Having These Promises

Articles on Jesuit influenced politics in Australia

Order’s alumni take the lead

Date:April 6, 2013 The Australian

Peter Cai

Bill Shorten. Photo: GLENN HUNT

If the Coalition wins government in September, its frontbench will look like a Jesuit schools reunion. Senior party stalwarts Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey, Christopher Pyne and Barnaby Joyce all went to exclusive Jesuit schools in the country.

On the Labor side, prime ministerial aspirant and senior cabinet minister Bill Shorten was also schooled at Xavier College in Melbourne. Corporate Jesuit alumni include James Gorman, now chairman and chief executive of multinational securities giant Morgan Stanley, who was at at Xavier eight years earlier than Shorten.

An even older old boy is Melbourne developer Lloyd Williams, who developed Crown Casino then sold it to the Packers. David Murray, former CEO of Commonwealth Bank and former chairman of the Future Fund was also Jesuit-educated, as was Macquarie Bank’s Nicholas Moore.

Abbott and shadow treasurer Hockey have both credited the Jesuits for developing their confidence and inculcating a desire for them to be ”a man for others”. The Opposition Leader has made no secret of Jesuit influence in his life. ”The college [St Aloysius and St Ignatius] mottos, ‘born for higher things’ and ‘do as much as you can’ … I thoroughly assimilated, sometimes to my masters’ annoyance,” he wrote in his autobiography Battlelines.

His contemporary at St Aloysius, Hockey, also shared Abbott’s affection for the Jesuits. In fact, they share a same spiritual adviser in Emmet Costello, a prominent Sydney Jesuit. Hockey said that a Jesuit education had a profound impact on him. ”It had measurable impact on my self-esteem,” he said, ”they also taught me the need to earn the rights to lead.”

Father Michael Ryan, a former rector of Xavier College, performed the wedding service for Hockey and baptised his three children. Hockey also named his two boys after two Jesuit saints, Ignatius and Xavier. ”I don’t think there is any doubt about my affection for the Jesuits,” he said.

Shorten, the Labor Party powerbroker, was more sceptical of the notion that a Jesuit education prepared one for political leadership and said there was a case of ”retro-seating of the theory”.

”Clearly some people who were Jesuit-educated have gone on to be engaged in public life in Australia and there was a lot of Xavier students who haven’t,” he said, ”I am not that sure whether they saw themselves as a political training college.”

Shorten rejected the perceived elitism of Jesuit schools, saying while there were pupils from very affluent backgrounds, there were also children of Vietnamese refugees. He was also critical of the exclusion of girls from his old school.

Hockey also observed that more than a quarter of John Howard’s cabinet was Jesuit-educated and recited their names: Brendan Nelson, Peter McGauran, Richard Alston, Tim Fischer, Abbott and himself. ”I don’t think they ever set out to have a particular control of the political process of the Coalition party and it just happened that way,” he said.


Swings to Jesuit-educated MPs across the country

  • AUGUST 23, 2010 

The Australian Jesuit order will be celebrating today – possibly with a bottle or two of its own Sevenhill wine – after swings to Jesuit-educated parliamentarians were recorded across the country.

The Catholic order, self-described “soldiers of the church”, prides itself on the rigorous education it provides in its elite schools around the country.

Jesuit-educated alumni in the current parliament include:

-Opposition leader Tony Abbott, who recorded a 4.57 per cent swing to him; 
-Treasury spokesman Joe Hockey, 8.57 per cent;
– Education spokesman Christopher Pyne, 2.55 per cent against the trend in South Australia;
-Rural spokesman Barnaby Joyce, who rose from third on the Queensland senate ticket to second and; 
-On the Labor side of the chamber, parliamentary secretary for disabilities Bill Shorten, who recorded a 2.44 per cent swing in his favour.

The only exception to the rule was Victorian Senator Julian McGuaran, who failed to hold the third senate seat in that state – losing his seat to the Catholic-aligned Democratic Labor Party.

The Catholic order’s place in Australian politics should not be overlooked.

During the three-way Liberal leadership contest between Malcolm Turnbull, Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott, all three men consulted with Jesuit priests.

Mr Turnbull turned to Richard Leonard SJ, boss of the Australian Catholic Bishops film office; Mr Hockey spoke with Michael Ryan SJ, rector of his alma mater, St Aloysius. Mr Abbott turned to his mentor Emmet Costello – the man who advised him to enter the priesthood years ago – now retired, but who once taught at his alma mater, St Ignatius Riverview.

