Born: 17 October 1888, Downpatrick, County Down
Entered: 12 November 1906, St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly
Ordained: 24 October 1920
Professed: 01 February 1924
Died: 04 September 1986, St Joseph, Hawthorn, Melbourne, Australia
by 1915 at Stonyhurst England (ANG) studying
Older brother of Thomas Johnston - RIP 1990
◆ Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University online :
Johnston, Henry Aloysius (1888–1986)
by J. Eddy
J. Eddy, 'Johnston, Henry Aloysius (1888–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/johnston-henry-aloysius-12703/text22903, published first in hardcopy 2007
Catholic priest; Catholic theologian
Died : 4 September 1986, Kew, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Henry Aloysius Johnston (1888-1986), Jesuit priest and seminary rector, was born on 17 October 1888 at Downpatrick, Northern Ireland, son of Henry Johnston, clerk, and his wife Kate, née Woods. A younger brother also became a Jesuit. Henry was educated at Mungret College, Limerick, and entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus at Tullabeg College in 1906. He studied at the Royal (National after 1909) University of Ireland (BA, 1910; MA, 1912), gaining first-class honours in ancient classics in his masterate while also teaching at St Stanislaus College, Tullamore (1910-11). In 1912-14 he taught at Clongowes Wood College, Kildare. After reading philosophy at St Mary’s Hall, Stonyhurst, England (1914-16), he returned to Ireland to teach at Tullabeg (1916-18) and then studied theology at Milltown Park, where he was ordained priest on 24 October 1920. Back at Tullabeg, in 1922 he completed a doctorate in theology for the Gregorian University, Rome, although the degree was not conferred until 1963.
Responding to a call from Corpus Christi College, the recently established seminary at Werribee, in 1923 Johnston travelled to Victoria, and, after teaching at Xavier College, Melbourne, took up his appointment in 1925. Essentially a professor of philosophy, he also taught liturgy and music, and on occasion scripture and moral theology. In 1930 he became rector of the college, remaining so until 1947. Almost four hundred student priests came under his influence. Noted for his professional poise, practical equanimity and unshakeable self-confidence, he was a rigid, seemingly aloof disciplinarian: he treated all students alike and set an example of impeccable priestly behaviour. Industrious and orderly, without being pettifogging, he had a passion for detailed knowledge and accuracy.
The years at Werribee were the highlight of Johnston’s life in Australia, but his work extended beyond them. He taught (1949-53) at Canisius College, Pymble, Sydney, and then served as parish priest and superior (1954-56) at St Mary’s, North Sydney. In 1957 and again in 1961 he was tertian instructor at Sevenhill College, Clare, South Australia, and between those appointments taught Greek, Latin and history at Loyola College, Watsonia, Melbourne. From 1962 to 1966 he served as parish priest and superior at Immaculate Conception Church, Hawthorn. After further stints of teaching at Werribee (1967-70) and Watsonia (1970-73), he worked (1974) with the Marist Brothers at Campion College, Kew. He spent 1975-77 at the provincial’s residence, Hawthorn, before returning to St Mary’s (1978-82) as chaplain to the nearby Josephite Sisters.
Incisive of mind and tenacious of purpose, Johnston was a formidable Irish gentleman, scholar and cleric. A passion for knowledge and accuracy also informed his work as a polemicist, a writer of apologetic tracts, and a radio personality. His somewhat steely smile and halo of tightly curled white hair gave him a special aura. He maintained an iceberg calm and relentless logic at all times. Yet, although he appeared reserved, even cold, he could be counted on for sympathetic advice. He had a respect for individuality, if within strictly defined boundaries. His popular publications included Plain Talks on the Catholic Religion (1936), A Critic Looks at the Catholic Church (1944) and A Seed That Grew (1956), a history of North Sydney parish. Father Henry Johnston died on 4 September 1986 at Kew and was buried in Boroondara cemetery.
Corpus Christi, no 1, 1962, p 46, no 2, 1967, p 163, no 3, 1974, p 25
Jesuit Life, no 22, 1986, p 27
private information and personal knowledge.
◆ David Strong SJ “The Australian Dictionary of Jesuit Biography 1848-2015”, 2nd Edition, Halstead Press, Ultimo NSW, Australia, 2017 - ISBN : 9781925043280
Henry Johnston was a most remarkable man. It was not that he had any single great achievement his achievements were doing everything he undertook well. He possessed the characteristics of many Northern Irishmen and had an acute, incisive mind and a remarkable tenacity of purpose that showed itself in every undertaking, whether it was the mastery of some subject of study, the conduct of a parish, or a game of tennis or golf.
