Guiding light

Fr Dan Madigan wears many hats and will soon assume another. He will be the next Rector of Melbourne’s Newman College, where a central guiding ethos is strengthening the community in mind, imagination, heart and spirit.


By Fr Bill Uren SJ, Scholar in Residence at Newman College

The Australian Jesuit Provincial, Father Quyen Vu SJ, recently announced that Fr Daniel Madigan SJ, will succeed Father Frank Brennan SJ as Rector of Newman College in January 2024.

Fr Madigan is a distinguished Australian Jesuit, specialising in Muslim-Christian relations. After pastoral experience and language studies in Pakistan and Egypt, Fr Madigan completed doctoral studies at Columbia University in the United States and was a Fellow-in-Residence at the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard. From 2002 to 2007 he was the Director of the Institute for the Study of Religions and Cultures at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome before returning to the United States to join the Department of Theology at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. There he was a Senior Fellow and Professor at the Woodstock Theological Center and at the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.

Fr Madigan returned to Australia in 2021 and joined the Jesuit community first at the Lavender Bay community in North Sydney (2020-2021) and then at Newman College at the University of Melbourne (2022-23). He is currently a Consultor to the Provincial, the Provincial Assistant for Jesuit Formation, the Provincial Assistant for Higher Education, the Chair of the Loyola Institute at the Australian Catholic University. He will also take up a research appointment as the Loyola Professor of Comparative Theology at ACU.

Fr Madigan will be the eleventh Rector of Newman College and will work with the lay Provost, Dr Guglielmo Gottoli, to direct the staff and students in the Jesuit educational ethos. Newman College is a residential college for graduate and undergraduate students affiliated to the University of Melbourne. When the University of Melbourne opened its doors in 1853 the decision was taken, despite the almost universal precedents otherwise, not to add a Faculty of Theology to the foundation faculties of Arts, Medicine, Law and Music. Instead, ten acres of land in the immediate vicinity of the University were allocated to each of the four major Christian denominations to establish residential colleges after the Oxbridge model and to provide opportunities for religious teaching and learning. The Church of England opened Trinity College in 1872, the Presbyterians established Ormond College in 1881, the Methodists Queen’s College in 1889.

The Catholic community, however, had to wait another thirty years before Newman College opened in 1918. Understandably, the demands of establishing a primary and secondary school system parallel to the State system after 1872 took priority over the desire for a Catholic tertiary college. Despite the constant overtures of prominent professional Catholic laity, Archbishop Thomas Carr felt unable to accede to their petitions until the end of his episcopal tenure in the second decade of the 20th century. The advent of his coadjutor and successor, Daniel Mannix, in 1913 added a further stimulus (he had been President of St Patrick’s College, Maynooth in Ireland), and financial support from the laity was, surprisingly, not lacking, specifically a benefaction of 30,000 pounds for scholarships and bursaries from Sydney businessman Thomas Donovan.

Fr Dan Madigan SJ. Photo: David McMahon.

Three important decisions were taken at the outset. The first was to commission an American, Walter Burley Griffin and his wife, Marion Mahony, as architects of the College, not a local Catholic architect. The second was to name the College after John Henry Newman, whose theological legacy at the time was under a cloud due to his influence and patronage being invoked by the Modernists, the contemporary “heresy”. And, thirdly, the administration of the College was entrusted to the Jesuit Order, even though the College was a diocesan institution owned by the Victorian bishops. Daniel Mannix was influential in ensuring these three decisions.

The College opened on March 24th, 1918. 40,000 people attended the opening and 56 male students were the College’s first residents. Fr Thomas O’Dwyer, SJ, the current 1918 Rector of Xavier College, was a temporary appointment as the first Rector (1918-19), soon to be succeeded by Fr Albert Power, SJ, (1919-23) and, most notably, by Fr Jeremiah Murphy, SJ, who was to preside over the College for the next 30 years. Under Fr Murphy and his successors, the College grew in numbers to its current complement of 280 residents. The decision to admit female residents was taken in 1977, and there are now equal numbers of men and women in residence.

