Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Charles Mayne (1906–1990)

by John N. Molony

This article was published:

Charles Mayne (1906-1990), Jesuit priest and teacher, was born on 2 September 1906 at Moss Side, Manchester, England, son of William Mayne, clerk, and his wife Norah, née Mulvey. Charlie was reared in Ireland and educated by the Christian Brothers in North Dublin. In 1924 he joined the Society of Jesus and in 1927 ill health prompted him to take a teaching position at St Ignatius College, Riverview, New South Wales. He remained there until returning to Ireland in 1931 to complete his studies. On 24 June 1937 he was ordained a priest.

Voyaging back to Australia in 1939, Mayne taught English to several Jewish refugees, one of whom remained his friend for life. After a further two years at Riverview, in 1942 he was appointed dean of discipline at Corpus Christi College, Werribee, a seminary serving Victoria and Tasmania. From 1947 to 1958 he was rector of the college, although a less likely administrator is difficult to imagine. He was so painfully shy (while also aware of his responsibilities as a disciplinarian) that he habitually averted his eyes when passing students lest he observe them engaged in behaviour judged to be unbecoming in young men destined for the priesthood.

Despite his seeming ineptness, Corpus Christi flourished under Mayne, both at Werribee and following its transfer to Glen Waverley, where he was rector in 1960-68. He was determined to form men who would become good priests, rather than good priests who happened to be men. He trusted students to follow their interests and manage their own engagement with the community; he encouraged laymen and women to address the student body; and he taught seminarians to value the fundamental role of the laity in the Church.

Concerned with social issues, Mayne discussed in Exit Australia (1943) the declining birth rate and proposed practical policies in support of large families. As professor of Catholic Action and moral theology, he advocated the role of small groups in Christianising their environments, but insisted that any involvement in politics by Catholic Action was injurious to the divine mission of the Church. He almost physically abhorred B. A. Santamaria’s Catholic Social Studies Movement.

After retiring from Corpus Christi, in 1971 Mayne embarked on work in Papua New Guinea, leading the clergy and laity in spiritual formation. Back in Australia from 1976, he advised Archbishop James Gleeson in Adelaide on the development of parish councils and wrote Parish and Lay Renewal (1979) with Fr Bob Wilkinson. Returning to Melbourne in 1985, he assisted in the Ministry to Priests program.

A man of unflinching integrity and decency, Mayne urged all he met to fulfil their destiny. He could never be stereotyped: no one knew where he was likely to turn up next, brimming with new ideas. No priest exercised a greater influence on the Catholic Church of his time in Australia. He died on 28 November 1990 at East Kew and was buried in Boroondara cemetery. In his funeral homily Archbishop Frank Little, a former student, honoured Mayne’s ‘outstanding contribution’ to his church.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Strong, The Australian Dictionary of Jesuit Biography (1999)
  • Footprints (Fitzroy), vol 8, no 1, 1991, p 1
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Citation details

John N. Molony, 'Mayne, Charles (1906–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 24 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


2 September, 1906
Manchester, Greater Manchester, England


28 November, 1990 (aged 84)
Kew, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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