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Dominic Mary Paul McGuire (1903–1978)

by Katharine Massam

This article was published:

Dominic McGuire, n.d.

Dominic McGuire, n.d.

State Library of South Australia

Dominic Mary Paul McGuire (1903-1978), author and diplomat, was born on 3 April 1903 at Petersburg (Peterborough), South Australia, ninth son of James McGuire, superintendent of local railway traffic, and his wife Mary, née O'Sullivan, a former schoolteacher. When James was promoted commissioner of railways in 1917, the family moved to Adelaide. Paul had attended Christian Brothers' College, Wakefield Street, from 1914. He earned pocket money by writing paragraphs for the Bulletin, 'anything up to five bob or ten bob a week when I was eleven years old'. Aged about 12, he began to have verse accepted and to think of himself as a writer. His adolescence was marked by recurrent mourning—three brothers in the Australian Imperial Force were killed, a fourth died of wounds, another of consumption; and his only sister Mary Genevieve died shortly after childbirth, with her infant. The dramatic and repeated experience of loss as a boy was mirrored in the intense depressions McGuire suffered as a man, as well as in continuing themes of the fragility of life and happiness in his writing.

At the University of Adelaide from 1923, he read history under Professor George Henderson, whom he admired and credited with confirming that 'history was not looking back; history was essentially deciding where we are'. McGuire was foundation president (1924-25) of the Adelaide University Dramatic Society, editor (1925) of the university magazine and a debater in the team that met visitors from Oxford. He left university to work as a journalist. At St Laurence's Catholic Church, North Adelaide, on 18 November 1927 he married Frances Margaret Cheadle, three years his senior. He had met her at the university while she was launching a research career in biochemistry. Their engagement stunned their friends, but the marriage was a meeting of minds, passions and aspirations. Margaret—a Congregationalist whose family moved in the best of Adelaide's Protestant circles—converted to Catholicism. They set up house in Adelaide, and then in a shooting-hut at Belair, writing for the Bulletin and running a literary page in the diocesan Catholic weekly, Southern Cross, while Paul taught history and English as a casual lecturer for the Workers' Educational Association of South Australia. Next year they left for London.

In contrast to Irish-Catholicism in Adelaide, McGuire was dazzled by the intellectual, and cheerfully counter-cultural, circle of English Catholic writers around G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. McGuire's training in London with the Catholic Evidence Guild equipped him for 'Speakers' Corner' at Hyde Park, where the guild promoted a Catholic world-view based on traditional doctrine, 'Chesterbelloc' philosophy (including Distributism) and the social encyclicals. He also read and, in 1937, eventually met, the Belgian priest Fr Joseph Cardijn, founder of the Jeunesse Ouvrère Chrétienne (Young Christian Workers). Like Belloc, Cardijn impressed him with hearty and good-humoured spirituality. McGuire was inspired by the challenge to be 'a fool for Christ' and flourished in a self-consciously Catholic atmosphere charged with intellectual endeavour and a mission to reform the modern state. He wrote poetry with a sense of vocation, and made contacts with literary and Catholic periodicals that would later carry his articles. His direct encounter with Cardijn and his clear understanding of Jocist Catholic Action set him apart from later Catholic activists in Australia.

In 1932 McGuire was welcomed back to Australia by the Bulletin as a model for other authors seeking to publish in London. In Adelaide he continued to write. The poetry he had penned in England was included in anthologies and collected in The Two Men and Other Poems (1932). To pay 'the butcher and baker (and in honesty . . . the brewer)', he wrote detective stories (as he had done in London), sometimes two or three a year, claiming they took three weeks to complete (though once as little as four days). His fifteen mystery novels were published by 1940. Two in particular cemented his reputation as a 'most satisfying person with whom to go a murdering': Burial Service (London, 1938) and The Spanish Steps (London, 1940). His non-formulaic plots gave the characters range to express opinions; and heroes were often in tune with his philosophy.