The Catholic order has a long history of producing MPs and Senators, including former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer and former Victoria deputy premier Pat McNamara.

Jesuit influence overplayed

Date:October 17, 2013

John Warhurst

The number of Australian leaders with a Jesuit education is remarkable, its impact on their politics less so.

It has been a big year for the Jesuit Order around the world with the election of one of their own, Jorge Bergoglio from Argentina, as Pope Francis. It has also been a big year for the Jesuits in Australian politics, culminating in the election of Jesuit-educated Bill Shorten as leader of the opposition Labor Party. Shorten was a student at the Jesuit GPS institution in Melbourne, Xavier College.

Never before have there been so many Jesuit-educated men at the heart of Australian politics. The Liberal leader and Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, and the Nationals’ deputy leader and Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, were students at St Ignatius College, Riverview, in Sydney.

In addition, Treasurer Joe Hockey was educated at the Jesuits’ other Sydney school, St Aloysius, Milson’s Point, and the Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne, was a student at the Jesuits’ Adelaide school, St Ignatius College, Athelstone.

Particularly in the case of Abbott, this predominance of Jesuit education is much commented on. Sometimes it seems to be just a throwaway line, a curiosity, while at other times it is used as code for Catholic.

But on some occasions it is used against him by those who think that he is failing to stand up for Jesuit ideals and/or the example set by Pope Francis’ on matters such as asylum-seeker policy. They call on him to return to his education roots. In all these cases the Jesuit references are greatly overdone.

The rise of Jesuit-educated politicians in Australia is a remarkable conjunction in political leadership: a situation so rare that it may even be a first in the Western world. The Jesuits educate a lot of students in Australia but there has been only one other precedent that I know of at the state level. Former NSW Liberal premier Nick Greiner is also an old boy of St Ignatius, Riverview.

The rise of students from these schools is not a fluke but a consequence of the history and sociology of Australian political parties, especially the Liberal and National parties.

In their case, since many Catholics left Labor in the split of the 1950s, it is a logical consequence of the growth of certain strands of Australian Catholicism in the conservative parties. The current crop won’t be the last conservative leaders from the Catholic GPS system.

However, in the case of Shorten it is more likely that he is a one-off. Some Labor leaders do emerge from the GPS system, including Gough Whitlam who spent some time at Canberra Grammar School, and the late Don Dunstan, who went to St Peter’s College in Adelaide and became premier of South Australia. However, Labor leaders with a Catholic background, like Anthony Albanese, are likely to come from less socially exclusive Catholic schools. Albanese was educated by the Christian Brothers.

Given that, what difference, if any, does their schooling make to the values and style of political leaders?

The level of attention given to this educational background is surprising. The same attention is not given to other types of educational experience other than in a very general sense as code for socio-economic background. It is common to point out whether a leader comes from a private or public school as some sort of a guide to their attitude to school funding issues and support or otherwise for public education.

Even then it is not much of a guide. But attention is rarely given to the particular educational ethos and values of GPS institutions of an Anglican or Presbyterian kind. Nor is much attention at all given to the schooling background of other Catholics in the Abbott ministry, like Andrew Robb who was also educated by the Christian Brothers.

The same is true of Catholics in the Shorten shadow ministry, like Stephen Conroy who attended Daramalan College in Canberra, run by the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart.

The relatively higher profile of the Jesuits may be part of the explanation. But the greater part of the explanation lies in the prominence given to Pope Francis and his Jesuit background. Some have attributed his leadership emphasis on simplicity, poverty and inclusiveness and his particular concern for refugees and asylum seekers to the fact that he is a Jesuit.

The master of this line of thinking is an American, the former J. P. Morgan executive and also former Jesuit seminarian, Chris Lowney, who has been in Australia recently. He identifies a particular Jesuit style of leadership, focusing on personal reflection, spirituality and a hands-on approach.

Not only has Lowney written Heroic Leadership about the Jesuit approach to management and leadership, but he has just released a new book, Pope Francis: Why he leads the way he leads: Lessons from the first Jesuit Pope.

Nevertheless, no matter how convincing Lowney is, it is a huge distance from Francis to Tony, Bill, Barnaby, Joe and Christopher. A leader’s secondary schooling, no matter how good it may have been, is just one factor among many that will influence their values and their approach to leadership. Leaders are also a product of their family values, gender, class, religious beliefs, university education, profession and political party, among other factors.