He said that as a young man he had developed a stomach ulcer. It is hard for those who knew him well to believe that any ulcer would have the temerity to attack his innermost regions but in any case, his physician prescribed a rigid diet of food that he obediently and equally rigidly observed for the rest of his many years. His breakfast of a poached egg and a cup of milk was never changed and seemed almost symbolic of his life. He invariably had an afternoon rest and retired at night at 10.00 pm and nothing, absolutely nothing, was allowed to interfere with this practice.
He was a man who was nearly always logically right, but was often psychologically wrong. He did not show much compassion or feelings for people or situations. He would inform unenlightened celebrants of the Eucharist of the number of rubrics they had broken during their celebration. Then was surprised when they expressed their disapproval of his criticism. This he could not understand - he thought that they would want to be enlightened.
Johnston accepted every challenge with zest and proceeded to meet it. He regretted not learning to play the piano because he believed he would have been good at it! Every moment was spent in profitable work. When his abstemious meal was finished and there was still someone reading in the refectory he practised his shorthand, taking down what was read, writing with his finger on the table. Even at the community recreation he was continually checking conversation by referring to a dictionary or encyclopaedia, or some other reference book, even if it was only the railway timetable. He had a passion for knowledge and accuracy.
Through the years he had passing interests. At Werribee he was an avid ornithologist, so cats, because of their known proclivities in this area, were a discouraged species. But this could scarcely be believed by the scholastics who had observed - some would say suffered from -his feline preferences when he was at Pymble and Watsonia. No one ever knew Henry Johnston to be flustered or to lose his calm in any situation. He was a great polemicist, not only in his written defences of the faith, but also on the Catholic Evidence platforms in Melbourne and Sydney. He argued with an iceberg calm and relentless logic, and mostly with a rather deadly smile. He pushed the sale of his books and pamphlets with the persistence of a second hand car salesman because he knew they were good for the buyer. He had a Pauline respect for the goods he passed on.
Johnston entered the Jesuits, 12 November 1906, and was ordained, 24 October 1920. He was later sent to Australia, and from 1925, spent 27 years at the regional seminary at Werribee, seventeen as rector, 1930-47. These years probably mark the highlight of his life. He taught, at various times, most theological subjects. He had an MA in classics from the National University of Ireland, and a doctorate in theology from the Roman Gregorian University that he used to good purpose in writing “Plain Talks on the Catholic Religion” and “A Critic Looks at the Catholic Church”. His last unpublished work was a refutation of the validity of Anglican Orders.
Johnston's impact on priests ordained for the dioceses of Victoria and beyond was incalculable. In his years at Werribee, nearly 400 priests came within the sphere of his influence, about 100 of whom predeceased him. Johnston had a great respect for the priests of Corpus Christi. He followed their progress with interest and never failed to write a congratulatory and encouraging letter to every student on the occasion of a priestly silver jubilee.
One of his great strengths as rector was that he had no favourites among the students. They stood in awe of him. Undemonstrative to a marked degree, he appeared to be reserved and distant even cold. But if one brought a personal problem to him one was assured of a sympathetic hearing and sound advice. He is recorded as saying that he found it very hard to say “no” to people. There were those who thought he should have found it easier with the passage of time because he had had so much practice at it. T
he spirituality he fostered among the students was based on their becoming men of God. In his prayer life, his disciplined commitment to both his priesthood and religious vocation, and his devotion to the Mass and to the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, he clearly showed the seminarians the way. Johnston made himself an authority on many subjects. One such discipline was the Sacred Liturgy. He took his usual pains to master the subject and did all in his power to instil into the students a practical knowledge of, and a reverence for, the liturgy. He embraced the post-conciliar liturgy with equal enthusiasm. His faith in the Church and his transparent obedience had no limits.