Appalled to find the 1931 papal encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno, was difficult to buy in Australia in 1932, Paul, Margaret and Fr James O'Dougherty founded the Catholic Guild for Social Studies to raise awareness of Catholic principles so that ordinary members of the church could 'win the world'. Their patron 'saints' were St Thomas Aquinas and the then uncanonized layman Sir Thomas More. The first members were mostly unemployed young people. The guild's four-part programme of prayer, study, social action and recreation attracted two thousand participants in the first year as groups formed in parishes, in the railways and post offices, and among nurses in hospitals and schoolboys at C.B.C. The guild prompted the foundation of a Catholic library in Adelaide, and provided its initial stock. Links were made with developing groups in other States, and in 1934 McGuire spoke on Catholic Action to the meeting of Catholic intellectuals held in conjunction with the National Eucharistic Congress, Melbourne.

In addition to running courses for the guild, McGuire lectured for the W.E.A. on literature and history. In 1936 the guild swung to the right (with much of Western Catholic thought) in support of General Franco's cause in the Spanish Civil War. McGuire travelled to Spain as correspondent for the Catholic Herald (London), and wrote passionately of the children displaced by the conflict and the damage done to the Catholic culture of Europe. With Fr John Fitzsimmons, he published Restoring All Things (London, 1939), a discussion of the wide-ranging aims of Catholic Action. It attracted international attention. The American Catholic benevolent society, the Knights of Columbus, invited McGuire to lecture on 'The Christian Revolution' across the United States of America; his tour of 1939-40 regularly attracted crowds of 3500, and was credited with precipitating the Christian Family Movement.

Aiming to introduce Australia to non-specialists, McGuire had published Australian Journey (London, 1939). The Australian delegation in Washington requested copies to give as gifts, and R. G. (Baron) Casey wrote to introduce him to Prime Minister Curtin as one 'who has a lot more useful work up his sleeve'. Although McGuire freely admitted in retirement that his mind had never been 'exact enough' for history, a system of research support—led by Margaret, Emilie Woodley and Betty Arnott—provided accurate details for several works blending history and public comment. Westward the Course!: The New World of Oceania (New York, 1942) proved a best seller, given Americans' interest in the Pacific after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The Price of Admiralty (Melbourne, 1944), written with Margaret, told the story of H.M.A.S. Parramatta and her commanding officer J. H. Walker.

Commissioned on 12 August 1942 in the Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve, McGuire performed intelligence duties in Melbourne as deputy-director of psychological warfare, Far Eastern Liaison Office. He was demobilized as lieutenant on 4 May 1945, but was to remain in the R.A.N.V.R. until 1958, retiring as an honorary commander. Sent to Europe in 1945 as a war correspondent, he covered the work of the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund and promoted the emigration of British ex-servicemen to Australia. He also claimed to have carried out 'special intelligence operations'.

In 1946 McGuire again lectured in North America, and toured northern South Australia with (Sir) Thomas Playford, forging a long-standing friendship over bottles of milk for the premier and whisky for himself. In 1947 he began discussions with Oxford University Press about editing a series on Australian social history. Although the proposal was never realized, he published two books as preliminary instalments, The Australian Theatre (Melbourne, 1948) and Inns of Australia (Melbourne, 1952), both with Margaret and Arnott.

Two works of social analysis at the close of the 1940s lifted McGuire into a fuller public role. In The Three Corners of the World (London, 1948) he argued that the British Commonwealth's model of co-operation between states should be adopted in the free world, with the United States moving to the hub. There's Freedom for the Brave (London, 1949) advocated an urgent increase in moral power and the restoration of true community (symbolized by freer trade) as a cure for the postwar crisis of the West. The book was favourably reviewed, and prompted (Sir) Robert Menzies to make McGuire a personal adviser for the 1951 British Commonwealth prime ministers' meeting in London. McGuire was appointed C.B.E. (1951).

