By Archbishop Philip Freier
1 November 2022
This year the Diocese of Melbourne remembers the 175th anniversary of the foundation of the See with the consecration of Charles Perry in Westminster Abbey on 29 June 1847. Accompanied by his wife Frances and a group of clergy and ordinands on the sailing ship Stag, he arrived at the Port of Melbourne on 23 January 1848. His Letters Patent from Queen Victoria, which founded the See of Melbourne were also the instrument by which Melbourne was declared a city. The Letters Patent were read from the steps of St Peter’s Eastern Hill on 13 February 1848 towards the nascent city, at that time not much more than a shanty town of tents and crude dwellings. There is much that we can be thankful for in the faithful Christian ministry exercised by numerous lay and ordained people across those many generations.
1847, the year of Perry’s consecration was known as “black ‘47”, the worst year of the Irish Famine. Ironically, my great-great-grandfather, “Black Tom” Corley, emigrated to Australia from County Mayo in the mid-1850s as a refugee of the famine. I don’t know the origins of his name, “Black Tom”, and whether that was attributed to him on account of some physical characteristic or on account of his temperament or whether simply that he was a survivor of “black ‘47”, but that was the name passed down for him through the generations.
The Irish Famine killed more than one million people and forced another 1.5 million to emigrate, many to North America but others, like Tom Corley, to Australia. All the while Ireland continued to be a net exporter of agricultural produce, mainly to England. No wonder that contemporary scholars have questioned whether the Irish Famine was in fact a genocide. I am sure that it left a trauma with those who survived, something that continued to have its impact down through the generations.
Tom Corley’s son, my great-grandfather had a troubled life and a tragic death. Solidarity and strength among the women in the family across the generations ensured survival, but at what cost as they carried secrets and unspoken shame that are often the most persistent intergenerational legacies of trauma? Four generations after that of “Black Tom”, I am thankful to be free through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Romans 8:38-39 responds to this and all questions about God’s power by declaring an unfettered power in Christ to overcome all that seeks to separate us from the source of our peace and freedom. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
May it be so for you.