We know more about Abbott than Shorten. The Prime Minister has made it perfectly clear that the main influences on his thinking are not Jesuit. He gives credit to two mentors, the lay Catholic, B.A. Santamaria, who founded the National Civic Council, and the Anglican former prime minister, John Howard. His spiritual adviser is the Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney, George Pell, who was also not educated at a Jesuit school.

John Warhurst is an emeritus professor of political science at the Australian National University. He was educated by the Jesuits in Adelaide.


In Canberra, as it is in Rome: here come the Jesuits

Sydney Morning Herald

April 6, 2013

Damien Murphy

The newly crowned Pope has raised the profile of an order with links to power in Australia.

Leading the way: Pope Francis is the first Jesuit to hold office. Photo: Reuters

The election of Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio last month as leader of the world’s billion Catholics delivered a litany of firsts – he was the first to take the name Francis, the first Pope from South America and he was the first Jesuit.

Unique among Catholic religious orders, Jesuits take a fourth vow. While they all promise poverty, chastity and obedience, only Jesuits pledge obedience to the Pope.

“Abbott’s Coalition ministry is shaping as a kind of Jesuit jamboree.” 

So Pope Francis surprised everyone, not least Australian Jesuits.

Jesuit influences: Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce are both old Ignatians. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

”We were set up to serve the Pope, not be one,” says Greg O’Kelly, a Jesuit priest who is also the Bishop of Port Pirie diocese in South Australia. ”We’re taken aback somewhat.”

A religious order founded in the 16th century and perhaps experienced by few apart from the very rich and the very poor, the Jesuits have been anointed with their own adjective and a popular dictum – ”give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man” – that resonates in modern life as the inspiration for the Seven Up long-running television documentary.

Coincidentally with a Jesuit pontiff, Australians are poised for their own Jesuit experience. The separation of church and state may be a given, but through a mix of masculine Christianity and svelte intellectualism, the Jesuits seem to have been able to hard-wire a large slice of the next shift of political leaders.

If Tony Abbott wins the federal election, 20 per cent of his likely ministry are products of a Jesuit education. Abbott, and his possible deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce, attended St Ignatius’ College, Riverview.

Such ”power behind the throne” is a curious achievement, given Jesuits retain a reputation as rebels. Like many religious orders, their future is increasingly unclear – there are 138 Australians but no novitiates are taking the decade-long course for ordination as a priest – and the path of the royal commission into sex abuse is unpredictable.

But Jesuits have always had a tumultuous history.

The order was founded in 1540 by Ignatius of Loyola, a Basque soldier given to visions. Martin Luther had 23 years earlier nailed his theses to the Wittenberg church door and crank-started the Protestant Reformation. With the Catholic Church’s hegemony over Christianity under challenge, Loyola’s new crew became a leading edge of the Counter-Reformation. The papal bull establishing the order named its task as the ”propagation and defence of the faith and the progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine”.

Apart from his ace in the hole of pledging total obedience to the Pope, Loyola also understood the need to ”grow the market” and put missionary work front and centre. Francis Xavier, one of the five other men who joined Loyola to start the Jesuits in a Parisian church, famously went on to open up the Asian territory to Christianity.

The head of the Society of Jesus, the Father General, is colloquially called ”the Black Pope”. It’s a pejorative term, shaped by the Jesuit’s remarkable history. Although they dismiss such terms as ”God’s marines”, Jesuits were reviled and routinely portrayed as unshaven and Semitic. Over the centuries, the order was suppressed and banished. Switzerland, for instance, kicked out Jesuits in 1848, allowing them back only in 1973. Initially, much of the fear and loathing resulted from the Jesuit performance as a hit squad during the Counter-Reformation. Besides, maybe there was a touch of envy. Jesuits were far better educated than most contemporary clergy and their intellectual dexterity and talent for fitting morals to suit the occasion, arguing on a case-by-case basis against principles or rules, infuriated many and gave rise to the abusive adjective ”jesuitical”.

(Little wonder then that the ability to switch positions surfaced in Jesuit school debating teams, a skill coincidentally much admired among politicians).

Curiously, since the reforms that followed Vatican II in the 1960s, and the liberation theology that came with it, the order has been perceived by some as anti-establishment, even socialist: South American Jesuits carried machineguns and bullet belts under their cassocks and were routinely accused of fermenting the Castro revolution.

Revolution in Europe brought Jesuits to Australia. In 1848, with Jesuits being expelled all over the continent, German settlers in South Australia asked for chaplains. The head of the Jesuits in Austria sent two priests. They established a mission in Clare Valley. The winery they founded to produce sacramental wine at Sevenhills is still running.

