He never did look like a Super Hero but when Bishop William Brennan was ordained Priest on 21st December, 1960 by Cardinal Agaginian ,for the now enfeebled vacant See of Wilcannia-Forbes, few could have guessed that the young man prostrate before before the Altar would quietly turn the history of the Catholic Church in Australia right about. 

On 1st March, 1984 William Brennan was consecrated Bishop of the Diocese of Wagga Wagga , by Cardinal Clancy then  Archbishop of Sydney ,with Archbishop Luigi Barbarito (Apostolic Pro- Nuncio)and Archbishop Carroll Auxiliary of Sydney as Co-Consecrators. I doubt that they would have guessed even at that stage what the practical results of that Sacramental act would be.

The Diocese of Wagga Wagga was erected on 28th July, 1917 toward the latter part of the first World War.It was carved out of the Diocese of Goulburn as it was.By the time of Bishop Brennan's Consecration, The Diocese had near 24,000 Catholics out of a total population of 108,000 (22%), and there were 41 Priests ( all Diocesan) 18 male Religious and 213 female Religious and 21 Parishes (figures actually at 1951).

Even by Australian standards, this was a small Diocese and unlikely to be a source of difficulty for the "progressive" Hierarchs in charge of mighty Sydney and Melbourne or even lesser Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide.For at that time the Church in Australia had fallen into the hands of the false "spirit of the Council" people. There were a few strong Suffragan hold-outs for orthodoxy , but one hand was sufficient to count them, even perhaps a hand that had lost a few fingers! Times were tough - the unannounced War had been, it seemed, "won". Most people in the pews did not even know it had been on!

Every Seminary in the Country was already in terminal decline. The New Church people had promoted their own into all the Professorial positions in the Seminaries and the Institutes and colleges that supplemented their teaching needs. Seminarians who would hug trees (literally) could flourish but most of the good Catholic young men left the wreckage of once Catholic institutions and, for want of an alternative, gave up their vocations.Scandals and heresy abounded - driving ever more good men away. 

The Second Vatican Council had, in its document "Christus Dominus" noted the perceived advantages for the Church in each country , of closer co-ordination between the Bishops of that country, and lauded the concept of Episcopal Conferences. In 1966 Pope Paul VI by his Apostolic Letter " Ecclesiae Sanctae"directed the implementation of such Conferences among other things.

It is of course an obviously rational idea, as long as the independence of each Diocese is respected.The 1983 Code of Canon Law # 447 ( referring to " Christus Dominus") set out the role of the Conferences.But the gap between rational ideas and clear Canon Law, and political reality is vast. Few would have foreseen the creatures that the Conferences would become, and just how they might operate to the disadvantage of the Church and right and good in certain circumstances. Few indeed, but the e New Church people did. They clearly perceived the potential of the Conferences.And they acted to realise that potential.

They had ample advice from American manipulators well skilled in management techniques.Of course it was only rational that the Conference should have a Secretariat to "serve" it. Then of course the Secretariat must have an Executive Secretary , and indeed the Conference must have Committees and Committee Chairmen "served" by still more Executive Officers and indeed Chief Executive Officers, and away we go. 

But as bad as that was, there was another poisonous effect of the Conferences : rogue , dissident Bishops said and did what they would, thumbing their noses at their often sympathetic but more discreet brother Bishops. But the few orthodox and faithful Bishops felt constrained  by their loyalty to Christ and His Church to not only preserve unity, but to be seen to do so. These few good men then, were effectively neutralised, much as faithful Priests had been largely neutralised during the post-Conciliar collapse, by their silent contempt for what they saw going on around them.

The Man for the Hour

But then along came William Brennan. The man for the hour. The man who found the way.

Instead of being mesmerised by " the signs of the times", Bishop William Brennan saw that it was not necessary to create a great public conflict with his brother Bishops in efforts to protect his Seminarians in the provincial Seminary Saint Patrick's College Manly. He realised that Conference or no Conference, he retained his independent Episcopal powers as Bishop of Wagga Wagga. Not a public conflict. But of course almost every one of his brother Bishops would look askance at any independent action.When it came, they were all made uncomfortable, but might not have seen quite how uncomfortable some of them would become.

His action was not precipitate, but rather, mature and deliberate : in 1992 Bishop Brennan announced the foundation of  Vianney College the Wagga Wagga Diocesan Seminary.As far as the broader Catholic population in Australia knew, the event might not have happened. But among those who carefully followed the health of the Catholic Church in Australia and loved her for what she ought to be, joy bells were ringing. It was obvious why Bishop Brennan had taken this step - the situation at Saint Patrick's had become a scandal.

But little Wagga Wagga soon became the tail wagging the National dog! Vocations came flooding from Queensland and from all around New South Wales , from Victoria and from South Australia. As Vianney grew the Seminaries in the other States were collapsing, abandoning the once rightly proud edifices they had occupied and retreating into more modest, even tiny premises in the case of Brisbane's Banyo.

Vianney was carefully staffed with good orthodox Priests of marked achievement, even brilliance, Father Peter Joseph comes to mind and of course the humble and devout present Rector Father Peter Thompson C.M.

Once honoured St.Patrick's College Manly now closed and leased long term
to a Catering School by Cardinal Clancy. The Chapel remains under Church control.

In no time at all there were more Seminarians in Vianney College than in the provincial Seminary of Manly, or the provincial Seminary of Banyo, or the Provincial Seminary at Clayton in Melbourne .And the Seminary in Adelaide had closed. Bishop Brennan must have received some very hard glances at Conference meetings.But he was not a man of limited vision.

