Things both old and new : the question of authority in Benedict, Polding and three Australian Benedictine communities




Malone, Margaret Malone

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In both Church and society, nineteenth century Australia was marked by tensions and questioning of authority as white society established itself and began its development. John Bede Polding, an English Benedictine monk, came to Australia in 1835. He later became the first Catholic Archbishop of Sydney. Full of missionary zeal, Polding was fired with a desire to build the Australian Church and to establish it strongly within the Benedictine tradition. One way he saw of doing this was through the establishment of three Benedictine communities; the men's community of St. Mary's, Sydney, the women's community at Subiaco, New South Wales,and a new foundation, the Sisters of the Good Samaritan of the Order of St. Benedict. Much of what he wanted to do was unsuccessful. His vision for an abbey-diocese was unrealistic in the context of the times. The community of St Mary's was eventually suppressed by Polding's successor, Roger Bede Vaughan, also an English Benedictine. This community was tom apart by scandal and, it could be argued, by Polding's inability to adapt and govern it wisely. The women's community at Subiaco carried on living the Benedictine life in a recognizable, traditional way for women. This community still flourishes and is now resident at Jamberoo in New South Wales. Its beginnings are discussed as part of Polding's vision for Benedictine life in Australia but its development throughout the twentieth century is not within the scope of this thesis. The new Australian Benedictine Institute, the Sisters of the Good Samaritan of the Order of St. Benedict, was established by Polding in 1857 to live a different religious life and to serve different needs. It continues to exist and forms a strong Benedictine presence in Australia. Polding in fact did leave behind him a healthy heritage, even if it were not in ways he had foreseen. Within these three communities, and in society as a whole, questions regarding authority were central. It is important to place discussions about the communities in their general context which was often one of conflict Authority and government are central questions for any group and it is through the lens of authority that the communities are viewed. In order to do this, a study has been made of the background of the Rule of Benedict by which all these groups in one way or another lived. There is a concentration on the sections of the Rule that have to do with the role of the abbot and those who hold places of special service in the community. This is the context and foundation for the examination of authority and government within the communities. This thesis will show that the way a community is governed will reflect how the group understands its identity and it emphasises that this identity needs to be clear and coherent. Usually, a community establishes and lives with certain processes of government and only then expresses them in written documents. Careful analysis of these documents and changes therein, tell us much about the community. Adaptations are always being made for the times, the place and the circumstances, and the importance of knowing the history of these changes is paramount. The focus of this study is the development and adaptation of structures and processes of government, both in documents and practice, that have affected the Sisters of the Good Samaritan of the Order of St Benedict. A growth in understanding of the vision of Polding and a faithful adherence to it is evident. In many ways, the wheel has come full circle in terms of grasping this original vision, but not as a return to the past. Instead, it will be argued, that old and new work dynamically to create a new future consonant with the times but firmly grounded in a strong and vital Benedictine identity. This identity is clearly expressed in the Congregation's concept of authority and modes of governance as these have evolved in its history. The missionary vision of Polding which grew out of his Benedictine way of life and which informed his new community has borne fruit.






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