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Freeman, Sir James Darcy (Jimmy) (1907–1991)

James Freeman, by Ern McQuillan, 1976

James Freeman, by Ern McQuillan, 1976

National Library of Australia, 45188072

Religious and political leaders paid tribute yesterday to the former Catholic archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal Sir James Darcy Freeman, 83, who died from heart failure at Sydney's St Vincent's Hospital on Saturday morning. 

Pope John Paul II sent a message of condolence to the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney. Cardinal Edward Clancy, saying: "I join you in giving thanks to God for the long and zealous priestly service which he (Cardinal Freeman) rendered to the Church in Australia.” 

Cardinal Clancy said Cardinal Freeman's death had brought “great sadness not only to his family and friends but to the citizens of Sydney in general”. 

“He was a great priest and bishop, a great Australian who related warmly to people of all ages and backgrounds." Cardinal Clancy said. 

"He had an immense love of sport and a deep interest in all things that touched the life of the average Australian.” 

The Governor-General Mr Bill Hayden, said Cardinal Freeman was “a distinguished Australian, a great Church leader and a generous and understanding human being”. 

The Leader of the federal opposition, Dr Hewson, expressed his regret at Cardinal Freeman’s death although he said he had not known him well.

“Those who did know him testified to his great personal warmth and wisdom.” Dr Hewson said. 

Known affectionately as “Jimmy” or “Sunny Jim” because of his Christian optimism, Cardinal Freeman was appointed as the 6th archbishop of Sydney in 1971, replacing Cardinal Sir Norman Gilroy. 

He was created a Cardinal Priest by Pope Paul VI in 1973. 

The conservative Cardinal spent his life fighting against violence, poverty, pornography, drugs and abortion before retiring in 1983 to "catch up on some reading” at the St John Vianney hostel for retired priests at Randwick. 

Last year, he suffered a heart attack. He was admitted to St Vincent’s last Friday suffering from chest pains. 

Born on November 19, 1807, in inner-western Annandale, Sydney, he was the elder son of a tram driver. 

He grew up with a love of boxing but after a few bouts with his companions decided discretion was the better part of valour. 

However, as “defender of the poor and downtrodden" he never backed away from criticising governments or his fellow Australians when he felt they had failed to recognise the rights and dignity of the disabled, help the elderly and lonely or appreciate the demoralising effects of unemployment. 

In 1988, Cardinal Freeman came out of retirement to officiate at the funeral of an elderly Sydney vagrant, Madame Elizabeth Gorm-Bayler, who had been murdered at Sydney's Central railway station. 

“Her death is a reminder to each and every one of us that there are still many, too many, who are neglected in poverty and in pain." he had said. 

Cardinal Freeman trained as a priest at Springwood and Manly and was ordained in 1930. 

Cardinal Freeman was knighted in 1977. He said his knighthood came as a complete surprise and was not so much a tribute to him but a tribute to Sydney. 

Monsignor Peter Ingham, his private secretary for more than six years said Cardinal Freeman was a man who closely identified with ordinary and destitute people. 

"He could move people with his descriptions of a man sheltering in a doorway from the cold,” he said. 

"He had great simplicity. He was in many ways a reluctant Cardinal; he never sought honours or prestige." 

Monsignor Ingham said Cardinal Freeman taught him much “unsophisticated wisdom” and never to take oneself too seriously. 

Cardinal Freeman has a sister, Sister Mary Freeman, of the Sisters of Charity in Sydney, and a brother, Mr Robert Freeman, of Strathfield, Sydney. Another sister, Miss Joan Freeman, died in 1973. 

Cardinal Freeman’s funeral is expected to be this week.

Original publication

  • Australian, 18 March 1991, p 12

Additional Resources

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Citation details

'Freeman, Sir James Darcy (Jimmy) (1907–1991)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/freeman-sir-james-darcy-jimmy-14905/text27242, accessed 14 November 2019.

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