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Renewal in the Wake of Vatican II - Sept 1964 - 1976

AUSTRALIA in the 1960s

In 1965 James Duhig, who had been Archbishop of Brisbane since 1917, died at the age of 94. A few years previously the 99-year-old Daniel Mannix, Archbishop of Melbourne, also died. The deaths of these two prominent Irish prelates further reduced the already declining Irish influence in the Australian church. Vatican II continued the sweeping changes in the liturgy and inaugurated a total change in the outlook of the Church. It went from a defensive, inward looking institution to an accepting, open church with more emphasis on pastoral care and less on legal worries.

The Beatles and other pop groups, along with Elvis Presley, revolutionized popular music. The ‘Beat Generation’ was born and its sound was magnified over the planet with the aid of the new electronic sound equipment. The ‘pill’ changed people’s attitudes to sexual morals and women were able to control their fertility, which resulted in the end of the postwar ‘Baby Boom’. While the official Church teaching on artificial contraception did not change, the attitude of many Catholics, lay and clerical, did change. The Catholic birth rate fell, along with that of the rest of the general population.

The movement called Women’s Liberation grew and put forward feminist views with a new confidence that shook the previously unchallenged male domination of society. Germain Greer, a graduate of a Catholic school, was prominent in the movement and became an outspoken critic of male domination. The female wage rose to 85% of the male wage and the pressure continued for ‘equal pay for equal work’.

The Vietnam War became the first television war and many people, especially the younger ones, did not like what they saw. Anger mounted and was expressed in defiance and massive street protests. Conscription of young men in the ‘birthday ballots’ escalated the protests and divided the nation still further.

The credit squeeze, which reduced borrowing, was an attempt by the Federal Government to control the economy and was unpopular. The Menzies government was almost unseated in 1961 when unemployment rose to 1.5%, and only the election of the young Queensland barrister, James Killen, saved the government.

Australia’s largest oil field was discovered in Bass Strait. It reduced the need to import oil and thus helped the Balance of Payments.

In 1966 the Aboriginal Pastoral Workers won equal pay with their white counterparts and the Gurindji people, on Wave Hill and Newcastle Waters stations, went on strike for land rights. They won, but it took seven years. Gradually the Church became more involved in Aboriginal rights and Social Justice in general.

In schools a range of equally significant changes were felt. Old boy and teacher at St Columban's, Des Carroll, commented:
The demand for schools and schooling had changed. Ten years of compulsory education instead of seven, the abolition of the Scholarship Exam which had filtered out the “less academic” students were aspects of this change. The post-war “baby boom” placed a further burden on the provision of places in schools. These factors affected the Catholic system greatly because of the need to educate Catholic children in Catholic schools.

At a different level the role of the laity was changing. Overall the laity was better educated. The whole Catholic Action Movement and the development of a social consciousness and conscience produced men and women able to think for themselves and put ideas into action .

Edmund Campion notes that enrolments in Catholic schools went from 211,000 in 1964 to 417,000 in 1970. But the percentage of students in Catholic schools declined from 19.56% in 1965 to 17.4% in 1972. More and more Catholic students were going to State schools.

Social mobility was much more a fact of life for Catholics and many were moving into the professions and better paying employment; the old working class image was beginning to change. Catholics were becoming more middle class, more affluent and shifting to more expensive suburbs to live. The old closed community was beginning to decline and the differences between Catholic and Protestant were beginning to blur, especially in the younger generation of parents.


After the death of Fr Greene, the parish continued to function with help from other priests, especially Fr Tim Norris of Geebung. Although the death was unexpected, the appointment of Fr Martin Doyle on the 6th September 1964 was rapid, which was probably characteristic of the times when there was a good supply of priests available.

