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James Anderson is uncovering the mystery of the historic book in his late father’s hanky drawer

Mysteries: James Anderson holding the Plenary Council 1937 Catechism booklet and a picture of his dad John Keith Anderson. Photo: Joe Higgins

MONTHS after his father John Keith Anderson died, Geebung parishioner James Anderson was sorting through his dad’s old handkerchief drawer when he found three mysterious items – an old car VIN plate, a roll of 35mm film and a Plenary Council 1937 Catholic Catechism booklet.

It was the latter that stumped Mr Anderson.

The booklet contained prayers, a question-and-answer catechism and liturgical rites – still in Latin – and expectations for Catholics to adhere to.

“At first I didn’t really look too hard at it; I was surprised to see it because Dad was Anglican in faith, but he was never practising,” Mr Anderson said.

But once he opened the delicate old booklet, he read the words on the first page, “On the occasion of the Fourth Plenary Council 1937”, and was “absolutely blown away”.

Mr Anderson said he had heard his parish priest Fr Robert Doohan talk about the upcoming Plenary Council 2020.

And if you had asked Mr Anderson what a plenary council was a couple years ago, he said he would have had no idea.

There had not been a plenary council for 80 years and now, with one coming up, out of the blue this booklet appeared, he said.

“I think it’s just terrific; it’s a real mystery that God’s sent us,” Mr Anderson said.

“It doesn’t really make a lot of sense, it’s made us ask lots of questions but it’s great because it’s made conversation. 

“He’s making us talk about the plenary council and the involvement of that, and talk about the future of where we want our Catholic community to go in Australia.”

But the question remained – where did the booklet come from?

When he found it, Mr Anderson had been helping sort through his dad’s things because his mum was moving out of the family home and into Bluecare.

His mother Jennifer Anderson (nee Plant) was a Catholic and her parents were “very devout” Catholics.

But Mr Anderson said his mother had never seen the booklet before, quashing that theory to the whodunit. 

Determined to find out more, Mr Anderson took the booklet to Fr Doohan. 

Mr Anderson said Fr Doohan was a little gobsmacked about the find and was fascinated by it but had no answers as to where it would have come from.

So the mystery of the booklet only grew.

Plenary history: The booklet containing prayers, catechesis and liturgical rites.

It was published by the Australian Catholic Truth Society – a possible clue – but that organisation ceased operation in 1986.

The only other clue was an ink stamp – Pellegrini & Co, 370 Queen Street, Brisbane.

But this was just the address of a Catholic depot in the city, where Catholic books and furniture were sold.

Mr Anderson’s uncles and aunts had all died so there was no way of knowing if they knew, and the dresser the booklet was hidden in was bought brand new when his father and mother were first married – no chance of it being a remnant of a previous owner.

He searched online for other copies of the booklet but couldn’t find anything.

The Plenary Council 1937 agenda doesn’t point to any clues either.

The council was largely about decrees about what was okay and not okay for Catholics to do on a social scale. 

Ultimately, the booklet remains a mystery.

For Mr Anderson, this mystery added to its personality.

“You really don’t know what’s hiding away in your sock drawer or your hanky drawer,” he said. “I’m sure Dad’s having a chuckle right now, poking fun at us. 

“But I’m really pleased, really happy, really amazed, really gobsmacked, what a wonderful connection.”

While its only pocket-size, the booklet contains a wealth of information.

“It’s a great little carry-book for an everyday gentleperson, Christian Catholic,” Mr Anderson said.

He carefully leafed through the booklet and said he wanted to keep poring over its contents for hours but was mindful about its fragility and age. The catechism teachings within were short, sharp questions and answers.

“What happened on Christmas Day?” the booklet asks.

“On Christmas day, Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary in a stable at Bethlehem,” it answers.

Mr Anderson said it was quite literal, as we should be in our faith to a point.

In many ways it pointed to the type of faith people held back then, more than 80 years ago, he said.

“It’s all very factual, it’s wonderful, it’s really great,” Mr Anderson said. “I’d love to try and reproduce this if we could.”

The brevity and matter-of-fact writing style suggested it was written for the lay population, Mr Anderson hypothesised.

And while it was likely written for the average layperson 80 years ago, it reappeared to Mr Anderson here and now – a sign in the lead-up to Plenary Council 2020.

He said he had only really come back into his faith in the past three or four years, after being “away from God” for most of his life.

“I just had a few things happen in my life and knew there was much more to life than just earning money and surviving; there’s more to life than that,” he said. 

“I’ve been very blessed with where I’ve come from and where I want to go, and God’s support in my life and God’s involvement in my life, and I involve Him and He involves me.

“I want Him to use me in any way I possibly can to help Him, and help God and whatever His master plan is for us.”

A big part of his faith, he said, was encouraged by Fr Doohan.

“Fr Robert is just a really wonderful priest,” he said. “He is personable, you’re never scared to approach him about anything, he’ll help you with anything he possibly can.

“Fr Robert makes me want to be a better Christian and a better Catholic, you know.”

And, as Mr Anderson moves to Toowoomba for a new job in the coming months, he said he would miss the Geebung parish community as they and Fr Doohan “set a high bar”.

The booklet will remain close to him and, for now, will remain a mystery.

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