At the annual Knox Public Lecture hosted by Catholic Theological College on Wednesday 12 October, a panel of distinguished members of the College community discussed ‘50 Years of Theological Education in Context: Then, Now, What Next?’

This was the first time the Knox Public Lecture has been held in person since 2019, the previous two years having been held via Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic.Addressing an audience of about 130 people at the Catholic Leadership Centre, the panel paid tribute to the College’s founder and Melbourne’s fifth Archbishop, James Robert Cardinal Knox, reflected on the ways their mission has has changed over the years, and discussed their hopes for the future.

The panel consisted of Rev Prof Austin Cooper OMI AM, Rev Prof Frank Moloney SDB AM FAHA, Most Rev Dr Terence Curtin DD, Dr Rosemary Canavan and Dr Michelle Goh RSM. The evening was facilitated by Dr Catherine Playoust, Deputy Master of the College.

The night was an opportunity to ‘re-member,’ Rev Prof Cooper said, ‘and when we “re-member” we put Humpty Dumpty back together again, don’t we? We try to put together our own story.’

As someone who was involved closely with Cardinal Knox from the beginning, Cooper recalled fondly the Archbishop’s style and attitude. Knox saw great potential in Catholic Theological College and wanted to bring people together to serve the Church in Melbourne more effectively, appointing Cooper to help with this task.

The unique thing about Knox, he said, was that although ‘he had a great idea, he wasn’t putting flesh on it. He allowed it to develop.’ One of Knox’s great virtues, according to Cooper, was that he listened to those around him and sought their ideas:

‘He invited people, he listened. Catholic unity is not about uniformity or regimentation. Catholic unity is about a wonderful blend of unity and diversity.’ Knox wanted to bring a diverse set of people together to bring the College to life.

A common talking point among the panellists was their hope that the College would continue to develop in two important areas: on the one hand, by continuing to pursue academic excellence in their research and teaching and, on the other hand, by making theological content and ideas more accessible to local communities and ordinary people.

CTC primarily provides academic education and formation for priestly candidates and religious from around Victoria and Tasmania, although increasing numbers of lay people have enrolled through the years. A key element of their philosophy—reflected in their motto, Tolle lege (‘Take and read’)—has been to cultivate a love of learning in priests and to keep them reading widely even beyond their College years.

Rev Prof Moloney hoped that a hallmark of their reputation in the future would be high-quality research: ‘I would like to see … the University of Divinity and CTC become a significant player in serious, published research.’ But he also acknowledged a need to forge stronger connections between the College and the broader Church in Melbourne, providing our communities with a firmer foundation in theology and the Bible.

‘I really see the need for theological literacy,’ Bishop Terry Curtin said, ‘so it’s not just the preserve of the clergy or the academics, but indeed starts to feed our communities.’

‘To me the greatest single problem we face as a Catholic community is not just a lack of theological background, but a biblical background,’ Moloney agreed. Despite many synods, events and initiatives, biblical literacy remains relatively low among the Catholic faithful. ‘There is nothing formal to actually educate everyone in how the Word works.’

Dr Michelle Goh RSM spoke passionately on this point, saying, ‘I think we all agree our world is going through a really unstable period in many ways, and people are looking for meaning, purpose and direction …

So how can we contribute to bring Gospel joy to the ordinary person in a way that’s contextualised to our times? In a way that will touch on the lived experience of people and the spiritual yearning of people in our day and age?

With world events contributing to a sense of uncertainty and unease, many people are hungry for meaning and purpose. Catholic Theological College wants to respond to and speak into that hunger.

Against the polarising and simplistic narratives we often receive through the media, Dr Goh said that a truly Catholic education can provide balance and moderation. For this reason, she felt it was more important than ever to translate the College’s efforts into ‘outreach’ by engaging in ‘formation for people who work on the ground’.

‘The message really needs to go out more that everyone is invited, everyone can come and see how theological study can nurture one’s faith and relationship with God.’

Developing a broad range of resources is important, from time-intensive, research-based endeavours all the way through to more popular avenues of learning, such as workshops or podcasts.

What CTC offers is something really special, Dr Rosemary Canavan said. ‘Often CTC has been referred to as a hidden treasure, and it now needs to stand as a lamp on the lampstand.’

Main image supplied by Catholic Theological College.