The Leader says that the appointment was made by Archbishop O’Donnell who eventually succeeded Archbishop Duhig. Archbishop O’Donnell may have performed the ceremony of installation as Archbishop Duhig was 93 years old at the time, but he was still going strong and did not die till 10/4/1965

This was Fr Doyle’s first appointment as Parish Priest and he was going to be moving into uncharted areas with all the changes coming from the great Council in Rome. In fact he was literally ‘thrown in at the deep end to either sink or swim’; he became a good swimmer. He was not alone as all the other priests faced the same challenge. Over a thousand years of tradition was about to change in a few short years and the people had to be carefully led through the changes. It was not a job for the faint-hearted. There would be many hours of explaining, consoling, educating, calming and wondering what to do next. Perhaps more than ever the priest needed prayer and the support of the People of God, which was the new way of looking at the Church.

Apart from piloting the Mass in English there was the day to day running of the parish. This included a Direct Giving Program with all the organization it entailed. The parish debt was ₤24,000 and growing, along with a heavy interest bill. These programs had become a regular feature of the parish economy and would continue at three yearly intervals.

Trish Corbett writes: An unusual activity for a priest was driving the School/Mass bus. Fr Doyle did this to help children get to school during the week, and parishioners get to mass on Sundays, in the days when many people depended on public transport. For some time he drove it six days a week but then managed to find several men who were able to get their bus licences. Even then, when a driver was not available he took over till someone was available. Fortunately he had a very good memory for names and he knew most of the children by name. This is a very handy talent when one is trying to control a bus full of exuberant children, although the Grade 7 pupils acted as monitors. This service lasted until 1987.

Val Ryan acted as housekeeper for Fr Doyle and she lived nearby, only coming in to keep the house and later she would just cook a meal for him. Then Agnes Hickey took over for some years. When Agnes died Fr Heenan wrote in the Parish Bulletin 21/7/1991:

There is one person missing from the Open Air Mass this year – Agnes Hickey, who last Wednesday (17th July) made her way to heaven. Agnes was housekeeper at St Flannan’s for sixteen years and never missed a Mass like this.

Agnes came to look after Fr Doyle about 1966, and stayed on till 1982, when she retired to the Holy Spirit Home at Aspley, after a car accident. Agnes had a lifetime devotion to the care of her family and Priests and was always kind to everyone who came into her life.

Meanwhile, the Vatican Council had entered its final stages with Session 4 from September 14 to December 8 1965. Soon it would be over but the changes would go on, and on, and on. This was the ‘new’ concept of the ever reforming Church. To prepare for these changes and to explain them Fr Doyle called many meetings and discussed the changes with the parishioners. Some of the changes included the dialogue Mass in English, Lay Readers, Eucharistic Ministers, Musicians, Cleaners and Counters. Preparing the rosters for all these people involved a lot of organization and time.

The school had continued to grow slowly over the previous 12 years, from the initial 167 at the end of 1954, to 299 by May 1967. The school was also changing as the old makeshift classrooms, in and under the homestead, in the harness shed and in the church, were abandoned. Standards were rising, teaching methods were changing and accommodation had to be improved. There were six full time teachers with part time help from the mothers, and visiting specialist teachers were starting to make their presence felt.

The school grew till it covered the full primary range of classes from Grade I to VIII. The girls always exceeded the boys in number, as many of the latter went off to the Brothers' schools after Grade III or IV. The last Scholarship Exam was in 1962 and at that time Grade VIII became part of the Secondary school system.

Margaret Smith recalls: Our sports uniform was pink with green trimming, and I remember Mum being involved in the original design of the uniform. Our day uniform was a bottle-green pinafore with a fawn blouse. We were allowed to wear bottle-green ribbons in our hair.

The Sisters prepared the children for their reception of the sacraments and ensured that a group photo was always taken. The photo of the 1966 First Communion group was taken in front of the altar but behind the altar rails. The children completely obscured the altar but the Tabernacle is clearly seen recessed in the back wall well above the altar. This seems to indicate that the altar may have been changed for the priest to face the people. This was another of the changes taking place in the church, namely, the changes to the interior of the church building and the removal of statues etc.