Crisis in Australia

In 1998 the situation of the Church in Australia was evolving steadily. Cardinal Clancy was still Archbishop of Sydney,  and Archbishop J.A. Bathersby in Brisbane and Archbishop Leonard Faulkner in Adelaide, but cracks were appearing in the liberal edifice : Archbishop Barry Hickey was appointed to Perth in 1991 and a Bishop named George Pell had been made an Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne in 1987 and he succeeded Archbishop Little as Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 after Archbishop Little apparently contracted a Roman illness.

The Holy See was by 1998 alarmed by the state of the Church in Australia and at the Australian Catholic Bishops Ad Limina visits that year,  after exhaustive consultations between the Australian Bishops and the Prefects of the Curial Dicasteries, a formal Statement of Conclusions on the parlous condition of the Church here was signed. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger ( later Pope Benedict XVI) had led the Holy See representatives who signed the document together with representatives of all the Australian Bishops.Back in Australia, the Bishops sought to allow the matter to fade into the past. But they had been put clearly on notice. And the document itself was in the public domain and widely circulated. Your scribe was in a position to ensure that this happened. Most Bishops gave the appearance of falling into line. One would not, and despite every opportunity given over the succeeding  years would finally have to be deposed in the new millennium.

Government Issues

In that same historic year of 1998 in October, two months before the Statement of Conclusions, Bishop Brennan issued a decree stating that only Catholics approved by himself might teach religion to Catholic children in government schools in his diocese. In addition, he insisted that the syllabus used must have his approval, and cover all the major elements of the faith.

In an article in the diocesan paper, Together, in October, Bishop Brennan explained that the "pastoral results" of having Catholic children taught a Scripture program by members of other Churches "have not been encouraging" with few of those involved developing "a sense of being Catholic" or becoming "engaged in sacramental programs."

The Bishop indicated that as from the beginning of 1999, the syllabus to be used should include teaching on the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, the Church, including the roles of Mary the Mother of the Church, the saints and the Pope.

This might seem a rather modest move, but that it was thought to be remarkable, shows how far things had deteriorated.

In late 1999 Bishop Brennan stood apart from his fellow Bishops once again and criticised the Church's involvement in the operation of Government-funded Job Placement agencies under contracts won in competition with commercial organisations, pointing out that this as not part of the Church's proper role considered from a theologically sound point of view. The Secretary of The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Father Brian Lucas, saw fit to distance himself from the Bishop's view when questioned on the matter on ABC Radio.  Subsequently one of Brisbane Archdiocese' adventures in this field failed financially when it overreached its Government funding.

Religious Orders

Bishop Brennan acted in a forthright manner to foster and protect authentically Catholic Religious Orders which could not find a home, or were being actually persecuted in other Dioceses. Two cases stand out :

The Confraternity of Christ the Priest

Father John Whiting and Blessed Pope John Paul II
The Confraternity of Christ the Priest was founded by the saintly Father John Whiting in 1954 in Townsville during the Episcopate of Bishop Hugh Ryan (1938-1967). However, the thoroughly orthodox Confraternity which had rapidly grown, and its equally orthodox Founder fell foul of Bishop Ryan's successor (1967-1983) Bishop Leonard Faulkner who, though a thoroughly charming gentleman was a total " spirit of the Council" prelate. Happily Father Whiting's Confraternity found shelter with Bishop William Brennan in Wagga, where it continues to flourish.

But its Townsville origins left it vulnerable to attack,and in due course Bishop Ray Benjamin of Townsville (1984-2000) who succeeded Bishop Faulkner moved with a vengeance.  (Bishop Faulkner went on to Adelaide as Archbishop and unleashed the false " spirit of the Council" there - a pollution that still swirls about in that Archdiocese despite his retirement in 2001.) Bishop Benjamin initiated proceedings before the Holy See to have the Confraternity canonically dissolved. Happily, this vindictive act, failed and the Holy See preserved the Confraternity.

Thank you Bishop Brennan for protecting this band of good and holy priests from dissident enemies.

The Conventual Sisters of St. Dominic

The Conventual Sisters of St. Dominic were formerly members of the Congregation of the Dominican Sisters of Australia. They entered the Western Australia Province of this Congregation, which had its origins in Sion Hill, Dublin.

In 1988, three sisters left Western Australia to trial a new community in the Diocese of Wagga Wagga. They did this in the belief that God was calling them to return to a more traditional form of Dominican religious life.


After four years of living 'ad experimentum' in the Wagga Wagga Diocese, the community was formally erected in 1993 by Bishop William Brennan, with the approval of the Congregation for Religious.

Bringing together the New and the Old:This is not a 'new' community with a completely 'new' charism. It has continuity of spirit and tradition with the long history of Dominican women in Ireland and Australia, yet incorporates the vital elements of true renewal and reform desired by the Church in our times.

Whilst this history presents a tranquil picture, the Sisters endured a great deal to protect the integrity of their vocation before finding the protection of Bishop William Brennan.


In this brief sketch of the achievements of Bishop William Brennan we have sought to do some justice to his name, mindful of the repeated efforts in the same direction made by Cardinal George Pell in the past and even as late as two or three weeks ago.

Too many Bishops will go to any length to avoid "rocking the boat"of the Episcopal Conference. Bishop Brennan quietly, humbly not only rocked it he effectively changed its course- brought it back on course! 

If ever there has been a hero in the Australian Episcopate he is the Man. Bishop Brennan has had to live in retirement since he was stricken in health in 2002.


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