Sir Norman Thomas Gilroy (1896 – 1977) Catholic cardinal
Norman Thomas Gilroy was the first Australian-born Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. He is best remembered for his vigorous and ultimately successful advocacy of state funding for Catholic schools. In 1970, near the end of his life, he was named Australian of the Year.
Norman Thomas Gilroy was born in Sydney in 1896, to working-class parents of Irish descent. Educated at the Marist Brothers’ College in the Sydney suburb of Kogarah, he left school when 13 years old, to work as a messenger boy in what was then the Postmaster-General’s Department. In 1914 he joined the Australian Army and served in the Gallipoli campaign of World War I (in 1915).
After the war, Gilroy studied for the priesthood at St Columba’s, Springwood, New South Wales in 1917, and at Propaganda Fide in Rome. He was ordained a priest on 24 December 1923 at the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano in Rome, and received his doctorate in divinity in Rome the following year.
Returning to Australia, Gilroy was appointed Chancellor and Diocesan Secretary for the Diocese of Lismore, New South Wales. He was appointed Bishop of Port Augusta, South Australia, in 1934, and was made Titular Archbishop of Cypsela and Coadjutor Archbishop of Sydney in 1937. On the death of Archbishop Michael Kelly, Gilroy succeeded to the Archdiocese of Sydney on in March 1940.
Gilroy was created Cardinal on 18 February 1946, becoming the first Australian-born member of the College of Cardinals. He also became titular priest of the Santi Quattro Coronati church in Rome.
He is best remembered for his vigorous and ultimately successful advocacy of state funding for Catholic schools. In 1970, near the end of his life, he was named Australian of the Year.
Gilroy avoided direct political comment and believed that the church should not become involved in politics. But like most Sydney Irish Catholics, he had grown up as a supporter of the Australian Labor Party, and was a confidant of Catholic Labor Premiers of New South Wales, particularly Joseph Cahill.
This brought Gilroy into conflict with Archbishop Daniel Mannix in Melbourne, who backed B.A. Santamaria’s “Movement” during the Labor split of the 1950s. He firmly opposed Santamaria’s activities and banned the distribution of Movement literature in Sydney churches. As a result of the close relationship between Gilroy and Cahill, there was no split in the New South Wales Labor Party.
Gilroy was knighted in 1969. He was the first Roman Catholic Cardinal to receive a knighthood since the Reformation. He resigned as Archbishop in July 1971, and died in Sydney in 1977, aged 81.
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