Catholic Justice and Peace Commission of Brisbane

Morgan Howe 1919-2006

Rev Morgan HoweMorgan Howe is not forgotten in the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry of Brisbane. In the International Year of Older Persons Murri Ministry hosted an event in Musgrave Park for our Elders. During the consultation with elders Aunty Jane Arnold, since passed on herself, wished to invite older church personnel who had joined herself and other elders in the times of struggle, especially in the early seventies. Morgan Howe was among those guests.

The wider circle of migaloo friends remember how Father Howe allowed his parish hall to be used for social justice gatherings, talks and discussions on the Acts which governed Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders apart from other citizens of Australia. In the same hall we learnt about Land Rights and our moral obligation to support those rights.

Father Morgan Howe not only put the parish resources at the disposal of justice but he produced written works to show his commitment.

May his commitment be rewarded. We thank him and bless him.

Murri Ministry Aboriginal Catholic Ministry Office Ravina and Bernadette and Sr Kay

I first met Morgan Howe when I was 16 years of age attending the first of a series of lectures he was giving at the Aquinas Library.It was a basement library opposite the GPO.It was 1948.I arrived early to find this athletic young priest placing chairs around in preparation for the evening.  I witnessed what I came to realise as one of his many strengths  that of being a hands-on person.  He was the Professor of Sociology at Banyo Seminary.  The meeting was the beginning of a 58 year friendship  a friendship that I regard as one of the privileges of my life!

Morgan was a multi-gifted person.  He had a great intellect, a dynamic personality, and a great storyteller with a mischievous sense of humour.  He had a very compassionate nature.  He saw the effect of injustice on his fellow human beings and was deeply moved by it, so moved that it could arouse in him a just anger.

In 1950, I started working full-time for the YCW till my marriage in 1957.  This afforded me the opportunity to witness Morgan’s strengths.  He was a great lecturer.  He was generous with his time and his vision of Church was ultimately endorsed by Vatican II.  He saw the role of the laity fully engaged in the world pursuing social justice as fundamental to the mission of the Church And his spirituality of  co-creation, pro-creation and re-creation  imbued us with a vision which helped us to understand our lives as Christians and empowered us to engage in the world  human dignity.

In 1953, Morgan transferred to Boonah as Parish Priest.  In spite of the distance and new demands, he remained generous with his time and continued to provide lectures for our training days and schools.

In 1975, the O’Halloran family moved to Greenbank.  The previous year, Morgan was transferred as parish Priest at Indooroopilly.  Soon after those two moves, the Whitlam Government was sacked by the Governor-General.  It resulted in much division in the wider community, but it also divided people in the Church between those who supported this action and those who opposed it.  I believe this was a dissipation of energy in relation to the Church’s mission in the world.  As a result of a phone call to Morgan, the Brisbane Social Justice Group was formed.  Once again, with Morgan’s generosity, commitment and Parish resources, this group was able to act as a forerunner to the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Brisbane which was established in 1985, of which Morgan was the first Chairperson.

In 1988, I became the Commission’s first Executive Officer, once again, with the great advantage of working with Morgan.  Probably one of the highlights of my time with Morgan on the Commission was in 1991, the centenary of Rerum Novarum, the Commission, with the enthusiastic support of the then Speaker of Parliament, Mr Jim Fouras, initiated our first annual Parliamentary Forum.  The theme for this forum was The centenary of Rerum Novarum and Morgan gave the appropriate address based on Centessimus Annus.

These are some of the events that formed the background to a very deep and valued friendship with a very remarkable man.  In his latter years, with the loss of his eyesight and failing health, Morgan remained an enthusiastic, enjoyable, entertaining and uncomplaining companion.  In alluding to his loss of sight, he said of his eyes that they served me well.  To have known Morgan has been a tremendous privilege, a great delight and an inspiration.

Brian O’Halloran

In the mid eighties some time, I was getting concerned that we weren’t hearing much from the church about what I called social and environmental issues and went to discuss this with Fr Morgan as my parish priest. He told me that my theology would inform my conscience on these and other issues and encouraged me to do some study around the subjects and especially to “maintain the rage”.

I have attempted to do both ever since.

