Monsignor John Boyle, formerly of St Bernadette’s Parish, Castle Hill, was appointed Rector of Domus Australia by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP. Catholic Outlook spoke to Msgr Boyle on the six month anniversary of his appointment and the challenges he is facing in the Eternal City.
Fireworks exploded from Castel Sant’Angelo while Msgr John Boyle celebrated his first Feast of Ss Peter and Paul as Rector of Domus Australia, Rome.
The patronal feast of the Eternal City marked just over two months of Msgr Boyle’s role as 4th Rector of the Australian National Church and boutique pilgrim hotel.
The Mongisnor has led a long and interesting life, from being a dinky-die boy in Depression-era Parramatta to a local Church ‘mover and shaker’ and is now welcoming pilgrims to the spiritual and historical treasures of Rome.
As Rector, Msgr Boyle is legal representative for the Archdiocese of Sydney in relation to Domus Australia and attends special events for the unique group of Australian expatriates in Rome.
This includes a unique group of artists, writers, aristocrats and ecclesiastics, like Desmond O’Grady, Princess Niké Arrighi Borghese and Philippa Torlonia.
Msgr Boyle is not unfamiliar with Rome, and speaks Italian from completing a Master of Fine Arts there in 2006 at the Università Gregoriana, focussing on liturgy through interpretations of Second Vatican Council document Sacrosanctum Concilium.
The Boyle family lived in Oatlands, their father, also John, worked at the James Hardie factory in Camelia and they worshipped at St Patrick’s Cathedral Parish, Parramatta.
“Life was terrific, it was absolutely fantastic; I had the best childhood.”
“We were out of the city, there were open fields, and you would go exploring with your friends,” he said.
“I was brought up in Parramatta Parish, I was an altar boy at St Patrick’s Church.”
“Of course, Parramatta is a very historical place. There’s still many historical buildings around and I grew up in that context.”
“The parish priest, to whom I was the altar boy, was the archivist and he was very interested in history, and that was Monsignor McGovern,” he said.
Little did the young altar boy know that he would become the last parish priest of the old St Patrick’s Church.
At 18, John Boyle joined St Columba’s Junior Seminary, Springwood in 1963, after studying at Marist Brother’s, Parramatta.
His family provided a fertile ground for a vocation, with their deep faith and impressive service to the community.
A significant part of Msgr Boyle’s young adulthood was the impact of mesothelioma from asbestos on his parents. This went on to form part of his ministry in Sydney as a chaplain to victims of asbestos.
“My mother died of mesothelioma,” Msgr Boyle said.
“My mother was very involved in the social club at James Hardie, which was the main manufacturer of asbestos in Australia.”
“We were often in the factory setting up for socials, so she would have probably contracted it from there,” he said.
He does not expand on this tragedy but elaborates on his mother’s vigorous involvement with the community.
John Boyle would return to serve at his childhood parish of St Patrick’s, Parramatta, when the devastating fire struck in 1996.
He never forgot asbestos and industrial accident victims, and ministered to the Asbestos Diseases Foundation and Unions NSW.
“I’m Chaplain to the Asbestos Diseases Foundation and they have an annual convention. A component is a memorial service. It’s always at the Maritime Museum.”
“I’ve also been looking after Unions NSW for 30 years,” he said.
“The unions run a memorial service for people killed in industrial accidents over the last twelve months.”
20 to 30 families of industrial accident victims attend the annual memorial service.
“And I do a short service with a Rabbi and a Muslim cleric. The three of us do that, it’s very sad to do that. The lawyers for Asbestos Victims come to that. Union people come and talk about how we have to be on top of asbestos.”
Msgr Boyle knew prominent asbestos campaigner Bernie Banton, whose eponymous bridge crosses the Parramatta River, next to Marist Place, the street of St Patrick’s Cathedral.
Msgr Boyle knew Bernie well and visited him while he was in hospital.
“Bernie was not Catholic but was a very spiritual man,” he said.
Liturgy is an interest of Msgr John Boyle, who undertook further study in Rome in 2006. Msgr John Boyle is not to be confused with the equally liturgical but theologically contrasting Fr John Boyle, a popular social media identity and canon lawyer in the United States.
“One of my major theses was about whether in Rome itself the principles of Sacrosanctum Concilium had been interpreted in the mode that the Bishops of the Council had intended,” Msgr Boyle said.
“They didn’t get a high mark. They’re using temporary altars so the priest can face the people, but at a moment’s notice they could be moved to go back to the Tridentine way,” he said.
Over ten years later, Msgr Boyle is able to revisit some of his beloved Roman Churches.
Domus Australia is within the historic centre of Rome, not far from the Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri, Chiesa di Santa Maria della Vittoria and Sacro Cuore di Gesu.
Local historic attractions include the baths of Caracalla, close to Repubblica and Termini Stations. It is a short walk south of the Porta Pia, the northern gate of Rome, dedicated to Pius IV and featuring a large mosaic of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The gate is close to where the Italian Republican Troops invaded the Eternal City in 1870.
Domus Australia itself has a stunning former Marist Chapel, dedicated to St Peter Chanel, the Marist Proto-Martyr of Oceania.
Beautiful frescos of the Blessed Virgin Mary adorn the ceiling, depicting the mysteries of the Rosary. The Salve Regina is boldly embossed around the circumference of the wall.
The side chapels have interesting modern paintings connected to Australian Catholicism by Paul Newton.
Msgr Boyle’s favourite Roman Churches are the Basilica of San Clemente, and the Church of St Ignatius of Loyola, near the Pantheon (Santa Maria ad Martyres).
The spiritual, historical and artistic heritage of Rome’s Churches is priceless but preserving it comes with a huge bill.
This reminds the administrative veteran of his experience in maintaining churches in the Diocese.
“There are huge maintenance costs and if we didn’t maintain them, well they would just fall into disrepair. But someone like me is very keen to repair things immediately,” he said.
His administrative acumen will come in handy as new Rector of Domus Australia.
Msgr Boyle has been committed to more of an Australian presence in Rome since and has been a supporter of the Domus Australia vision for years.
Msgr Boyle hopes Domus Australia can further facilitate an Australian contribution to the universal Church. Potential future pilgrims, laypeople and clerics could continue making a contribution to the Catholic Church around the world.
It was not that long ago that the Australian Church sent seminarians to the Irish College. The Australian Church also used to empower the Rector of the Irish College to represent the Australian Bishops.
“That was in Cardinal Moran’s day,” he said.