In Melbourne the gold rush was starting to become unhurried. When it started in 1851, there were about 9000 Catholics in the new colony of Victoria. Thousands of Irish Catholics had fled the Irish famine or completed convict sentences in Sydney and Tasmania and went to the city by the Yarra to work in service. By 1865 there were 100,000 Catholics in Melbourne. Most were poor. Two Irish Jesuits arrived that year.

Unlike the Austrians, theirs was an urban mission. They opened what became known as Richmond Mission. The Jesuits are still there. St Ignatius’ on Richmond Hill is one of Melbourne’s more famous churches. They also assumed charge of St Patrick’s College, which had closed in a bankrupt state three years earlier. It was an important acquisition. Situated next to Melbourne’s Gothic revival-style St Patrick’s Cathedral, it allowed the Jesuits to sit in the pocket of the Catholic archbishop and play a continuing role in the political development of Australia after federation. On another commanding hill in Kew, the Jesuits founded Xavier College in 1872.

Six years later the Jesuits hit Sydney. They set up a mission in North Sydney which endures as the Parish of Our Lady of the Way, North Sydney/Lavender Bay and Kirribilli. In 1879, they opened the forerunner of St Aloysius’ College, Kirribilli. St Ignatius’ College, Riverview, began in 1880.

Father Andrew Hamilton, consulting editor of Eureka Street and a policy officer for Jesuit Social Services, says the Jesuit schools tended to cater for Irish Catholics who owned small businesses. ”The difference with say, the Christian Brothers, was that the Jesuits charged fees,” he says. While the Christian Brothers and other Catholic orders concentrated on educating their working-class charges up in the world – their products hard-charged the ranks of the public service – the Jesuits drew a bead on parents from the mercantile class and lately the professions.

For more than 100 years, through a mixture of educational excellence, snobbery, astute appreciation of societal changes and high fees, the Jesuits retained a stranglehold on shaping the intellectual development of the sons of well-to-do Australian Catholics. The grip may be strongest in Melbourne, where old-school ties remain a useful social lever. With Geelong College, Geelong Grammar, Melbourne Grammar, Scotch College and Wesley College, Xavier was a founding member of Associated Public Schools, based on the English public-school tradition. Jesuits also saw the future was tertiary education, in 1918 opening Newman College, one of University of Melbourne’s halls of residence.

The big Jesuit schools effectively guaranteed a high university entrance rate. Recalcitrant boys were winnowed out at the end of the penultimate year of school to give matriculants a clear run. ”Medicine and law were the big ticket items,” one old boy recalls. ”But the grail was real estate … that’s meant to be a joke. Of course, the rest of us were expected to work in the family company, or on the family farm. Some even took up religious vocations.”

The ranks of law, medicine and the higher echelons of commerce are filled with Jesuit products. While Macquarie Bank’s Nicholas Moore enjoyed a brilliant career, not all old Ignatians shine: Jock Palfreeman is doing time in a Bulgarian jail for murder; stockbroker John Hartman was jailed for insider trading.

Jesuits divide their work in Australia between pastoral care and education. In 2011, pressure to better address social justice issues led to the opening of Jarjum College in Redfern. It was the first new Jesuit school in 60 years and catered to disadvantaged students who could not attend classes regularly. In recent years, the Jesuits have also embraced coeducation.

Other orders had traditionally catered for parents who traditionally voted Labor and later, Democratic Labor. Parents at Jesuits schools were early participants in the Catholic flight to the conservatives.

In 1966 Phillip Lynch, a Xavier old boy, reputedly became the first practising Catholic elected as a Liberal MP in Robert Menzies’ largely Protestant party. Eventually he was to become Malcolm Fraser’s treasurer and the deputy leader of the Libs. Another old Xavierian, Tim Fischer, led the Nationals, and was a deputy prime minister. And of course, Nick Greiner, an old Ignatian, led the NSW Liberals into power in 1988.

None of these men displayed overt signs of their Jesuit upbringings. But Abbott’s Coalition ministry is shaping as a kind of Jesuit jamboree. Not only are he and Joyce old Ignatians, but Joe Hockey is a product of St Aloysius’ College, Christopher Pyne attended St Ignatius’ College, Adelaide, and Kevin Andrews lived at Newman while studying law and arts at Melbourne University.

Exceptions, of course prove the rule: Bill Shorten, a self-appointed Labor leader-in-waiting, is an old Xavierian.