His memory lives on in those whom he encouraged.

Michael Bennett

I first met Fr Morgan Howe in 1974 when I began working with Action for World Development and so connecting with Roman Catholics who were committed to social justice and liberated by the influence of Vatican II . I quickly began to appreciate the his scholarship and dedication to a practical teaching ministry shaped by the rich tradition of Catholic Social Doctrine. I observed also how he was a figure of inspiration and guidance to lay, clergy and religious colleagues of mine as we developed partnerships of social action in the Bjelke-Petersen era.

Morgan Howe was particularly influential in the planning and implementation of church sponsorship in the formation of the Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Action (FAIRA) so strongly endorsed by the Queensland Catholic Bishops. He understood that the institutional racism embodied in the Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Acts must be vehemently challenged and opposed if the claim of the 1971 Synod of Bishops that “social justice is a constituent element of the proclamation of the Gospel” were to be practised. All of us who were part of the ecumenical social justice networks from the 1970s on are in  debt to Morgan Howe.

Dr Noel Preston AM

Father Morgan Bourke Howe

Eulogy given at Vigil Mass of Thanksgiving

Holy Family Church Indooroopilly

7th June 2006 at 7:30pm

I count it a great privilege to have been asked to reflect on the life of Father Morgan Bourke Howe.

I do this on behalf of the Holy Family Parish community, conscious that each one of us has our own rich memories of this great man.

Father Howe was born on May 8, 1919.

He was a second generation Australian; all of his grandparents migrated from Ireland  from Clare and Tipperary  towards the end of the 19th century. His mother’s family name was Bourke.

I know only a little about his early years. His father was a school teacher. The young Morgan Howe spent some of his youth around Dagun, a small town in the Mary Valley of Queensland.

After he had completed his schooling he became a school teacher himself before beginning his studies for the priesthood.

Father Howe was a member of the second last group of candidates for the priesthood from Queensland, who completed all of their studies in NSW, at the seminaries at Springwood and Manly. This was just before Banyo Seminary opened. He was ordained in July 1945.

Father Howe came to Holy Family Parish as Parish Priest in January 1974, and he retired in July 1998. The nearly 25 years he spent here constituted almost half of his active ministry as a priest. He came to Indooroopilly from Boonah, where he had been Parish Priest for twenty years, after serving as a member of the teaching staff of Banyo Seminary for seven years.

At Banyo, one of his main areas of specialisation was the Church’s teaching on Social Justice.

Father Howe was a much loved Parish Priest at Boonah. He delighted in the richness and variety of the people of the land. He developed interests in bee-keeping and in growing camellias. One thing he gained from his time at Boonah was a large collection of anecdotes  amusing and instructive  about the many characters he came to know there and their idiosyncrasies. We have heard many of these in his homilies  always amusing and to the point.

He had a lively sense of humour and I recall his hearty laugh, prompted readily by anything amusing  including laughs against himself.

In his character and in his ministry as Parish Priest, Father Howe was gentle and unassuming. He was very much a man of the people, with no pretence, no facade.

He extended the same warm welcome to everyone, without distinction, and he took a genuine, caring interest in each person as an individual. He was dearly loved by his parishioners at Indooroopilly, as he had been by those in Boonah.

Many visitors comment about the special nature of the parish life at Indooroopilly.

We tend to take it for granted that so many people share in the parish ministry and accept responsibility for the faith community.

This is a good time for us to recall, with gratitude, that it is the way it is because of Father Howe’s leadership and nurturing. When he came to Indooroopilly in 1974, it was still relatively early in the times after the Second Vatican Council. Though he had been ordained seventeen years before Pope John XXIII opened Vatican II in 1962, Father Howe adapted to the outcomes of the Council and their reverberations throughout the Church with remarkable ease.  He was enthusiastic for the reforms brought about by the Council, particularly in matters of increased participation of the laity and in issues of Social Justice.

He stated his views on the role of the laity in the Holy Family Parish News of April 1977;  The Theology of the Church is quite explicit. Every member of the People of God is fully a member. There is no provision in the Church’s constitution for associate members, honorary members, or sleeping partners. That means that each and every one of us must, in their own way, accept a full quota of the responsibility that rests on the Christian’s shoulders.

