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Saint or "God's Police"? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 28 November 2007 23:02

Our lay Co-Director in Australia, Clara Geoghegan, is a huge fan of Carolyn Chisholm, the amazing Victorian champion of emmigrants and has written this article about Carolyn in this week's Kairos Catholic Journal:

"The Caroline Chisholm story is relatively well known in Australia, but it is a secularised interpretation. Her religious motivation – which she publicly acknowledged – has been omitted or caricatured, as in Anne Summer’s description of women in colonial Australia as being considered either ‘damned whores’ or ‘God’s police’ (the latter term specifically applied to Caroline Chisholm). Caroline never used derogatory language to describe the women she assisted nor was she condescending towards them; she always treated them with respect and understanding. She clearly understood the human condition and the doctrine of redemption.

The Good Samaritan

Caroline recounts the story of Flora, a young woman whom she had previously warned about a relationship with a man whom Caroline knew to be married. One evening some months later Caroline again encountered Flora: “…the ruddy rose of the highlands was changed for the tinge of rum; she had been drinking but well knew what she was about. ‘Tell me where you are going?’ ‘To hell!’ was her answer. I continued to walk by her side; she became insolent; but I was determined not to leave her. She made for Lavender’s Ferry; and said, ‘My mistress lives over there.’ I said ‘I will go to the other side with you, as I want to say a few words with you.’ She was unwilling; but I persisted; we crossed over; I felt certain from her manner that she meditated suicide …”

Caroline’s suspicions were confirmed. Flora was pregnant and intended to drown herself. She remained with Flora until she regained her composure and promised not to attempt self-destruction. Caroline Chisholm, reassured of Flora’s psychological state, made immediate arrangements to find her suitable accommodation.


Herminie Chavanne, a young Swiss woman, summed up her impressions of Caroline Chisholm after meeting her with the following words: “Kindness shone from her face, with never a hint of weariness and it was obvious that God had granted her all the courage and energy she needed for this living work for her ‘neighbour’ (this simple and profound word says so much that I need say nothing more).”

It's a cliche but Caroline was ahead of her time. "She did not limit her concern to the individuals and families she assisted but lobbied government and society to create structures which respected the dignity of the human person. Her concerns with social justice issues such as family wages, private ownership of family farms and freedom to migrate were yet to be articulated by the Catholic Church. Her main work unfolded in the 1840s and 1850s. The encyclical Rerum Novarum, which marks the beginning of the Church’s social justice teaching for the Modern Age, was written by Pope Leo XIII in 1891, 14 years after Caroline’s death. Many of the principles which Caroline fought for during her life are echoed in its postulates.

The Mission of the Laity

Similarly, Caroline Chisholm’s work echoes in the teachings of the Church on the laity as described by the Second Vatican Council. Vatican II recognised the laity’s “special and indispensable role in the mission of the Church” and, noting the new challenges facing the Church, called forward an “infinitely broader and more intense” apostolate. The document on the laity, Apostolicam Actuositatem, listed areas of lay activity including: the renewal of the temporal order, charitable works and social aid and the family – all areas which had concerned Caroline Chisholm more than an century earlier. "

For more on Caroline's remarkable life, go here.

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