He held high office among the Jesuits for many years, as rector of Canisius College, Pymble, 1949-53, and Loyola College, Watsonia, 1958-60, as well as parish priest of North Sydney, 1954-56, and Hawthorn, 1962-66. He also gave talks on the Catholic Hour in Melbourne, and was frequently requested to give spiritual retreats. In later years he taught theology at Werribee, 1967-73, and from 1978-82 he was chaplain to St Joseph's Convent, Mount St, North Sydney. His Final residence was a hostel, St Raphael's, Kew. Johnston succeeded John Fahy as tertian instructor in 1957, and was heavily involved in retreat giving and spiritual direction. Over 56 years, he preached 306 retreats to every sort of person, from school children to bishops. His spirituality was traditional, centred on Jesus Christ, acknowledging the need to surrender oneself to God, but also strong on the need for the discipline of human passions. He was intellectual, logical and precise in his directions, without sentimentality or affection.
He believed that joy in the spiritual life was not gained without humility and effort. Perfection in all human activities enabled God to be generous, but imperfections 'might be the beginning of the path to hell for a religious.
He Liked to emphasis the military metaphor in spirituality. The spiritual quest required a “state of war” with oneself He taught that the good Jesuit needed detachment (indifferences, obedience, humility and charity : “I must strip myself of everything and know myself in my nothingness”. 'We naturally love notice, praise, esteem. We must convince Ours that this is not wise or good”. The cross appeared to be all important in Johnston's spirituality.
He did not believe that human friendship was important if Christ was a friend, and that the necessity of human friendships could be exaggerated. In his own life he was experienced as remote and austere, but the depth of his learning and the breadth of his experience with people gave him the ability to give logical and sensible solutions to problems both spiritual and human. The apparent correctness of his advice appeared to make up for his lack of human warmth, at least with non-Jesuits.
The virtues of fear and love were both presented in his talks, but they were presented in such a cold manner that fear became the predominant message He taught that the good Jesuit was one who was interested in prayer, obedience, hard work, and reverence towards others. The preaching of joy in life, or the idea of malting allowances for human weakness did not appear in Johnston’s dictionary. Other Jesuits respected him, but they could not accept his joyless spirituality and lack of human approachability. He was not believed to be a model for younger Jesuits. lt would be hard to meet his like again and no one would be in more complete agreement with this than Johnston himself.
He was remarkable priest, an outstanding spiritual director, a dedicated religious, who encouraged and inspired by his example, a noted scholar, and a leading apologist.
Note from George Collopy Entry
When Henry Johnston had to attend a conference in Rome, he was appointed Acting Parish Priest at St Mary’s, Sydney, and he was later confirmed as Parish Priest.
◆ Irish Province News
Irish Province News 61st Year No 4 1986
Fr Henry Johnston (1888-1906-1986) (Australia)
Fr Johnston's requiem Mass was Melbourne. Archbishop Little presided, bishops along with Jesuit and diocesan priests, many of them former students of Fr Johnston's. Under the headline, “One of our best-known priests”, Fr William Daniel, Superior of the Jesuit Curia of the Australian Province, paid a fine tribute to Fr Johnston in this statement to the press:
As a Jesuit in Australia, Fr Johnston filled many offices, but is best remembered for his 27 years as a professor in the seminary at Werribee, Victoria.
Born in Downpatrick, Ireland, he was of two brothers to become Jesuits. Both men had considerable talents and that characteristic Northern Ireland acuteness of mind and tenacity of purpose.
Henry Johnston, SJ was in his time a great polemicist. He debated matters of faith on the Catholic Evidence Guild platforms in Sydney and Melbourne. During the 1930s and 1940s he conducted the Question Box and gave talks on the Catholic Radio Hour in Melbourne. He published pamphlets in abundance, but his only books were “Plain talks on the Catholic religion” (a book unequalled in time for clarity and the exactness of its teaching), "A critic looks at the Catholic and Catholic Church”, and a history of the parish of North Sydney.
No one ever knew Fr Johnston to be ruffled or angered by controversy. He approached every undertaking, whether it was a debate or a game of tennis or golf, with an iceberg calm and the application of logic. Urbanity marked his words and actions. Uncharity was as alien to him as a display of emotion or yielding of position.
He professed sacred scripture, philosophy and moral theology, and indeed everything else as need arose. He and the concelebrants included seven
was rector in several Jesuit houses of celebrated in St Patrick's cathedral, study, parish priest in two large parishes, and instructor of tertians ... Fr Johnston retained an extraordinarily youthful intellect, and accepted every new task as an enjoyable challenge, whether it was in sacred studies,liturgical music, or golf. He was not happy until he had mastered each new skill. He carried on his labours, writing and lecturing, right up until his last few days, when he suffered impairment of sight and eventually its loss.
