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‘Parramatta girl’ who made history

Fr John Boyle, Catholic Outlook, April 2010

Rosemary Goldie presents Pope John Paul II with a copy of her book, From a Roman Window, watched by Cardinal Cassidy. Photo: The Catholic Weekly

Rosemary Goldie died at Randwick’s Little Sisters of the Poor on 27 February this year. Two cardinals were present at her funeral. Historian Fr Ed Campion spoke at the Requiem Mass and Peter Grace, a parishioner at St Bernadette’s Parish, Castle Hill, was at the funeral with students representing Our Lady of Mercy College (OLMC), Parramatta.

I am writing about Rosemary because, at one time, she held the highest position of any woman in the Vatican and she was an Australian. She was also a Parramatta girl. She received her education and love of scholarship from the Sisters of Mercy in Parramatta.

Pope Paul VI called her “our collaborator” and John XXIII affectionately named her “la piccinina” (the little one), and she was tiny. When Pope Benedict was in Sydney for World Youth Day, he visited her at the Little Sisters of the Poor. She died in the care of the nuns where her mother had died some 30 years before.

Rosemary’s mother, Dulcie Deamer, was a colourful and famous figure - novelist, journalist, thespian and free spirit. She had been born in New Zealand and was home-schooled.

She met her husband, Albert Goldberg, who was in vaudeville, and they were married in Perth in 1908. Together they had six children but were separated in 1922. One of these children was Rosemary. Another child, a boy, was drowned when HMAS Parramatta was torpedoed off Tobruk in November 1941.

The children were brought up by their grandmother and the decision was made to have Rosemary educated at OLMC. This allowed Dulcie to pursue her distinctive, some said, bizarre, lifestyle around Kings Cross where she was crowned ‘Queen of Bohemia’ in 1925.

My mother remembered Rosemary as the girl who made the speeches on the nuns’ feast days; my grandmother remembered Rosemary’s mother, as the bohemian who often wore a revealing (for those days) leopard skin costume that needed, according to my grandmother, a good dry cleaning.

In 1970, Fr Ed Campion took me to meet Dulcie in her flat at the Cross. It was many years later, and courtesy of Sr Ailsa Mackinnon RSM, the then-principal of OLMC, that I met Rosemary.

Following her schooling at Parramatta, she studied Arts at the University of Sydney. She was awarded a scholarship to study at the Sorbonne in Paris.

Here she met Jacques Maritain, the philosopher and promoter of the lay apostolate. Here she had her first contact with the Grail, an organisation of Catholic lay women.

She became involved with Pax Romana, an international federation of Catholic intellectuals, which today numbers 420,000 members. She began to work in Fribourg, Switzerland with the Pax Romana organisation. This contact brought her to Rome where she became part of the Permanent Committee for International Congresses of the Lay Apostolate.

The focus throughout her life was now on working for the laity. Her work in Rome brought her into contact with people who would later shape the direction of the Church, especially during the Second Vatican Council.

She knew Joseph Cardjin, who as a priest had been imprisoned in World War I for “unpatriotic activities” namely, caring for workers. He founded the Young Christian Workers in an attempt to bring Christianity to the working classes and was later created a cardinal.

She knew Monsignor Giovanni Montini who would later become Pope Paul VI.

In 1959, when Pope John XXIII announced the Second Vatican Council, Rosemary was invited to be part of the lay contribution that would later morph into the Decree on the Laity, signed off by Pope Paul VI six years later.

Rosemary was invited to help as an auditor at the Council in 1964. This was an historic moment because, up until this time, only men had fulfilled this role.

Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide, President of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said, “At a time when lay people, particularly lay women, might have struggled to find a voice in Church affairs, Rosemary Goldie was making history by being the first woman appointed as a Vatican curial official.” No woman has ever occupied a higher position in the Roman Curia.

Later, Rosemary went on to become Vice-President and Professor on the Lay Apostolate in the Pastoral Institute of the Lateran University, Rome. She returned to Australia in her later years.

She wrote a book, From a Roman Window, and prepared the edition of an autobiography of her mother.

Fr John Boyle is parish priest at St Bernadette’s Parish, Castle Hill. This is an edited text of an article first published in The Massabielle.

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