CV NEWS FEED // A Catholic teacher and witness paid a heartfelt tribute this week to the late Cardinal George Pell, hailing the then-archbishop’s extensive efforts to reform the University of Sydney’s campus ministry as among “his greatest and most fruitful achievements.”
Pell born in 1941, passed away in January of last year. CatholicVote previously included Pell as a “white martyr” among its “Heroes” of the month:
George Cardinal Pell, former archbishop of Sydney, was appointed by Pope Francis in 2014 to oversee (and, as it turned out, reform) the Vatican’s financial activities.
In 2018, after a trial overshadowed by a vicious media campaign against him, he was convicted of sexual abuse and spent 404 days in prison, largely in solitary confinement. His innocence was proven and the conviction overturned in 2020.
Now, a witness is sharing his perspective on Pell’s love of the Church especially through his commitment to bringing the Faith to college students.
Dr Robert Haddad of the Archdiocese of Sydney, Australia wrote a guest opinion piece on January 28 for the Catholic Weekly titled “How George Pell built the world’s best Catholic chaplaincy.”
Haddad recalled when Pell first offered him a job in the archdiocese in 2001, while Pell was Archbishop of Sydney.
Haddad explained that in his first meeting with Pell, the then-archbishop “conveyed his recent discussions with Anthony McCarthy, then-president of the Catholic Society of St Peter at the University of Sydney, and how McCarthy impressed upon him the need to reform chaplaincy services on campus to better serve faithful Catholic students.”
“Pell was willing to act on these suggestions but he believed that McCarthy himself, then only in his early 20s, was too young himself to lead the renewal project,” Haddad wrote:
He had heard (probably from McCarthy himself) that I was a Catholic teacher in my late 30s and a rabid Cricket and Rugby League fan. Being a lover of sport himself Pell wanted someone who could connect with the university students in multiple ways, not just through theology and philosophy.
“And I want apologetics to be part of it,” Pell told Haddad. Haddad accepted the position as Convenor of the University of Sydney Catholic Chaplaincy, with McCarthy as deputy convenor.
“We were determined to be revolutionaries, Catholic revolutionaries, bringing authentic Catholicism into campus—Catholic teaching, Catholic theology, Catholic philosophy, Catholic activity, evangelisation and apologetics,” Haddad explained:
and we were determined to sweep away what had been before, which to me was an anaemic, faithless and fruitless pseudo-Catholicism more interested in allying with and advancing the sexual revolution than Catholic teaching. No longer would authentic Catholics be marginalized or excluded. We were ready to begin.
When Haddad’s team needed a larger space to offer for students to gather in for Bible study and socials, Pell “came with his Financial Controller to directly negotiate a lease for $200 per week,” Haddad wrote:
He also refurbished them with office furniture, photocopier, lounges, computers, shelving, books and the compulsory pool table. Once established, the premises were officially named and blessed as the “John Paul II Student Resource Centre.”
Pell said Mass frequently for the students, and Haddad’s chaplaincy hosted regular social and educational programs that brought students together. The chaplaincy also promoted a “Mission week” that saw several Protestants convert to Catholicism.
Haddad recalled the backlash the chaplaincy began to experience when they started hosting “events that related to highly controversial issues, including abortion, contraception, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research and the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.”
“We would occasionally expose ourselves to verbal and physical attacks from radical Left elements on campus but were willing to embrace this, knowing we had moral support from Pell,” he wrote:
In subsequent years, Pell himself would appear on campus to address certain controversial topics and this would see protests being staged in opposition, necessitating the organising of campus security to protect him. These protests, however, never fazed him and he always remained willing to come on campus to speak.
Pell also came “instantly” to the chaplaincy’s defense when Haddad found out other diocesan chaplain groups were excluding Haddad from meetings.
“A more serious issue involved our relationship with the Catholic chaplaincies based in the other universities across the archdiocese, which met monthly without any representative from USyd,” Haddad wrote:
[When I informed Pell] He immediately arose out of his chair and called to his private secretary to convene a meeting of all the university chaplains, wherein he made it clear that the new chaplains of the University of Sydney were now a permanent feature of the landscape. Everyone got the message loud and clear.
Pell also unified much of the Catholic students across Australia. “Until Pell, Australians travelling to WYDs did so only in private groups or as individuals,” Haddad wrote. “Now as Archbishop of Sydney, he led a group to Canada, including 42 students from USyd chaplaincy, which has sent large numbers to every WYD since without exception.”
Eventually, Haddad’s chaplaincy needed a central location on the university’s campus, as the original location was still somewhat out of the way for students.
“There was an opportunity for this in and around St Michael’s College and the Chapel of the Resurrection on City Road, both owned by the archdiocese,” Haddad wrote, adding that Pell supported its renovation.
“The time from initial concept to final opening of the new facility spanned 13 years. Only in 2015 would the new St John Paul II Student Centre be blessed and opened by Pell’s successor, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP,” Haddad wrote, noting that the facility has “a magnificent chapel, study areas, meeting rooms, kitchen/dining area and work stations.”
“Being owned by the Archdiocese of Sydney, it ensures a Catholic presence on campus in perpetuity, a great advantage in the age of ‘cancel-culture,’” Haddad continued:
Without a doubt it amounts to the best Catholic chaplaincy-student facility anywhere in the world, all thanks to Pell.
Haddad praised both the construction of the new facility and “Pell’s decision in 2004 to install a Dominican presence into the USyd chaplaincy team.”
“This started with Fr Dominic Murphy OP in 2004, was further expanded by Pell in 2008 after the Sydney World Youth Day when two Dominican Sisters of St Cecilia were appointed to the USyd chaplaincy staff,” Haddad wrote.
The Dominicans’ presence on campus “has led to 10 students joining the Dominicans (six Friars and four Sisters),” Haddad wrote. “In addition, 11 other male students who were active with one of the four renewed chaplaincies have joined the priesthood and three other women have joined other religious communities.”
Having concluded his time as convenor in 2008. “The USyd Chaplaincy, CathSoc and the other university chaplaincies continue to go from strength to strength. I have the honour and privilege of still being part of their work through invitations to present on these campuses from time to time,” Haddad concluded:
Without a doubt, Pell’s reform of university chaplaincy at USyd and beyond ranks as one of his greatest and most fruitful achievements.