Discussions at that meeting gave shape to plans for a non-party political campaign to revitalize Australian moral life and strengthen the bulwarks against communism. McGuire drafted a statement on the steps of St Peter's Basilica during a stopover in Rome, and contacted Sir Edmund Herring, a former chief justice of Victoria, who agreed to lead the campaign which became 'A Call to the People of Australia'. A flurry of semi-secret meetings between business leaders and ex-servicemen provoked questions in the Senate about McGuire's role in a sinister 'New Guard'. The government answered the question with a statement on spiritual renewal. Broadcast on 11 November 1951, with signed support from State governors, chief justices and church leaders, the 'Call' urged a return to values of civic duty, loyalty and moral strength. To maintain the momentum of overwhelming support, standing committees were established and McGuire directed the national campaign until 1953.

Named Australian ambassador to Ireland in April that year, McGuire was a delegate to the session of the United Nations' General Assembly in New York which opened in September. Following a dispute over his 'letters of credence', his appointment to Dublin was cancelled in January 1954. He served instead as minister (1954-57) and ambassador (1957-59) to Italy. He gloried that he was Australia's special ambassador and envoy to the Holy See for the funeral of Pope Pius XII and the coronation (1958) of Pope John XXIII, but seems to have fretted at being 'a minor organ of the body politic'. For many years he belonged to the Savile and Athenaeum clubs in London, and the Naval, Military (and Air Force) Club in Melbourne. He was appointed (commander) to the Order of Merit of the Republic of Italy in 1967.

The McGuires had returned to Adelaide in 1959 with plans for more books. Writing was impossible while Paul underwent two operations to treat the retina in his eye. In the 1960s and 1970s he wrote television scripts for the Rank Organisation in Britain, and began a series of interviews with South Australian sportsmen, but a round of public-speaking engagements replaced the stream of articles and books. He also worked with the Good Neighbour Council of South Australia. Appointed (grand cross) to the Order of St Sylvester in 1959, he valued his papal knighthood as much for the tradition it endorsed as the achievements it recognized. McGuire was surprised at the talk of crisis in the Church following Vatican Council II. He saw the issues as grim moral and intellectual problems in society—not simply in the Church—and as part of a cycle of centuries.

McGuire died on 15 June 1978—the year of celebrations for the five centuries since Thomas More's birth—at Calvary Hospital, North Adelaide, and was buried in Brighton cemetery. Tributes noted that More's commemoration would have been unthinkable without wide acceptance of McGuire's belief in the value of an intellectual apostolate and the significance of lay people in the church. His wife survived him, and in 1979 donated his collection of 180 books on maritime subjects, with funds for maintaining them, to establish the Paul McGuire Maritime Library at the State Library of South Australia. In 1980 she prompted the posthumous publication of a selection of his best poems.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Steinbrunner and O. Penzler (eds), Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection (New York, 1976)
  • S. Sayers, Ned Herring (Melb, 1980)
  • M. I. Zotti, A Time of Awakening (Chicago, 1991)
  • K. Massam, Sacred Threads (Syd, 1996)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12 Nov 1951, 25 Apr, 13 Aug, 2 Sept, 27 Nov 1953, 15, 18 Jan, 16 Mar 1954, 13 May 1959
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 18 Aug 1967, 17 June 1978
  • B. Duncan, From Ghetto to Crusade: A Study of the Social and Political Thought of Catholic Opinion Makers in Sydney During the 1930s (Ph.D. thesis, University of Sydney, 1987)
  • H. de Berg, interview with Paul McGuire (transcript, 1966, National Library of Australia)
  • Paul and Margaret McGuire papers (National Library of Australia)
  • Margaret McGuire papers (State Library of South Australia).

Citation details

Katharine Massam, 'McGuire, Dominic Mary Paul (1903–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Dominic McGuire, n.d.

Dominic McGuire, n.d.

State Library of South Australia

Life Summary [details]


3 April, 1903
Peterborough, South Australia, Australia


15 June, 1978 (aged 75)
North Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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.