And, with regard to Social Justice, his parishioners heard Father Howe proclaim many times that commitment to Social Justice is an essential, constitutive part of the Gospel.

His wonderful appreciation of the increased role of the laity in the teachings of Vatican II made Father Howe very easy to work with and very open to initiatives from parish members. He would encourage those who lamented the slowness of implementation of the reforms, and the resistance to change by many members of the Church, by recalling that, typically it had always taken fifty or more years to bring about significant change in the Church,

His commitment to these reforms made the second half of the 1970’s an exciting time in Holy Family Parish:

  • Father Des McQuaid had started the Parish Pastoral Council in September 1971.

Father Howe gave enthusiastic support to the Parish Council and to the various committees that were set up under his guidance to involve as many as possible in the Mission of the local Church; these included Committees for Liturgy, Education, Youth, Social Justice, Ecumenism, the Caring Committee, and the Finance Committee.

  • The children’s liturgy was established.
  • The new Parish School buildings and Learning Centre were planned and built.
  • The Holy Family Parish School was chosen by Cath Ed for one of the Pilot School Boards.
  • Under Father Howe’s leadership, Holy Family Parish was one of the main centres in Brisbane for action on justice and peace. Each year, for many years, there was at least one whole day meeting in the Learning Centre here, dealing with justice issues. These were attended by people from all over Brisbane

Eventually, the Archdiocese accepted responsibility and set up the Archdiocesan Commission for Justice and Peace.

Meanwhile, the Social Justice Group established in Holy Family Parish with Father Howe’s encouragement, about 1982, has continued and has expanded to embrace other parishes and other denominations; it operates strongly today as the Ecumenical Social Justice Group (Western Suburbs) Inc and Father Howe was its patron.

Father Howe had a great love for and a deep understanding of the Scriptures and he was dedicated to opening the minds of his parishioners to their richness.

At every mass he celebrated, his homily was a rich source for reflection and inspiration as he explained the readings from Scripture, opened them up for us and challenged us to apply them in our lives.

This he did at the week day masses as well as at those on the weekend.

Looking beyond his parish ministry, I am reminded of the way Father Howe gently took the initiative to nurture developments that he recognised as important before the main body of the Church was ready to take them on.

He persisted, often through dry times, while there seemed little support and, sometimes, strong opposition.

Eventually, when their time of wide acceptance had come, he graciously and generously gave his support to those commissioned to carry on what he had begun and nurtured.

Father Howe’s contributions to the wider Church in this way extended especially over Justice and Peace, Adult Education and Aborigines.

I have already mentioned some of his contributions to Justice and Peace.

Another important contribution in this area was his role as Chairman of the Archdiocesan Research Group. This was set up by the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, to advise Archbishop Rush on the complex justice and political issues that arose rather often during the period about 1976-80.

Father Howe was always a strong promoter of Adult Education.

When he was a young member of the teaching staff at Banyo he gave unstinting support to the Newman Society at the University of Queensland during the1950’s.

He gave many public lunch hour lectures on Social Justice and on topical issues arranged by the Newman Society.

He also gave talks to Newman Society study weekends.

A generation of University Students from those days were stirred by his enthusiasm for the writings of G.K. Chesterton and of Hilaire Belloc.

He also enjoyed Newman Society social gatherings. I recall a Xmas Party he attended where he suddenly disappeared about 11:30 pm. He was found later in a quiet corner where he paced up and down as he read the Daily Office that had to be completed before mid-night.

Even while he was at Boonah, he continued to give regular lecture series in Brisbane on Catholic Social Justice Teachings.

For many years, he was Chairman of the Adult Education Committee of Catholic Education for the Archdiocese.

Eventually, under his leadership, the Institute of Faith was established, a fulltime Adult Education Coordinator was appointed and structures were created to develop this aspect of the Church’s Mission into the diverse programme it is today.

Long before it became accepted that there are major issues of injustice in Australia�s treatment of its indigenous people, Father Howe was working to advance their cause.

In 1977, he wrote the book Aborigines and Christians, helped by Coralie Kingston and Father Dick Pascoe. I understand that book is held in high regard by indigenous people themselves.

