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Outstanding lay Catholics models for today, says archbishop

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Archbishop Peter Comensoli hopes for meaningful involvement from the Government in the consultation they will wish to have with religious communities. Photo: CNS photo/Robert Duncan
Archbishop Peter Comensoli encouraged lay Catholics to be bold in witnessing to their faith.  PHOTO: CNS/Robert Duncan

Archbishop highlights four Catholics as models

Archbishop Peter Comensoli has highlighted the remarkable witness of four Victorian Catholics who went on to have significant impacts on their times as examples of the kinds of Catholics the Church needs in Australia today.

Delivering the annual Patrick Oration on 17 March, he instanced Melbourne medical couple doctors John and Evelyn Billings, activist and author BA Santamaria and medical graduate Dr Mary Glowrey as the kinds of Catholics needed witnessing to their faith and the values derived from it in the public square today.

“Over the years, the local Church in Melbourne has been blessed with many outstanding lay apostles,” Archbishop Comensoli said. “They stand with us as saints among the saints of our local Church.”

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Dr Evelyn and Dr John Billings. PHOTO: Peter Casamento

The Billings pioneered the natural family planning method approach known as the Billings Ovulation Method.

The Billings ‘revolution’ had a global impact, offering a scientific and medically precise method of family planning which is still significantly unknown and often misunderstood among Catholics and the wider population but which has spread around the world.

When practised as taught by Billings educators it has a remarkable ability to avoid or achieve pregnancy and offers an entirely natural alternative to surgical and pharmaceutical contraception.

Among the countries which have invested significant resources in it following intensive studies are China and India. Dr John Billings passed away in 2007 while his wife Dr Evelyn Billings passed away in 2013.

Melbourne-born and raised intellectual and political activist BA Santamaria was also nominated by Archbishop Comensoli.

The naming of Mr Santamaria, known popularly as ‘Bob’, undoubtedly surprised many given his role as a crusading anti-communist in 20th Century Australian political life whose political organisation was at the heart of the famed Split of the Labor Party in 1955.

Dr Mary Glowrey. PHOTO: Catholic Women’s League of Victoria and Wagga Wagga

However by the time of his death in 1997 many of Mr Santamaria’s former political enemies on the Left had basically reconciled with him and acknowledged the essential correctness of his analysis of the injustices and problems of unrestrained capitalism and the growing directionless nature of Australian economic and political life.

Close to figures in both the Labor and Liberal parties for decades, Mr Santamaria was described by Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s biographer as Australia’s only intellectual in the high European tradition.

Legendary Liberal Party Prime Minister Robert Menzies wrote to Mr Santamaria in retirement informing him that he had ceased voting for the Liberal Party in the two previous elections, electing to vote instead for the Santamaria-backed Democratic Labor Party.

“Deeply influenced by the social teaching of the Catholic Church, Bob – a family man at heart – was a leading figure in economics, politics and social activism throughout his life,” Archbishop Comensoli said.

BA Santamaria. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Meanwhile, Dr Mary Glowrey was one of the first women to study medicine at Melbourne University, and a founding leader of the Catholic Women’s Social Guild in 1916 – now known as the Catholic Women’s League.

She eventually entered religious life and spent the rest of her life in India where she founded the largest non-government healthcare system in that country. Her cause for sainthood is underway, with her being accorded the title Servant of God in 2013.

The Patrick Oration can read online at:


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