Simon Caterson reviews 'Australian Catholic Lives' by Edmund Campion

‘Most history is simply lost.’ By means of a regular biographical column in the Jesuit magazine Madonna published over the past twenty-five years, Father Edmund Campion has preserved pieces of Australian personal history that might otherwise have been neglected, if not forgotten altogether. In this, the author’s second collection of biographical sketches (following Great Australian Catholics, 1997), Campion focuses on extraordinary accomplishments achieved within outwardly ordinary Australian lives. Catholics, he demonstrates, have been involved in every aspect of Australian life, not just as priests and nuns but also, increasingly it seems, as lay people.

A priest in Sydney for more than sixty years and a former chair of the Literature Board of the Australia Council, Campion writes within the short lives format without any apparent sense of constraint. The Catholic tradition itself supplies him with impetus as a biographer: ‘We human beings are story-tellers, we pass on our values through the stories we tell. This is particularly true of Catholics, who get their identity through their histories, which they see as salvation history linking them to the saving actions of Christ. So, for Catholics, doing history – passing on the values by telling stories – is a pastoral imperative. We must look where we have been in order to know where we are going.’

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