Originally the student cohort was almost exclusively undergraduate, but the development of the so-called “Melbourne Model” in 2008 which relegated professional degrees (Medicine, Law, Engineering, Dentistry etc) to the graduate level resulted in a substantial increase in graduate students in these degrees and in Master’s and doctoral students, so that, prior to Covid, one third of the College were enrolled in graduate degrees, and many of these were international students. The number of graduates has not returned post-Covid, nor, due to the delay in student visas, have the numbers of international students. But these numbers are slowly increasing, and it is anticipated that the 2019 ratio of graduate to undergraduate residents will soon be restored. A number of students from the Australian Catholic University and the RMIT University have also been admitted to the College in recent years.

The original Burley Griffin architectural design was only half completed, but further buildings, Chapel (1942), Kenny Wing (1958), Donovan Wing (1961), Murphy Court (1978), Academic Centre and Library (2005) and two graduate residences, Gleeson (2010) and Fleming (2016) in Swanston Street have been added to the 1918 wings. A number of other residences in Swanston Street have been acquired recently to accommodate both staff and graduate students.

Newman College, University of Melbourne. Photo: David McMahon.

The College conducts an extensive tutorial programme to provide additional assistance to students in their university studies. Approximately 20-25% of residents achieve a first-class honours average (80%+) in their four study units each semester. There are opportunities, too, for students to develop their musical and theatrical talents, and the College is strongly represented in a wide range of intercollegiate sporting and cultural competitions. Mass is offered daily in the College Lady Chapel for the staff, the students, the benefactors and the deceased former students of the College, and the Jesuits and the College chaplain are available both for informal interactions and for private consultations.

The College also provides opportunities for the Jesuits to contribute to the wider secular and church community. Current Jesuit staff include Fr Frank Brennan SJ, who has been an outspoken advocate for the Voice and is a distinguished human rights lawyer. He has chaired many government committees and inquiries. Fr Dan Madigan SJ, as noted above, is a specialist in Muslim-Christian relations. Each year he convenes an international seminar that brings together Muslim and Christian theological experts to discuss a theological topic common to both faiths. Fr Jamie Calder SJ lectures at the Australian Catholic University and leads staff workshops and seminars on leadership. Fr Brett O’Neill SJ is completing a doctoral programme on refugee law and policy for Boston College University in the United States. And Fr Bill Uren has lectured in moral philosophy and bioethics at universities in Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane and served on both the Australian Health Ethics Committee and on multiple Human Research and Clinical Ethics committees in hospitals, universities and research centres. Former Jesuit residents at Newman College include noted Australian poet, Fr Peter Steele SJ, Aboriginal researcher and activist, Fr Brian McCoy SJ, educationalist Fr Gerard Healy SJ, ecumenist Fr Edward Stormon SJ, historians Fr Brian Fleming SJ and Fr Peter L’Estrange SJ, and joint founder of the Blake Prize for Religious Art, Fr Michael Scott SJ. And, of course, Fr Jeremiah Murphy SJ, who presided over the College for 30 years, bulks large in the history of the College and, indeed, the University.

Through the kind offices of Br Mark O’Connor, FMS, over recent years the College has been able to host the Melbourne leg of the Helder Camara Lectures. Distinguished clerics, archbishops, theologians, academics and journalists have graced the Newman dining room and Oratory and engaged their audiences with a wide variety of religious and social justice topics. Nine Cardinals: Rodriguez (Honduras – on multiple occasions), Williams (New Zealand), Cupich (Chicago), Bo (Myanmar), Tagle (Philippines), Dolan (New York) Murphy-O’Connor (Westminster), McElroy (San Diego) and Napier (South Africa), have responded to Br O’Connor’s invitation to participate in the lecture programme. Recent participants include Sister Nathalie Becquart XMCJ, secretary to the upcoming Synod on Synodality, and Christopher Lamb, Rome correspondent for the London Tablet.

Newman College aspires to be a community of the mind, the imagination, the heart and the spirit. Two citations constantly challenge this community: firstly, the College motto: “Luceat lux vestra” – “Let your light shine” (Matthew 5;14); and secondly, John Henry Newman: “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often” (Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine). As it enters its second century, responding to these challenges is in the safe hands of the new Rector, Fr Dan Madigan SJ, and the lay Provost, Dr Guglielmo Gottoli.

Fr Bill Uren SJ is a former Rector of Newman College

Fr Bill Uren SJ. Photo: David McMahon.