On the 25th June 1967 Archbishop O'Donnell blessed and opened the first new brick classroom block of four teaching areas (classrooms) near the church. The building cost $19,340, a considerable sum, especially since the parish had to raise the lot without any help from the Government. However the State Government was paying the interest charges on the building loan. This was the first form of State Aid to be received by the private schools and it came in the nick of time as education costs had started to rise alarmingly.

Contributing to the rise in cost was the fact that the crisis in recruitments to the Religious Orders was beginning to take effect, and it was impossible for them to supply enough teachers. Lay teachers were beginning to appear, although in small numbers, and they had to be paid much more than the Sisters. There had been one full-time lay teacher since 1964 and a couple of part-time ones even earlier, although none of the latter lasted very long.

Architects were Corbett, Ryan and Walsh – Builders were G & AV Bardini. The building is concrete slab and brick with a flat metal roof. The old barn, which had been the tuck shop and a Grade I room, had to be demolished to make room for the new structure. Archbishop O’Donnell also announced that he had paid $32,000 for a five-acre block on Sandgate Road at Boondall for a church and school. The idea was to have new facilities close to a rapidly expanding home building area.

About this time, 1967, the old homestead/convent was demolished as it had come to the end of its useful life. At the same time, an Estate Agent’s Office at Arana Hills became available and a group of volunteers worked to move it to the parish. They removed the roof tiles, jacked it up and put it on a large lorry which was driven to the prepared site behind the presbytery, arriving as the 6.30am Mass finished one Sunday. It was off-loaded and after the renovation it became the new tuck shop. Later, skillions were added to each side to act as car ports. It is still in place and still serves as the tuck shop.

The church/hall complex was altered by removing the stage from the hall and extending the body of the church into the hall. This enlarged the church and allowed the hall to be used as part of the church when needed. The existing folding petition separates the hall from the church and can be opened when needed for large congregations. Marcel Rouaen, who carved the altar panels and pulpit, also carved the lectern and the baptismal font .

Catholic, along with State education was a deep bottomless pit into which ever increasing amounts of money had to be poured. In addition to the problems mentioned above, Government regulations regarding accommodation were becoming increasingly costly. The old days of converted sheds or barns had well and truly gone, while education curriculums were becoming more demanding. Society had entered the electronic age and schools had to keep up.

In November 1969 , with an enrolment of 368 pupils, a new block of three classrooms was opened. There were now 8 full time-teachers, three of whom were lay teachers. This group of classrooms formed the first block of the second row of rooms in the expanding school.

AUSTRALIA in the 1970s

The turmoil of the Vietnam War began to abate as the decade progressed and Australian troops were brought home to pick up their lives again. In 1972 the Australian Labor Party, led by Gough Whitlam, won the Federal election for the first time since 1949. The new Government released the jailed anti-war protesters and set about a series of reforms, especially in the social justice area. The influence of the Democratic Labor Party declined and the fear of Communism began to recede somewhat, but the Cold War ground on.

Inflation soared to new heights and many people used it to pay off their home mortgages. The Builders Labourers Federation, led by Jack Mundy, imposed ‘green bans’ on some development projects in Sydney to prevent the disadvantaged from losing their homes. Many heritage sites were preserved as well. Medicare was introduced to cover people for their medical and hospital expenses.

Towards the end of the decade unemployment, especially among youth, rose and the term ‘dole bludgers’ came to be heard. Sounds very similar to the 1930s.

Papua New Guinea gained its political independence from Australia, but still depended on Australia for economic aid.

There was increasing militancy among the Aboriginal people for Land Rights. The Federal Government granted the Gurindji people ownership of their land at Wattie Creek after the long strike by the stockmen on Vesty’s Wave Hill station in the Northern Territory.

Boat people were arriving in Australia from Vietnam and Asian immigration was becoming a bigger factor in the general migration picture. The old spectre of the ‘yellow peril’ was beginning to reappear to some people, but the idea of a multi-racial society was also strengthening.

Catholic and Private schools were beginning to benefit from government subsidies for building work and the rate of expansion increased. Also education was becoming more complex and demanded more expensive buildings.


