Last weekend, Melbourne-born Catholic novelist and journalist Desmond O’Grady passed away at 91 years of age. O’Grady has several works of fiction and non-fiction to his name, including poems and plays that have been produced on stage and on radio. He was also the Roman correspondent for The National Catholic Reporter during the years of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).
Desmond O'Grady always had a taste for travel. In 1955, he ventured away from Australia to travel Europe, and in 1957 married a Roman woman, Giuseppina Culotta. Even though they returned to Australia for a time after their marriage, he sought a job that would give them the chance to travel. 'I didn't want to deny a Roman any possibility of moving out of Melbourne,' he said in a 1970 interview with The National Catholic Reporter. O'Grady and his wife ended up moving to Rome with their growing family.
O'Grady was asked in the years that followed the Second Vatican Council ‘if there was any imagination left’ in Rome, to which he made mention of Pope Paul VI's visit to Australia in 1970—the first papal visit to the continent.
‘It took some imagination for Paul to find a reason to go to Australia ... I do think papal trips like this are an important development and later popes ought to stay in various countries for some time instead of lightning visits. The Justice and Peace commission [which Paul VI established] is potentially valuable. For instance, it was a channel for the documentation on the tortures in Brazil to reach the pope. ... it is an example of the new-style Vatican bodies, which are secretariats serving corresponding bodies in the local churches.’
Throughout his life, O'Grady was a regular essayist for The Washington Post, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, and The Australian, and for a time he was the foreign editor and literary editor of the weekly magazine The Bulletin. Despite his work on The National Catholic Reporter, O'Grady never felt comfortable being confined to religious publications; he reconciled himself to it, but he always wanted to be an author, not a journalist. He once said that he thought of himself as 'primarily an imaginative writer', and would several short stories and novels and plays throughout his life.
One of his novels, Dinny Going Down (Arcadia, 2007), was about a Sydney journalist and was hailed as ‘the funniest novel on journalism since Evelyn Waugh's Scoop'. O'Grady gained greater attention as a journalist when in June 1970 he wrote about the problems involved in the Catholic system of having young girls from Kerala, India, moved to understaffed European convents in order to be trained as postulants and novices. The New York Times wrote on it in the wake of O'Grady's reporting.
He was also a lover of tennis, and boasted being the only Australian author to have played tennis with Rod Laver.
In 2019, O'Grady spoke with Archbishop Peter A Comensoli during his visit to Rome to receive his pallium from Pope Francis. The pallium is a band of wool that archbishops wear around their shoulders.
O'Grady asked the then-recently installed Archbishop what the pallium meant to him. ‘It’s a symbol of my responsibilities as the metropolitan of Melbourne and the contiguous suffragan dioceses,’ Archbishop Comensoli said. ‘On a personal level, the pallium is a reminder of the Good Shepherd shouldering a lamb. That’s what I should be doing, carrying the people of the Archdiocese on my shoulders.’
Desmond O'Grady was a model for Catholic writers in the 'public square' of journalism and in the world of literature; his essays were an art in themselves, and he abounded in wit and wisdom. His funeral was held in Rome on Wednesday 1 December at the Santi Silvestro e Martino Basilica.
Melbourne Catholic03 March 2024
Melbourne Catholic01 March 2024