FROM A SUITCASE ON THE VERANDAH:
FATHER BERNARD O’SHEA AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF CATHOLIC EDUCATION IN BRISBANE 1943-1983
By Maurice Ryan, Brisbane Catholic Education, $29.95
Reviewed by Br Brian Grenier CFC
IN his preface to From a Suitcase on the Verandah, David Hutton, the executive director of Brisbane Catholic Education, reminds us that an entitlement mentality can easily replace what should be a sense of gratitude if we succumb to the human tendency to forget the past.
We need no other justification for the publication of this fine book in which an important chapter in the history of Catholic education in Brisbane is recorded, together with the story of Fr Bernard (Barney) O’Shea whose life was dedicated to this cause for more than 40 fruitful years.
Though it was not the intention of Dr Maurice Ryan to write a biography of Fr O’Shea, he has included in these pages enough personal and professional detail about his subject’s life for the reader to encounter a zealous, competent, hardworking man whom many Catholics of my vintage will remember as a wise, courteous, personable and dedicated priest.
Fr Barney O’Shea was appointed Inspector of Religious Education and Youth Movements in the Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Brisbane in 1943.
Five years later he became the director of Catholic Education – a post he held until his resignation in 1983.
For most of that time he was also the parish priest of St Ita’s, Dutton Park.
Under his leadership a loosely structured enterprise that could be administered from a presbytery verandah became, in time, a vastly expanded and increasingly centralised system of quality education.
The phases of this development are well delineated in this attractively produced, large-format (210mm x 250mm) hardbound book.
Among the many issues and topics that the author has painstakingly researched and documented for this work (with the assistance of John Schiavo and others), one could point to the negotiations with governments concerning funding for the recurrent and capital needs of the schools; the formation and operation of various councils, commissions and committees; the contribution of religious congregations and the expanding role of lay staff; the occasional internal conflict and dissent generated by competing interests; the questioning of the importance attached to Catholic education among archdiocesan priorities – to mention just a few.
Not least among the many pleasing features about this book is the interesting and informative 20-page introduction which gives an overview of “Catholic Education in New South Wales and Queensland 1800-1940”.
Dr Ryan’s text, I should add, is enhanced by the inclusion of many relevant photos which set other times and other places before us, an index of names and a timeline of Fr O’Shea’s life.
I recommend this story of sacrifice and achievement to all readers of The Leader, especially those who are or who have been teachers in Catholic schools.
It looks back to a time when our schools were under-resourced and classrooms were crowded and when building schools took precedence over constructing churches; and it looks forward to a future that, one may reasonably hope, is bright with promise.