In 1970 it was decided to teach Religious Education to the Catholic children in the State Schools. Consequently, Fr Doyle regularly drove 4 lady volunteers into All Hallows for training as Catechists. After training they started teaching at Zillmere North State School which is just across Beams Road from St Flannan’s. This was the small beginning of a ministry which has continued to grow and be fully staffed by lay volunteers.

Another ministry formed about this time was the Parish Finance Committee. This consisted of lay people and was designed to assist the Parish Priest in the planning, the raising and spending of parish finances. Both of these ministries indicate the growing co-operation of Priest and People in the running of the local church. At the time the school finances were included along with the parish finances so the annual budget was very large. And the problem was to stretch funds as far as possible, if not further.

Another new initiative began in 1971 when Marnie Dann began to work for the parish as a volunteer bookkeeper and gradually developed the function of Parish Secretary. Before this, the priest performed all the office work for the parish, but that method of operation was beginning to falter as the paper work was increasing faster than one person could handle it. Marnie was to remain in the job during the service of three PPs and provide a smooth transition as administrations changed. She finally retired as Parish Secretary on 19/10/1995.

The steady growth of the school population continued and by 1973 had reached 390 pupils necessitating further building. Due to health regulations, before any more classrooms could be built, the toilets had to be upgraded and expanded. However, because they happened to be on the site of the new building (General Learning Areas or Classrooms 9 to 13) new toilets had to be built.

Norm Ryan recalls the removal:
During the construction of the brick school buildings it became necessary to remove the original toilet block. It was intended that the old building be relocated up the hill and converted into a shelter, however this was not to be.

After working all day jacking up the building and placing long lengths of timber under it, the tractors we had could only manage to move it approximately fifty yards before it started to fall to pieces. That was a disappointing end to our day but it was even more so to find that, on arrival at first Mass the next morning, the building had been burnt to the ground by person/s unknown.

Another first occurred for St Flannan’s on 7/10/1973 when the Brisbane Catholic Education Office announced the first appointment of a layman, Mr Al Arnall, to be a principal of an Archdiocesan Primary school. He took up his appointment at the beginning of 1974. He had been on the staff of St Columban’s College at Albion. Mr Arnall was to be employed by the BCEO but was responsible to the Parish Priest “for the total Christian education of the children in the school”. There had been an infants school at Leichardt, Ipswich, under lay control but this was the first Primary in the Archdiocese to be placed under lay management. Sr Christa Murphy, the previous principal, stayed on as Deputy Principal and some other Sisters continued teaching till they finally withdrew at the beginning of 1985.

An indication of the growth of the parish was the appointment in1974 of the first assistant priest, Fr Michael Campbell. The Leader commented “His work in the parish was excellent and he won special praise for his work with the young people.” This appointment marked the beginning of an active Youth Group which lasted till the early 1980s.

Youth groups seem to start regularly, become very active and then decline. Pam McSweeney (nee Thompson) recalls: Our group of teenagers met every Friday night for our spiritual gatherings, followed by plenty of socializing and a few smokes at the back of the old school. We followed St Flannan’s football team, ate Pizza after Sunday evening mass, went to Friday night dances, attended Rock Services where the walls burst and the roof lifted. There was liturgical dancing and we had a camp each year. This group went from 1974 till the early 1980s.

The India Appeal, writes Martin Stewart, commenced in early 1974 to help the Holy Spirit Sisters in Sirpur, NW India. They wrote to Sr Christa Murphy, Principal at St Flannan’s, and she addressed each Mass to raise support for the appeal. The response was generous, raising between $300 and $500 each month. The parishioners would make a monthly donation in special envelopes which were taken up with the normal collection. This continued for many years, but after the Sisters left the parish in 1984 the donations gradually declined, until by 1995 only $300 was sent for the whole year.

Fr Campbell and John Shirley worked together in 1975 to form a parish Rugby League Team to play in the YCW competition. . The team made the semi-finals in the B grade competition. The following year another team was entered and played the season cheered on by a vocal band of, mostly young, female parishioners.

