Vic.: Spectrum Publications, 1993
  • Stirling, Alfred. A Distant View of the Vatican. Melbourne: Hawthorn Press, 1975
  • Synan, Terry. A Journey in Faith: A History of Catholic Education in Gippsland 1850–1981. Ringwood, Vic.: David Lovell Publishing, 2003
  • Vodola, Max. Simonds: A Rewarding Life. Melbourne: Catholic Education Office, 1997

Additional Resources

  • profile, Advocate (Melbourne), 19 July 1944, p. 8

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Max Vodola, 'Fox, Arthur Francis (1904–1997)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fox-arthur-francis-31465/text38920, published online 2021, accessed online 25 February 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Birth

27 August, 1904
Brunswick, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Death

16 February, 1997 (aged 92)
South Blackburn, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Education
Occupation
Key Events
Key Places
Political Activism