It is no exaggeration to say that Fr Henry Johnston is a legend among the clergy of Victoria, so many of whom he helped to form. His achievements and foibles are still spoken of at many a clergy gathering. His life was one of dedicated service and scholarship. His last years of acceptance of his failing one faculties were borne with the same calm had marked the course of his long life.
Under the heading, “Fr Johnston: men tor to hundreds of priests, laity”, another Australian newspaper article describes Fr Johnston:
The late Jesuit Fr Henry Johnston its influenced at least four hundred priests and countless lay people - non-Catholic - during his eighty years in the Society of Jesus and 66 years as a priest.
Dean F M Chamberlin, homilist at the requiem Mass, said that in 1923 Fr Johnston came to Australia, where he exercised a remarkable influence for two-thirds of the present century.
On his arrival he taught English and Latin at Xavier College, Kew, Melbourne. He had already won example. bachelor's and master's degrees with first-class honours in Ancient Classics at the National University of Ireland, followed by a doctorate in sacred theology at the Gregorian University, Rome.
In 1925 he took up an appointment to the professorial staff of the regional seminary at Corpus Christi College, Werribee, and was to remain there for a period of 24 years, 18 of them as period of 24 years, 18 of them as rector for three successive terms. In the early 1940s, when the professor of moral theology and later the professor of sacred scripture both fell ill, he calmly and successfully professed both these courses for a period of four to five years. Later he was to return to Werribee 1967 through 1969, to profess natural theology, rational psychology, sacred scripture and biblical history. By the time he left Werribee for a second time, he was in his 82nd year. .
Fr Johnston's finest and happiest years were spent among diocesan priests and seminarians. It was for this reason that the Jesuit fathers asked that someone from among the diocesan clergy should act as homilist at his requiem.
Students stood in considerable awe of this markedly undemonstrative, reserved and distant man, but came to know that they could always expect a sympathetic hearing and sound advice when they confided their problems to him. He is recorded as saying that he found it very difficult to say “no” to people. There were those who thought he should have found it easier with the passage of time, he gained so much practice at it!
That our futures were in our own hands was underlined by his parting words at the end of the scholastic year. “No one”, he used to say, “is expected back”. His repeated exhortation was that each of us should strive to become a homo Dei. If we have failed to scale the heights, it was through no failure on his part to present them both by word and example.
By his prayer life, by his disciplined commitment to both his priesthood and his religious vocation, and by his devotion to the Mass and to the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, he clearly showed us the way. His clarity of thought and inexorable logic were frightening to the student whom he left foundering in his wake - as the homilist had reason to recall more than 45 years later.
He made the utmost use of time and brought his self-discipline to bear on studies, so that his intense application gave him knowledge of subjects in which he lacked formal training. Although he had no musical training, he made himself self an authority on Gregorian chant, and was professor of sacred music during his years at the seminary.
Likewise he made himself an authority on sacred liturgy. He took his usual pains to master the subject, and did all in his power to instil into the students a practical knowledge of and a reverence for the liturgy. He embraced the postconciliar liturgy with equal enthusiasm. His faith in the Church and his transparent obedience had no limits.
He showed the same tenacity in the pursuit of his hobbies - if indeed they can be called hobbies - whether of astronomy or of golf, which latter he took up when in his sixties. He studied the instruction manuals written by the experts and practised the shots - some say for as long as twelve months - before playing a formal round. Came the day, and to the amazement of his playing companions, he parred the first three holes, On receiving their congratulations, he drily observed: Well, that's what you're supposed to do, isn't it? Said the homilist: I can hear him saying it.
He was parish priest and superior at St Mary's, North Sydney, in the mid-1950s, and was appointed parish priest of the Immaculate Conception parish, Hawthorn, Melbourne, in 1962, when he was in his 74th year, and brought to the administration of that parish in the subsequent five years a zeal and enthusiasm which would have done credit to a man half his age. He was an outstanding example of a dedicated pastor.
After that he had various responsibilities within the Society of Jesus, and served as chaplain to the Marist Brothers noviciate at Macedon, and later still to the Sisters of St Joseph, Mount Street, North Sydney, relinquishing this latter post in his 95th year.
Over a period of years he suffered the disability of failing eyesight, which must have been a severe trial to a man of his academic and literary bent.