In 1976 the team was accepted as a competitor in Brothers Rugby League competition and became known as Brothers St Flannan’s. The new team replaced the earlier YCW competition and played in BRL 2nd Division but did not have a playing field. Banyo Seminary agreed to let them use their grounds and several Seminarians joined the team, along with some ex-St Pat’s boys.

The club lasted till 1979 and, like many other youth initiatives, it quietly folded up as few new faces joined the club, while old members were getting married and leaving.

Brisbane Marriage Encounter began in 1976 and several couples from St Flannan’s became involved. They went on to become part of a team to work with senior students at Catholic schools, helping them to understand what marriage involved and the responsibilities attached.

In order to reap the benefits of a more organized parental involvement in the school, Fr Doyle called a meeting to discuss the formation of a Parents & Friends Association. The parents responded and the P&F began its journey on the 26th February 1976 with Ron Williamson as the first President.

The school at the time was ‘bursting at the seams’ and more room was needed to accommodate the children. The first task for the new association was the building of four classrooms and expansion of the toilet block. This took two years to complete. In the meantime, there was a working bee to paint the existing classrooms, another to lay a concrete cricket pitch in the lower sports field, fencing, repairs, equipment, fetes, etc. The story is still going on.

By 1976 more space was needed at the school as the population had risen to about 450 pupils. So planning commenced again followed by borrowing, applying for the Government subsidy and finally the building of the top block (furthest from the church) commenced in 1977. It took the rest of the year and was blessed and opened the following year, 1978. The total cost of the three blocks of school buildings erected in Fr Doyle’s time amounted to some $230,000. Without Government subsidies this would have been impossible, especially since there were fewer Sisters and more Lay teachers, so that the running costs were rising steadily.

Communion in the hand was introduced at St Flannan’s on 22nd February 1976 for those who wished to avail themselves of the practice. Fr Doyle carefully explained the reasons for the changes in Bulletin after Bulletin, to make sure that all parishioners got the message. He emphasized the fact that there was no change of any fundamental dogma, but was simply reverting to an old practice that predated receiving communion on the tongue. Judging by the number of times the large notice appeared in the Bulletins, the people may have taken some convincing of the option.

Fr Doyle also called meetings for the parishioners to discuss “arrangements for various ways in which you can help build the Parish Community in 1976.” Included were arrangements for the Fete and other functions throughout the year, although the fete was supposed to have been dropped when Direct Giving commenced. People were being continuously included in the decision making process of the parish and encouraged to take responsibility, along with the Priest, for the well being of the community. Fr Doyle saw the “Parish Priest and Parishioner as co-relative terms; each without the other has no meaning.” This was building on the earlier meetings called by Fr Greene from the time the parish was first formed.

On Wednesday, 7th April 1976, leading up to Easter, the first Third Rite of General Absolution took place at 7.30pm at St Flannan’s. Fr Doyle had been preparing the parishioners for this event since December 1975 with the use of films, talks and discussions, especially during the Lenten Discussion Program of 1976. The talks were well attended with one drawing over 100 people which Fr Doyle found ‘most gratifying’. The ceremony took half an hour and was attended by over 400 people. The sacristy was being used as a Reconciliation Room where one could receive the First Rite anonymously, or face to face. In December the Second Rite was organized with the help of 10 priests. There is no record of how many attended.

December 1976 saw the beginning of the changing of the guard when Fr Michael Campbell was transferred to Wilston . On the 9th January 1977, Fr Doyle was transferred to Burleigh Heads and Fr Brian Heenan was appointed to succeed him as Parish Priest, his first such appointment. Now it was up to Fr Heenan to continue the work begun and developed by his two predecessors.

Much later on 16/12/1993, Bishop Brian Heenan wrote to Fr Doyle, “You left me a great community at St Flannan’s, the spirit of which changed my whole approach to ministry. Thank you for that.”