In Memoriam: Reverend Professor Austin Cooper OMI

The University of Divinity community mourns the passing of Reverend Professor Austin Cooper OMI. Austin was the founding Master of Catholic Theological College (1972-1976) and served two further terms in that role in 1992-1994 and 1998-2002. He served as Vice-President (1974-76) and President (1976-78) of the Melbourne College of Divinity. His legacy for the College and University, for ecumenical relations, and for his Oblate community is immense, and his departure is keenly felt by all.

Catholic Theological College communicaton, 4 July 2023

Catholic Theological College mourns the passing Rev Professor Austin Cooper OMI. Fr Austin died on the morning of Sunday 2 July, after a brief hospitalisation. His Oblate confreres and many friends were close to him in his final days, and he remained lucid and communicative until his final hours. He was 92 years old.

The name of Austin Cooper is synonymous with Catholic Theological College and, as we mark this year the 50th anniversary of the College as a member of ecumenical University of Divinity, we acknowledge the indispensable role Fr Austin has played in the life of the College.

After studies with the Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate (OMI) in Australia and Ireland, postgraduate work in history at the Catholic University of America in Washington, and doctoral studies in history with Monash University, Fr Austin was appointed founding Rector of the new St Mary’s Oblate Seminary in Mulgrave Victoria in 1963. He also served as Australian Provincial of the OMIs from 1976 to 1983.

In his capacity as Rector, he was invited by Archbishop Knox to participate in a committee to establish a new theologcial college in Melbourne, combining the students and lecturers of several diocesan and religious seminaries. Fr Austin was elected Master of the newly established Catholic Theological College and served in that position from 1972 to 1976. He was instrumental in the design of the College’s curriculum and its affiliation with the Melbourne College of Divinity (MCD) in 1973. He served two further terms as Master in 1992-1994 and 1998-2002. He was a champion of the ecumenical character of Christian thought and practice, and served as Vice-President of the MCD (1974-1976) and first Catholic President of the MCD (1976-1978).

Fr Austin’s academic leadership in the College has been consistent and innovative. He was founding Chair of the College’s Academic Board and has served as Head of the Church History Department in several terms. He was Professor of Church History and Christian Spirituality, and active in teaching and supervision until recently. He collaborated eagerly with faculty of other colleges of the University in courses in church history. He was appointed a Senior Fellow of the College in 2005. In 2004 he was made a Member in the General Division of the Order of Australia in recognition of his contribution to theological education.

Fr Austin was widely-known and highly-regarded as an exceptional teacher. His lecturing style was warm, intellectually engaging and spiritually inspiring. His humour, generosity and good judgement have supported students and colleagues alike. He has taught units in Australian and English church history, ancient and modern spiritual writers, the Oxford Movement and John Henry Newman, the texts of Hildegaard of Bingen. He has also supervised a great number of research candidates in their Master’s and Doctoral theses, and was unfailing in his encouragement, close reading of drafts and judicious advice. Over many years, he led international study tours to sites of European Christian heritage, and in the footsteps of his great friend, John Henry Newman. Like Newman, Austin could speak to the head, heart and spirit of those he taught and guided. He loved teaching, and it seems appropriate that he was teaching an intensive course on John Henry Newman only days before his death.

Fr Austin’s publications include A Little by Ourselves: Oblates of Mary Immaculate Australia 1894-1994 (1994), The Cloud: Reflections on Selected Texts (1989), John Henry Newman: A Developing Spirituality (2011), Julian of Norwich (2014), and several articles.

Speaking recently in tribute of Fr Austin, CTC Master Fr Kevin Lenehan spoke of him as ‘ a man of the church, a man of the academy, and a man of deepest humanity.’ His guiding vision was of the human person, created in the image of God and called into union as God’s son or daughter, called to be the bearer of truth, goodness and beauty in the world.

The CTC community offers deepest condolences to the Oblate family and to Fr Austin’s many friends. He will be greatly missed and gratefully remembered.

For funeral details, see here.

              So long thy love hath blessed me, sure it still

              Will lead me on.

              J. H. Newman

Oblate communication, 2 July 2023

The Oblates of Mary Immaculate give thanks to God for the extraordinary life and ministry of Fr Austin Cooper OMI.

It is with great sadness that the Australian Province of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate announces the death of Fr Austin Patrick Cooper OMI, 2nd July 2023.

Austin Cooper was born on January 14, 1931 at Sorrento, Victoria, an area his family had lived in for a very long time – his grandmother’s family were there in the 1830s, and his grandfather purchased the Sorrento Hotel in the 1890s.

He attended Assumption College, Kilmore, studied law for a year at Melbourne University, and joined the Oblates in March 1950. He was sent to Kidalton Abbey, Piltown, Ireland to study and was ordained there on 16th September 1956, completing his studies in June 1957.

He arrived back in Australia later in 1957, and worked at Eagle Junction while attending the University of Queensland (BA Hons in history), followed by Iona College in its second year.

He was nominated as the first rector for the future St Mary’s Oblate Seminary, and sent to study in the scholasticate of the Eastern American Province, Oblate College, Washington DC in 1961 and 62 to prepare for the ministry of rector and to gain experience of scholasticate life. While there he completed an MA in History at Catholic University of America, he later completed his PhD, on the Oxford Movement, at Monash University (1972).

As the Mulgrave premises was not ready, in 1963 he took up residence at St Joseph’s Lovely Banks (Geelong), along with Fr Pat Slattery and 4 first year scholastics, before moving to Mulgrave in August. As the founding Rector of St Mary’s Seminary, Mulgrave from 1963 to 73, one of his achievements was establishing a close relationship with the nearby Monash University and combining the traditional training in philosophy with a university degree.

Fr Cooper served as the Australia Provincial from 1976 to 1983. After completing his term as Provincial he continued his significant and influential academic career: Foundation Master, Catholic Theological College, Melbourne, 1972-76; Vice-President of Melbourne College of Divinity, 1974-76; President of Melbourne College of Divinity, 1976-78. He has been a lecturer at CTC since 1972, including two further stints as Master, from 1992-94 and then again 1998-2002. He was a Professor in the Department of Church History at CTC until 2022 and led overseas study tours as part of his courses in Christian Spirituality. His areas of expertise include his friends, Julian of Norwich and Cardinal Newman.

His writings include the history of the Australian Oblates up to 1994, A Little By Ourselves; books on Julian of Norwich, The Cloud of Unknowing and John Henry Newman, A Developing Spirituality (2012).

In 2004 Fr Austin received the Order of Australia for services to Theological Education. Fr Austin has been an outstanding priest and dedicated Oblate of Mary Immaculate. He is highly capable as well as being a man of prayer and deep spirituality. He is inspirational to many students with a great kindness and a lovely sense of humour.

He is influential in the human and spiritual formation of many Oblates, Lay people, Religious and Priests in Australia. In his 72 years as an Oblate, he was a pillar of the Australian Province and will be greatly missed. We firmly believe that we will see him again in the eternal life promised to all. He journeyed with Jesus, Mary, St Eugene de Mazenod and many church figures both in this earthy life and now into eternal life.

We thank God for the gift of Fr Austin Cooper OMI in our lives, in the Australian Province of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and in the Australian Church.

God bless,

Fr. Christian Fini OMI Australian Provincial

[Link to a three-part interview with Fr Austin Cooper OMI for his 60th Anniversary. http://bitly.ws/KbGY ]

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