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Charles Xavier O'Driscoll (1870–1963)

by Tony Hannan

This article was published:

Charles Xavier O'Driscoll (1870-1963), educationist, was born on 23 February 1870 at Windsor, Melbourne, fifth son of Irish parents James Driscoll, labourer, and his wife Ellen, née O'Mara. His surname had become O'Driscoll by the time he began school at St Mary's boys' parish school, East St Kilda, run by the Christian Brothers. In 1883 he accepted a position as pupil-teacher at St Francis Christian Brothers' School, Lonsdale Street, Melbourne.

In October 1887 O'Driscoll entered the Christian Brothers novitiate at Geelong, one of the first of the 'young colonials' to join the order. At the beginning of 1888 he took vows. In 1889-90 he taught at Balmain, Sydney, and then was transferred to Dunedin, New Zealand (1891-93). He left the Christian Brothers in December 1893 and returned to Melbourne.

Why O'Driscoll quitted the religious life is not clear: he remained a bachelor, preserved good relations with the Christian Brothers (adopting the religious name Xavier as his own), and remained in Catholic education for the next sixty-five years. He was reported to be 'backward in studies'; there may have been a personality clash with his New Zealand Superior over this. The rigour of the semi-monastic life may have been a factor—but O'Driscoll was 'aggressively well' until old age; he was noted for his athletic and militia activities. (In the early 1900s he was commanding officer of the 12th Battalion cadets and a partner in a physical culture training school). He probably left the Christian Brothers because of distaste for community life; he had reclusive tendencies and later was, for over forty years, a lodger in the same room at Parkville.

On his return to Victoria, O'Driscoll became head teacher of a Catholic boys' school at Sale (1894-99), then headmaster of St Ambrose's Boys' School, Brunswick. He became renowned in Catholic education circles for his examination results; in 1907-09 his Brunswick pupils won half the available scholarships.

In 1911 O'Driscoll was appointed inspector of Catholic primary schools in the archdiocese of Melbourne, a position he was to hold for forty-eight years—although increasingly his autonomy was constrained by the clericalization of Catholic education administration. O'Driscoll's contract with Archbishop Carr required him to visit annually each parish school in the extensive archdiocese. Obliged to pay his travelling expenses, he used public transport, bicycles, the buggies or cars of others, or walked from school to school.

His inspections were noted for his emphasis on discipline, set lessons, homework and instant recall and his scepticism towards 'innovations' such as libraries, excursions and projects. They could be gruelling for both teachers and pupils. He mellowed, however, over the years and often visited retired teachers and ex-pupils.

O'Driscoll was also responsible for preparing children and cadets for the annual St Patrick's Day procession and for representing the Catholic Education Office on such bodies as the board of physical education at the University of Melbourne. His continuing working until his ninetieth year (1959) was a reflection of his own narrow regular habits, the exigencies of Catholic education and his unsurpassed knowledge of Catholic primary schools. He personified a bridge between the late nineteenth-century lay-managed parish school and its return after fifty years of clericalization, between the phasing out of state aid in the 1870s and its restoration in the 1950s and 1960s.

Following a brief retirement, mainly in Nazareth House, Camberwell, O'Driscoll died on 17 December 1963. After a Solemn Pontifical Requiem Mass at St Patrick's Cathedral he was buried in St Kilda cemetery. He left most of his estate, valued for probate at £11,798, for the 'advancement … of the Catholic primary schools of the [Melbourne] diocese'.

Select Bibliography

  • Advocate (Melbourne), 5 Nov 1942, 4 June 1959, 26 Dec 1963
  • Tribune (Melbourne), 26 Dec 1963
  • Christian Brothers Archives (Parkville, Melbourne, and Strathfield, Sydney)
  • Catholic Education Office and other records (held at Melbourne Diocesan Historical Commission Archives)
  • interviews with former clerical and lay colleagues.

Citation details

Tony Hannan, 'O'Driscoll, Charles Xavier (1870–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


23 February, 1870
Windsor, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


17 December, 1963 (aged 93)

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