Homily from opening of the Francis Rush Centre
Statement Released: Monday, September 12, 2005
If we scratch life, irony lies never far below the surface. It is there in my home at New Farm, my office being the bedroom of the original house where George Charles Willcox, railway contractor and original owner slept and died. It would never have crossed the mind of this good Presbyterian gentleman and his wife that 100 years after their deaths their bedroom would be the working office of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane. Nor would Sir James Duhig imagine that St Stephen’s Cathedral destined by him to remain merely a downtown Church dwarfed by the grandeur of his huge Holy Name Cathedral, should now instead be the Roman Catholic Cathedral, at the very heart of Brisbane, while the surplus land beside it, that he sold believing it would never be needed, should once again be reclaimed by the Church as the site of a splendid new building named the Francis Rush Centre. Irony too in the fact that this new building should be named after perhaps the most self-effacing and humble man who has ever been Archbishop of Brisbane, Francis Rush, who in his lifetime would not have tolerated for a second the suggestion that a building should be named after any Archbishop alive or dead, much less himself. And yet he now has to put up with the fact that his name lives on in a building situated at the very centre of Brisbane. We Christians are certainly not kind in the sufferings we inflict on other Christians. This irony of life was perhaps summed up most concisely by the comedian Woody Allen when he said “If you want to make God laugh then tell God about your future plans”. Irony exists also in the fact that if the huge Holy Name Cathedral had indeed been built opposite All Hallows as was intended, it may well have shifted the centre of Brisbane away from Queen Street and located it much closer to the area that in James Duhig’s time was regarded as the business centre of the city. At least T C Beirne probably thought so. All such matters are loaded with mystery and irony that can never be unravelled in this life.
Nevertheless the significance of this blessing and opening today lies not so much in the building, splendid as it is, but in the fact that the Francis Rush Centre is the completion of the Cathedral precinct project that began almost 20 years ago with the refurbishment of the Cathedral and its grounds, continued with the purchase of the Catholic Centre, went on to the refurbishment of St Stephen’s Chapel as worship place and shrine, continued with the installation of a brand new organ, and came to some type of conclusion with the acquisition of Hesketh house. This purchase provided space on the north side of the Cathedral to balance the space on the south side and makes possible liturgical events that could not be planned earlier. This extra space also allowed the addition to the precinct of the Francis Rush Centre with Cathedral offices, but more importantly with Cathedral choir space, liturgical vesting space, and lecture space for Adult Education. Without this space the mission of the Cathedral would have been seriously compromised and its outreach to the city of Brisbane restricted accordingly.
Life my dear people may be full of irony, but it is equally full of symbolism. This is no more apparent than in the Catholic Church itself whose culture is filled with it. Through it it communicates meaning in its buildings, its music, its liturgy, its vestments, (one young girl asked me recently at a Church Opening at Upper Coomera whether I was going to wear my pop-up hat that day). There is also a type of symbolism we might well refer to as mega-symbolism. It is this symbolism that I believe Archbishop Rush with the priests, builders, architects, and planning committees tried to convey, when they opened up the Cathedral Complex to the city so that religion and the city could mingle easily, if not always comfortably. As a result there is now a type of walk-through Cathedral space which brings a certain inconvenience when, fully mitred, I jostle with pedestrians on the bigger occasions even to reach the front door of the Cathedral. However those irritations are minor when compared with its larger advantages. What the Church is trying to say to the people of Brisbane is “This space is yours as well as ours”, a fact confirmed by the large number of people from other Christian Churches or of non Christian Churches who regularly visit here and often comment to me: “Archbishop I often pop into the Cathedral or the Cathedral Chapel just to sit there and reflect for a few moments”. Other people in the towering buildings surrounding it also tell me how they often gaze down on Cathedral activities with interest and often with a feeling of belonging. Despite a certain untidiness at times, St Stephen’s Cathedral precinct tries to make a symbolic statement to Brisbane about the relationship of religion and life. Even I didn’t realize just how well it succeeds with the additional space until after the recent funeral of one of the Cathedral precinct’s original planners, Fr Frank Moynihan, when a large crowd of mourners and pedestrians mingled around his coffin for quite some time before the funeral finally departed for the cemetery. Lack of space would have made such an appropriate gathering and farewell impossible earlier. This new space fits perfectly with the message of the Second Vatican Council preached in season and out of season by Archbishop Rush, one of its great interpreters. John XXIII who called the Second Vatican Council did so in 1963 to open the windows of the Church to the winds of change and to allow the spirit driven world to flow into its life for the mutual benefit of both. The new Cathedral precinct tries to allow that to happen and to my way of thinking does so admirably. So today I thank all the planners not merely for the building but for the religious message communicated by what they have achieved.
Today I would like to salute Archbishop Frank Rush first of all for his detachment from what we might describe as today’s exaggerated emphasis upon the material side of life. He lived one of the most frugal lives I have witnessed. He took no wages, gave away what little he possessed to the needy, left nothing in his Will apart from his books, and gave to whoever chanced to come his way the many gifts he received in life. He also shaped this Archdiocese in the spirit and truth of the Second Vatican Council, indignantly rejecting any attempts that might drag the Church back to where it had been. He promoted the Council brilliantly in his preaching and teaching and the splendid representation of him carved in sandstone at the entrance of the building emphasizes his unique talent. Today I am delighted by those family and friends present here and thank them for the gift of their relative and friend to this Archdiocese. My one small fear is that if God is merciful I may one day have to meet Archbishop Rush in heaven and explain why I allowed a building to be named after him. It is not the most pleasant thought for me as I move rapidly towards the perfect age of three score and ten.
The Scripture today aptly captures the man we honour. The second line of Philippians describes him and his Episcopal motto: “Life to me, of course, is Christ”. He lived that simple truth every second of his life and he would have called any other way of living not merely “rubbish”, as the apostle Paul did, but another more robust Australian term that His Grace used occasionally with feeling, but only ever with friends. In the words of today’s gospel he lived his life openly before others as salt of the earth and light of the world but kept his salt savoured and his light shining by constant attention to prayer and spiritual reading. Today we wish him eternal rest and peace while apologizing only half heartedly for naming the building after him, an action which may interrupt his eternal peace and rest just a little.
Today I would like to thank all those associated with the planning of this building and space – the architects, artists, builders, Elizabeth Harrington and the Planning Committee, Fr Peter Dillon and the Cathedral staff, Mr Des Zagami, Mr Greg Norris and the Development Fund, Mr Andrew Musial, Executive Director Archdiocesan Services, Mr Henry Weld and the Finance Council, and a thousand other people. Like everything associated with the mission of the Church the ultimate aim of it all is the greater glory of God and we try to never lose sight of that fact. All our planning is ultimately aimed at assisting us to make contact with God, and the Francis Rush Centre will play its own unique role in making that happen.
So thank you once again for being present today. I ask you now to join your prayers to mine as we bless and open this fine new building fittingly named “The Francis Rush Centre”.