An attempt was made by Holy Family Parish Council in 1978 to persuade the Archdiocese to make a direct donation of church land to the Aboriginal people, to demonstrate that the Church truly supported the aspirations of a dispossessed race.

The Archdiocesan Pastoral Council watered down the motion from HFP Council to such extent that it would have been ineffective. Father Howe and the Chairman (the late Robert Patterson) insisted that the amended motion be rescinded.

This is just one example of Father Howe’s support for Aborigines and for the Parish Council; and his willingness to stand out against majority opinions.

Through all of this, as he contributed so much to the wider Church, Father Howe’s dedication to the parish continued, total and unreserved.

He did not talk about himself, but his holiness was evident in the way he lived his commitment as a Christian and as a priest. He lived a life of simplicity, unconcerned about material comfort.

A number of younger priests stayed with Father Howe in Indooroopilly at different times while they were going through various transitions.  One of these shared with me that his vocation to the priesthood had been awakened by his observation of the way Father Howe lived his ministry  he could see in him Christ going about ministering to the people.

And this dedication continued right up to his retirement, despite difficulties with deteriorating eyesight that he bore with patience and dignity. Despite failing health in recent years, Father Howe’s interest in and concern for his parishioners and their families never waned.

Those who visited him at Canossa, in hospital, or at St Paul de Chartres Nursing Home, marvelled at his memory of those whose life he had touched in Indooroopilly and Boonah parishes.

Father Howe was truly a great model for us in his ageing process. He recognised and accepted the progressive limitations that came with advancing years, all along the way; and he adapted to them with serenity.

These reflections have been, necessarily, personal and selective.

I am sure that there are many here who could add further dimensions and colours to our appreciation of Father Howe, and of his ministry to the parish family and to the wider Church.

Those of us who knew Father Howe will always remember with love and gratitude;

  • his easy-going friendliness,
  • his consistent preaching of the Word of God, as he opened the Scriptures to us in his homilies,
  • his openness and willingness to agree to initiatives from the Parish Pastoral Council,
  • his persistent, long term dedication to social justice, and
  • his faithfulness to his vocation as priest, and his selfless ministry to Holy Family Parish for nearly 25 years.

We give thanks for all that Father Howe has done for us;

We give thanks for all that Father Howe has been for us.

Eulogy prepared by Colin Apelt.

With assistance from Sr Patricia Buckley, Rosemary Probyn,

Dr Ron Hurst and Brian McGrath.

Morgan Howe was the best lecturer Banyo Seminary ever had.  Before he studies for the priesthood he trained as a teacher, and he taught in small country schools.  His training gave him skill in presentation and communication.  Perhaps, it simply developed abilities he already possessed.  He came to Banyo direct from ordination, young, confident, convinced of his own ideas.  He was assigned to lecture on Ethics, a two year course in Scholastic philosophy applied to moral decision-making.  The texts were in Latin, boring in any language.  Morg, as he was always known, gave a passing nod to them and spent most of his time on more relevant matters  in English, his own sparkling, entertaining, intriguing English.

He introduced his students to the political and economic situation in contemporary Australia and measured this against Catholic social doctrine  from Rerum Novarum of Leo XIII to the then telling Social Justice statements of the Australian bishops.  To ground his students in the material these documents dealt with he taught a six months course in Economics and some on the elements of Sociology.

Morg’s lectures were never dull.  He had a quirkish sense of humour, delivered with a half grin and a gleam in his eye.  Had we known then, his heavy glasses were a hint of the tragic blindness that eventually overtook him.  He rarely made a statement without illustrating it with an imaginary, even fantastic, example.  It was always outrageously funny, but it made his point exactly and unforgettably.  There was no text book for his material, except for the Economics.  No one had written what he thought.  So, late at night and early in the morning he printed notes on a primitive Gestetner.  He spoke to these notes, not from them.  I can still, sixty years later, not read an encyclical without sensing the sharp smell of the Gestetner fluid.

Along with other brilliant priests on the staff, with whom he enjoyed hilarious evenings in the Common Room, he was an inspiring model for the young men in training for the priesthood.  When he left Banyo, he was an ideal pastor, while developing further his Christian social interests.

Dr Tom Boland


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