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Justin Daniel Simonds (1890–1967)

by Michael Costigan

This article was published:

Justin Daniel Simonds (1890-1967), Catholic archbishop, was born on 22 May 1890 at Stonehenge, near Glen Innes, New South Wales, youngest of six children of Irish-born parents Peter Simonds and his wife Kate, née Troy, both schoolteachers. Justin received his early education at home and at public schools where his father was in charge, at nearby Deepwater and at Blacktown, Sydney. He then attended Sydney Boys' High School. About 5 ft 5 ins (165 cm) tall and muscular in build, he proved a good Rugby Union footballer. He began studying for the priesthood at St Patrick's College, Manly, in 1907 and was ordained on 30 November 1912 in St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney.

The young priest spent his first year of ministry as curate in the parish of Bega. In 1914 he was appointed to his former seminary as professor of introductory sacred scripture and Greek. He became professor of philosophy and hermeneutics at St Columba's College, Springwood, in 1916. Transferred back to Manly in 1921 as dean and professor of sacred scripture, Simonds returned to Springwood in 1923 as vice-rector and professor of philosophy. From 1928 he studied at the Catholic University of Louvain (Ph.D., 1930), Belgium, where his thesis on the influence of Philo on Christian apologists was awarded first-class honours. Home again, he resumed his positions at Springwood and was promoted to rector in 1934. He also carried out pastoral duties in the local parish. During his seminary years he contributed articles on theological and philosophical issues to the Australasian Catholic Record and the Manly magazine.

In February 1937 Simonds's appointment as archbishop of Hobart was announced. The first Australian-born Catholic priest to reach the rank of archbishop, he was consecrated on 6 May by Archbishop (Cardinal) Giovanni Panico, the apostolic delegate. Although Simonds's duties in Tasmania were 'not particularly burdensome', he 'maintained an active schedule of pastoral activity'. He had a deep knowledge of the philosophical and theological principles underlying the lay apostolate and of the papal teachings on social issues. At Louvain he had become an admirer and supporter of the Young Christian Workers' (Jocist) movement. He fostered the observance in Australia of Social Justice Sunday and wrote (1940) the first of the bishops' annual statements on social justice. In September 1942 Panico informed him that he had been appointed coadjutor archbishop of Melbourne, with the right of succeeding Archbishop Daniel Mannix. Neither Mannix nor Simonds had been consulted about the move.

Although his talents were not fully used during the twenty-one years in which he waited, as parish priest of West Melbourne, to replace Mannix, Simonds accepted his unenviable situation with grace and patience. The period did not lack highlights or productivity. On behalf of the Church in Australia, he toured war-ravaged Europe in 1946 to bring relief to the suffering, to assess the future of Catholic migration and to discuss the sending of orphaned children to Australia. Three years later he attended the second part of the third session of the United Nations General Assembly, held at Lake Success, New York, as a special adviser to the Australian delegation headed by Dr H. V. Evatt. Simonds's subsequent travels included official visits and the leadership of pilgrimages to Rome and other centres in 1950, 1953 and 1960. He also attended all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council in 1962-65. On learning in Rome that Mannix had died on 6 November 1963 (at the age of 99) and that he was archbishop of Melbourne, he immediately returned home to preside over and to preach a memorable panegyric at Mannix's funeral service.

While he attempted throughout his life to reconcile the secular and religious worlds, Simonds also defended the separation of church and state. He abhorred the involvement of the Church in party politics and vigorously opposed any attempt to use the youth movements of Catholic Action to combat communism in the political and industrial spheres. In contrast with Mannix and the other Victorian bishops, he was critical of the Catholic Social Studies Movement, headed by B. A. Santamaria, especially after the Australian Labor Party split in 1955. His most courageous and controversial act as archbishop of Melbourne, carried out within days of taking office, was to terminate Santamaria's weekly contribution to a Catholic television programme, 'Sunday Magazine'.

Simonds's brief term at the head of a major see was to be unduly onerous because of failing health and weakening sight. Nevertheless, he was able to restructure the management of the burgeoning Catholic education system, to establish twelve new parishes to cater for the needs of a growing population, and to begin implementing the reforms of Vatican II, notably in the areas of liturgy and ecumenism. Invoking the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), he strongly advocated state aid for religious schools. After officiating, with difficulty, at several functions in the first half of 1966, he suffered a series of strokes and spent most of the last twelve months of his life as a patient in the Mercy Hospital, East Melbourne. His resignation as archbishop was announced on 13 May 1967. He died on 3 November that year at the Mercy and was buried in the crypt of St Patrick's Cathedral.

Regarded as one of the most scholarly of the Australian bishops, Simonds was revered by generations of clerics whom he had taught at Springwood and Manly, and by the Catholic priests, religious and laity of Tasmania and Melbourne. All of them valued his intelligence, kindness and pastoral concern. Neither Roman nor Irish, he was proudly Australian, and blessed with urbanity and wit. Paul Fitzgerald's portrait of Simonds, held by the cathedral, captures something of the archbishop's dignity and composure.

Select Bibliography

  • D. F. Bourke, A History of the Catholic Church in Victoria (Melb, 1988)
  • F. A. Mecham, The Church and Migrants 1946-1987 (Syd, 1991)
  • M. Vodola, Simonds (Melb, 1997)
  • K. J. Walsh, Yesterday's Seminary (Syd, 1998)
  • A. O'Brien, Blazing a Trail (Melb, 1999)
  • Simonds papers (Melbourne Diocesan Historical Commission).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Michael Costigan, 'Simonds, Justin Daniel (1890–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 14 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


22 May, 1890
Stonehenge, New South Wales, Australia


13 May, 1967 (aged 76)
East Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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