History – 1901 to 1945

History of Chaplaincy in the Australian Defence Force 1901 to 1945



The Commonwealth of Australia was established in 1901. The various States were now united under a Federal Government based temporarily in Melbourne. The defence of Australia became the responsibility of the new Federal Government. Chaplains were attached to naval and Army units prior to 1901, e.g., the Naval Artillery Volunteers of the NSW Naval Forces, who saw active service in the ‘Boxer Rebellion’ in China.



In August, 1911, the matter of appointment of Chaplains to the Services was raised in Federal Government circles. Rear-Admiral William Creswell as First Naval Member considered that a definite agreement should be adopted and regulations framed. This led to a meeting Navy Office on 8 March, 1912, involving the Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne, representatives of the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches and three representatives of the Naval Board. Agreement was eventually reached for the appointment of Chaplains on a proportional basis which was derived from the national census. There would be five Chaplains appointed – three would be Anglican, two Protestant. This agreement was subsequently approved by the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) on 18 June, 1912.

At this time, the Most Rev.Thomas Joseph Carr, Archbishop of Melbourne, was delegated by the Catholic Bishops of Australia to confer with the Department of Defence concerning the appointment of Catholic Chaplains. On the 28 and 29 May, 1912, conferences were held at Navy Office to discuss the appointment of Catholic Chaplains to the Royal Australian Navy. Archbishop Carr delegated to Rt.Rev.Monsignor P. Phelan and Father J.E. King to represent the Catholic Church, while Admiral Creswell, Captain Chambers and Paymaster-in-Chief Manisty represented the Naval Board.

Agreement was reached that the first appointment of Catholic Chaplains would see the acceptance of two priests. They would serve in the Senior Officers’ Ship of the Australian Squadron, at HM Naval Depots Sydney and Williamstown and for general service in the Fleet from October, 1912, and received ministerial approval on 17 June, 1912. The first Catholic Chaplain appointed to the RAN was Father Patrick Joseph Gibbons, BA, on the 16 August, 1912.

In both Agreements, it is interesting to note that the duties indicated for Chaplains were based on the Corps of Chaplains of the U.S.Navy, as the equivalent did not exist in the Royal Navy at that time.

Following these negotiations, Archbishop Carr was appointed the Bishop to nominate Catholic Chaplains to the Australian Navy and Army. During 1913, Archbishop Carr himself was appointed an Army Chaplain-General (Roman Catholic) by the Department of Defence, with the responsibility to nominate and direct Catholic Chaplains and, through them, to provide religious services and pastoral care to Catholic members of the Army. Archbishop Carr had the status of a Major-General (2 star). He did not have an appointment within the Navy, but had the right and responsibility to nominate Chaplains for the care of Catholic personnel.



World War 1 commenced in August 1914. Immediately, Archbishop Carr arranged for Chaplains to be on active Service, both overseas and in Australia. When Archbishop Carr’s health declined in 1917, Archbishop Patrick Joseph Clune of Perth (West Australia), on behalf of Archbishop Carr, officially visited Australian Servicemen in England and on the Western Front on France. Archbishop Carr died in May, 1917. He was immediately succeeded by his Co-adjutor Archbishop Daniel Mannix as Archbishop of Melbourne. Within a few weeks the Catholic Bishops of Australia nominated Archbishop Mannix to take over the Defence Force responsibilities, and the Department of Defence appointed Archbishop Mannix Army Chaplain-General (Catholic).



mannixArchbishop Mannix continued to hold the appointment of Bishop responsible for the spiritual welfare of members of the Defence Forces, and the appointment within the Army of Chaplain-General. During these years of peace, these responsibilities were mainly carried out by a Catholic Navy Chaplain and Senior Catholic Army Chaplains in each State of the Commonwealth of Australia

During this period, Chaplaincy was beginning to develop in the Royal Australian Flying Corps (later Royal Australian Air Force). Provision was made for part-time Chaplains on an ad hoc basis. The initiative was in the hands of the Station Commander, who could make an appointment in the Citizen Air Force as he thought fit.

Early in 1936 Father (later Monsignor) Kenneth Morrison was asked by Archbishop Mannix to investigate the possibility of having himself appointed as Chaplain at the RAAF Bases Laverton and Point Cook in the State of Victoria – to take what time was necessary and not to come back to him until he knew all the facts. From May 1936, Father Morrison began to attend Laverton and Point Cook for Sunday Masses, and also for interviews and visitation during the week. Finally, his appointment as Chaplain was officially made. At the outbreak of war in 1939, all the part-time Air Force Chaplains were called up for permanent duty.



During these years of World War II, Archbishop Mannix was Bishop responsible for the spiritual welfare of Catholic members of the Defence Forces of Australia with jurisdiction and faculties approved and granted from Rome. He continued to hold the Army appointment of Chaplain-General (Roman Catholic) but was assisted by the appointment of a Deputy-Chaplain-General (RC) – Chaplain-General Timothy McCarthy. Within the Navy and Air Force, the Archbishop was assisted by the appointments of Rev.Fr.Patrick Lynch as Senior Catholic Chaplain (Navy) and Rev.Fr.Kenneth Morrison as Senior Catholic Chaplain (Air Force). In the Air Force, the 1940’s saw the beginnings of the formation of the Principal Chaplains’ Committee represented by full-time staff Chaplains, Church of England, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian and a representative of other Protestant denominations. The Chaplaincy establishment in the Services was increased to meet the needs of the expanding Forces and Catholic Chaplains served in all theatres of war.

History of Chaplaincy 1945 to present