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Kerle, Ronald Clive (Clive) (1915–1997)

by Stuart Piggin

This article was published online in 2022

Ronald Clive Kerle (1915–1997), Anglican bishop, was born on 28 December 1915 at Chatswood, New South Wales, second of four children of New South Wales-born parents William Alfred Ronald Kerle, engineer, and his wife Isabel Ada, née Turner. Clive was educated at North Sydney Boys’ High School and, after his family moved there in 1932, Wagga Wagga High School. There, he and his family attended the Presbyterian church, which they preferred to the local Anglican parish, and he became assistant to its minister. He trained for the Anglican ministry at Moore Theological College (ThL, 1937), Sydney, under T. C. Hammond; in 1937 he was senior student. At the University of Sydney (BA, 1942), he was a member of the Evangelical Union. Ordained deacon in 1939, he was priested in 1940. On 14 December that year at St Paul’s Church of England, Chatswood, he married Sydney-born Helen Marshall Jackson. She would become a regular speaker at the Australian Christian Women’s Convention, which was launched in 1959 and which trained hundreds of women in service to the church and community, a forerunner to the feminist initiatives of later decades.

Kerle served in curacies at St Paul’s, Sydney, and St Anne’s, Ryde, before becoming rector of Kangaroo Valley (1941–43) and then Port Kembla (1943–47). On 1 May 1945 he was appointed as a chaplain in the Australian Imperial Force for service in World War II. He ministered to troops in units of the 9th Division on Labuan, British Straits Settlements (Malaysia), from June, and of the 11th Division at Rabaul, New Britain, from January 1946. Back in Australia, he transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 14 June. In 1947 he was appointed general secretary of the New South Wales branch of the Church Missionary Society, leaving that role to become rector of Summer Hill, Sydney, (1954–57) and archdeacon of Cumberland (1954–59).

At the age of forty Kerle was consecrated bishop coadjutor of Sydney on 1 May 1956 by Archbishop Howard Mowll, who considered him ‘a very capable young Australian’ (Dudley-Smith 1999, 321). Kerle’s friend and fellow bishop Marcus Loane later wrote that ‘events in the next two years more than justified his appointment’ (1988, 46). He bore a heavy workload, especially following the death of the archbishop’s wife in December 1957. Although an uncompromising Evangelical, he was able to put people at ease, and he also had the common touch, writing newspaper columns for the Sydney Morning Herald. Popular with the laity, in 1958 he was one of four candidates shortlisted for election as archbishop of Sydney, but he was considered too young and inexperienced. In 1959 and 1967 he chaired the Sydney executive committee of the Billy Graham crusades. He was awed at the first of these: ‘Never again will I doubt that the Gospel is the power of God … nor that men’s lives can be changed through the foolishness of preaching’ (Cameron 2016, 88). In 1960 he became foundation chairman of the New University Colleges Council, which had New College built at the University of New South Wales.

On 22 September 1964 Kerle was elected bishop of Armidale. With only one-third of synod voters recognisably Evangelical, it had not been considered possible that an Evangelical could be elected. But he was appreciated for his warmth and revered for his ‘great heart for the gospel’ (Orpwood 1995, 41). In an exhausted synod, he prevailed over Robert Dann, subsequently archbishop of Melbourne. Unhappy High Church synodsmen feared that Kerle would not wear a cope if elected bishop. At his installation, he did not, and all the cathedral chapter did by way of protest.

The bitterness did not quickly abate, but Kerle was patient and, while he was careful never to appoint a clergyman with whom parishioners did not believe they could work, he did engage younger, Evangelical clergy wherever he could. Through his unfailing courtesy and humility, and with the assistance of the hospitable Helen, he won the affection of clergy and laity alike. A man of the people, he got out among them, strategising on how to meet their needs in remote places. Especially where stipendiary ministers could no longer be afforded, he persuaded lay people to take a greater role. To equip them for ministry, he promoted Theological Education by Extension. He supported the ministry of women, and throughout the diocese promoted the study of the Bible. By the end of his episcopate the diocese had changed from one that was Anglo-Catholic at its core to an Evangelical satellite of the diocese of Sydney.

In 1976 Kerle resigned to become rector of St Swithun’s, Pymble, Sydney, as pastoral work was his greatest love. His tenure there came to be known as the parish’s ‘Golden Age’ (Cameron 2001, 146). From 1975 to 1980 he was also a vice-president of the United Bible Societies. He retired in 1982, moving to the Roden Cutler Retirement Village, Gordon. Survived by his wife and their son and daughter, he died on 5 April 1997 at Leumeah Nursing Home, Castle Hill, and was cremated. Kerle Crescent, in the Anglican Retirement Villages at Castle Hill, was named after him.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Anglican Diocese of Armidale. On Tablelands, Slopes and Plains ‘I Will Build My Church’: A History of the Anglican Diocese of Armidale. Armidale, NSW: Anglican Diocese of Armidale, 2014
  • Blanch, Allan M. From Strength to Strength: A Life of Marcus Loane. North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2015
  • Cameron, Marcia. Living Stones: St Swithun’s Pymble, 1901–2001. Wahroonga, NSW: Helicon Press, 2001
  • Cameron, Marcia. Phenomenal Sydney: Anglicans in a Time of Change, 1945–2013. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2016
  • Dudley-Smith, Timothy. John Stott: The Making of a Leader. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1999
  • Hicks, Lesley. A City on a Hill: A History of St Paul’s Anglican Church, Chatswood. 1901–1991. [Sydney]: St Paul’s Chatswood Parish Council, 1991
  • Judd, Stephen, and Kenneth Cable. Sydney Anglicans: A History of the Diocese. Sydney: Anglican Information Office, 1987
  • Loane, Marcus L. These Happy Warriors: Friends and Contemporaries. Blackwood, SA: New Creation, 1988
  • Murray, James. ‘Pastoral Priest’s Place of Joy.’ Australian, 22 April 1997, 17
  • National Archives of Australia. B883, NX206381
  • Orpwood, Michael. Chappo: For the Sake of the Gospel: John Chapman and the Department of Evangelism. Russell Lea, NSW: Eagleswift Press, 1995
  • Smart, Peter. Funeral sermon for Clive Kerle, 10 April 1997. Copy held on ADB file

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Stuart Piggin, 'Kerle, Ronald Clive (Clive) (1915–1997)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kerle-ronald-clive-clive-31939/text39402, published online 2022, accessed online 4 July 2022.

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