The most senior laywoman in the Vatican in the 20th century was a little known woman from Parramatta, Rosemary Goldie.
The story of this personal friend of multiple Popes, Jacques Maritain and Cardinal Cardijn has an unlikely beginning, when she was raised by her devout grandmother, who sent Rosemary to Our Lady of Mercy College, Parramatta.
Rosemary’s mother had turned to a bohemian lifestyle in Sydney’s Kings Cross, wearing a leopard skin and writing provocative novels.
Today the Australian Embassy to the Holy See honours her legacy with the Rosemary Goldie Room, opened in early 2018 by Sentaor the Honourable Marise Payne, Minister for Defence.
The biannual Rosemary Goldie Lecture in Sydney likewise commemorates her and this year’s lecture features renowned Catholic journalist John L. Allen as the speaker.
After graduating from Our Lady of Mercy College, Parramatta, Rosemary received a scholarship to pursue studies in French literature at the Sorbonne, Paris in the 1930s and 1940s. She then accepted a job in Fribourg, Switzerland, at Pax Romana, an international movement of Catholic intellectuals.
Her involvement and reputation in lay Catholic movements grew, leading to her work as Executive Secretary of the Vatican’s pre-conciliar Permanent Committee of International Conferences for the Lay Apostolate (COPECIAL).
There she worked with future Cardinal, Monsignor Pietro Pavan, who would be the main author of Pope John XXIII’s social encyclical Pacem in Terris.
Rosemary played an important role as a conduit of information to the Vatican during the Australian Bishops’ dispute over B.A. Santamaria’s Catholic Social Studies Movement, The Movement, which was brought to the Holy See.
The Movement was influential in anti-Communist action within the Australian Labor Party (ALP), resulting in the 1955 expulsion of 51 anti-communists from the ALP, and the formation of the Democratic Labor Party.
Cardinal Gilroy, then-Archbishop of Sydney, supported Catholics being involved in the Australian Labor Party while Archbishop Daniel Mannix of Melbourne strongly supported The Movement.
Monsignor Pavan presented the case against The Movement, the outcome in 1957 being that it could no longer be affiliated with the Catholic Church and was reformed as the National Civic Council.
Pope St John XXIII announced the Second Vatican Council in 1959 and COPECIAL had the opportunity to give input to proposed documents of the Council regarding the laity, such as Apostolicam Actuositatem and Gaudium et Spes.
Rosemary contributed to the Council more broadly as one of the 15 female auditors who helped the commissions drafting the official documents.
In 1967, Rosemary received the historic appointment as Undersecretary of the Council of the Laity, which replaced COPECIAL.
She served in this role for nearly 10 years, visiting every almost every continent as part of her work. When the Council was reformed into a Pontifical Council she was replaced by a priest and became a Professor at the Pontifical Lateran University.
Upon her return to Australia she continued to be a consultant to the Council for the Laity and received the Order of Australia and an honorary doctorate from the Australian Catholic University.
Pope Benedict XVI visited Rosemary at the Little Sisters of the Poor nursing home in Randwick during WYD 2008, where she died in 2010. Two Cardinals attended her funeral. Rosemary Goldie was buried with her grandmother, Mabel Deamer, in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park.
The Pontifical Council for the laity is now part of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life and the Undersecretary for the Section for the Laity is presently Dr Linda Ghisoni, an Italian Canon Lawyer.
T.P. Boland, ‘Gilroy, Sir Norman Thomas (1896–1977)‘, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University
Rosemary Goldie and the Santamaria Split, B. Duncan, Eureka Street, 2010
Rosemary Goldie (1916-2010), M. Costigan, Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese
Catholic leader pushed for change, The Sydney Morning Herald, 2010