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Sir Guilford Clyde Young (1916–1988)

by W. T. Southerwood

This article was published:

Guilford Young, 1967 [detail]

Guilford Young, 1967 [detail]

State Library of Victoria, H38849/​5119

Sir Guilford Clyde Young (1916-1988), Catholic archbishop, was born on 10 November 1916 at Sandgate, Brisbane, fourth of six surviving sons of Queensland-born parents Arthur Albert Young, shearer, and his wife Mary Ellen, née McKean. Guil attended primary school at the Presentation Sisters’ Our Lady’s School, Longreach. Coached by Mother Ursula Kennedy, he won an A-grade bursary to secondary school at the Christian Brothers’ St Joseph’s College, Rockhampton—a turning point for a boy from a poor family. He excelled at sport and applied himself to his studies. At 16 he was accepted by Bishop Hayes of Rockhampton to be trained as a priest for the diocese. In 1933 he travelled south to study for the priesthood at St Columba’s College, Springwood, New South Wales.

In 1934 Young was notified by the rector, Dr Justin Simonds, that he had been chosen to attend the Pontifical Urban University of Propaganda Fide, Rome (DD, 1940). He set out for Rome on 26 September 1934. On 3 June 1939 in the Basilica of St John Lateran he was ordained a priest for the diocese of Rockhampton. His thesis for his doctorate was on the priesthood. He returned to Australia via the United States of America, arriving in New York on 14 June 1940 and motoring to San Francisco with four Australian student-priests with whom he had studied in Rome.

After ten months as a curate at St Joseph’s Cathedral, Rockhampton, Young was appointed secretary at the Apostolic Delegation of Australasia in Sydney, under Archbishop Giovanni Panico. Young celebrated Sunday masses in parish churches around Sydney, involved himself in various groups (such as the Young Christian Workers, the National Catholic Girls’ Movement and the Legion of Mary) and helped and visited Italian and Japanese prisoners of war. In 1944 he was appointed to a teaching post in theology at Pius XII Seminary, Banyo, Brisbane. His students thought he was an interesting, if dramatic, lecturer; Young asserted that he was theatrical in order to keep them awake.

On 8 September 1948 Young was consecrated in St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, as an auxiliary bishop in Canberra-Goulburn to Archbishop Dr T. B. Maguire and parish priest of St Augustine’s Church, Yass—becoming, at aged 31, the youngest Catholic bishop in the world. There he made his mark as an effective administrator, a school and church builder, an accomplished orator and a distinguished member of the Catholic community in the diocese, serving a rural hinterland and the national capital. After Maguire’s resignation, Young acted for three months as apostolic administrator and in November 1953 became auxiliary bishop to Archbishop Eris O’Brien. On 14 March 1954 at the official opening by Cardinal Gilroy of St Edmund’s Christian Brothers College, Canberra—before an audience of dignitaries including the Prime Minister (Sir) Robert Menzies and the leader of the opposition H. V. Evatt—Young spoke passionately about the funds raised by the church to build the college and the importance of a Christian education (a theme he was to pursue in later years, arguing for state aid to church schools). He was responsible for commissioning the outstanding modernist church of St Augustine, Yass, with its Tom Bass sculptures; he opened it on 29 April 1956.

In November 1954 Young was promoted coadjutor archbishop to Dr E. V. Tweedy, archbishop of Hobart. Initially based at Launceston, he carried out most of the duties of the archbishop. Within ten months, when Archbishop Tweedy resigned, he was chosen to head the Catholic Church in the State as archbishop of Hobart. Challenges he faced included a crisis in the Catholic education system, the effects of postwar migration that brought a need to build new churches, a lack of candidates coming forward for ordination to the priesthood, and the perceived spiritual supineness of prominent Catholic lay people who did not practise their faith in a culture dominated by Protestant influences.

A vigorous and striking thinker, Young was ever passionately Australian. Aided by archiepiscopal status and as a member of the central commission of the Australian Bishops’ Conference, he did not hesitate to use his gifts of intellect, will and character to persuade other decision-makers to accept the force of his arguments concerning key issues. Some people admired his forceful, aggressive style but he made enemies as well as converts to his causes.

Young’s main thrust was to give Australian Catholics a new sense of direction, especially in the fields of worship, lay involvement in the church, social welfare, education and inter-church dialogue. From his base in Hobart, the tireless pastor reorganised ecclesiastical administration, constantly visited Catholic communities around the State, created new parishes and introduced religious orders of men and women. Somewhat reluctantly, he entered the political arena to demand justice and equality as well as freedom of choice in education. In 1971, when the very survival of many poorer Catholic schools around Australia had reached a watershed, Young made a private visit to Canberra to the then minister for education, Malcolm Fraser, to make a reasoned case for increased Federal aid for Catholic schools. He was promised that sufficient finance would be made available to all forms of education.

Young supported B. A. Santamaria’s Catholic Social Studies Movement and National Civic Council, although originally, when most bishops wished to align Catholic Action with the Movement, Young’s was one of the dissenting voices. Having hired legal counsel, on 29 July 1958 he published an open letter supporting the Hobart Scots Kirk’s ruling that Sydney Sparkes Orr had been denied natural justice by the University of Tasmania.

In 1962-65 Young played an active role in the proceedings of the Second Vatican Council in Rome, especially in discussions on religious liberty and the formulation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. As a member of the Vatican’s Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship and as a founding member and vice-president of the International Commission for English in the Liturgy, he made an impact on the development of church worship at both the international and national level. His commentary on the council’s document on priesthood, ‘Presbyterorum Ordinis’, was highly acclaimed. Perhaps his greatest achievement was to inspire bishops, priests and lay people with the spirit and teachings of the council. He led Australian Catholic experts in a number of high-level meetings with representatives of the Australian Council of Churches. His enlightened contribution during these early years of ecumenical endeavour was invaluable. He was knighted in 1978.

Sir Guilford died on 16 March 1988 at Parkville, Melbourne, having undergone surgery for a damaged aorta. After his funeral at St Mary’s Cathedral, Hobart, he was buried in its grounds.

Select Bibliography

  • W. H. C. Eddy, Orr (1961)
  • R. Davis, A Guide to the State Aid Tangle in Tasmania (1974)
  • B. A. Santamaria, Against the Tide (1981)
  • W. Southerwood, Guilford Young (1983) and The Wisdom of Guilford Young (1989)
  • B. Maher, Memories of Yass Mission (1988)
  • Canberra Times, 15 Mar 1954, p 2
  • Mercury (Hobart), 17 May 1956, p 24, 25 Aug 1973, p 3, 7 Sept 1973, p 4, 17 Mar 1988, p 2, 18 Mar 1988, p 8, 23 Mar 1988, p 1, 8 Oct 1988, p 15
  • Herald (Melbourne), 29 Sept 1971, p 4
  • Examiner (Launceston), 27 Sept 1971, p 1, 22 Mar 1988, p 6, 23 Mar 1988, p 8
  • P. Donnelly, Ecce Sacerdos Magnus (videorecording, 1989, State Library of Tasmania)
  • Young papers (Catholic Archdiocese of Hobart Archives).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

W. T. Southerwood, 'Young, Sir Guilford Clyde (1916–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 18 July 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

Guilford Young, 1967 [detail]

Guilford Young, 1967 [detail]

State Library of Victoria, H38849/​5119

Life Summary [details]


10 November, 1916
Sandgate, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia


16 March, 1988 (aged 71)
Parkville, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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.