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Molony, John Neylon (1927–2018)

by Graham Downie

from Canberra Times

John Molony, 1985

John Molony, 1985

ANU Archives

A Catholic priest, historian, president of an Aussie Rules football club and devoted family man are only some of the markers of the 91 years of Emeritus Professor John Molony who died in Canberra on Sunday, September 16.

John Neylon Molony was born on April 15, 1927 in Melbourne. Identified early by the Church as a future leader, he was sent to the Propaganda Fide College in Rome to study for the priesthood. He was ordained in Rome in 1950 and remained there to receive a doctorate in canon law. Before returning to Australia he spent a year in the US in Boston where he worked on canonical matters.

With a degree in canon law, it was assumed he would become a bishop, even an archbishop in the Church in Australia. But he saw the authoritarian nature of the Church crush the spirit of others who lost their faith or became drunkards. Not wanting to lose his faith, he left the priesthood and was ostracised by the Church. Later he was given dispensation to marry in the Church and in 1965 he and Denise were married. The dispensation included the condition that he move well away from where he had served as a priest.

Hoping to find work as a labourer, he travelled with Denise to Broken Hill. Recognising he was uniquely qualified to respond to a job advertisement for someone who could translate medieval Latin and type, the couple set out for Canberra. There, in 1964, Professor Molony’s academic career with the ANU began as a Research Assistant in Medieval History in the School of Social Science. Recruited to the History Department by Manning Clark, he became head of the Department of History and held the Manning Clark Chair of Australian History from 1982 until his retirement from the University in 1990.

Then he was appointed to the Keith Cameron Professorship of Australian History at University College Dublin. It was suggested at the time his real purpose was to convert the Irish to Australian Football. By then, Professor Molony, who as a young man had played football for St Patrick’s College, Ballarat, had presided over the ANU's early days in the ACTAFL and moved to the Belconnen club when it was formed in 1971. He was chairman of the club during its amalgamation with West Canberra from 1986-88 and became president after the partnership disintegrated in 1989. Despite his abiding loyalty to the Carlton Football Club, he harboured the dream of the ACT having a team in the national competition.

Original publication

  • Canberra Times, 1 October 2018

Other Obituaries for John Neylon Molony

View the list of obituaries written by John Neylon Molony

View the list of ADB articles written by John Neylon Molony

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Graham Downie, 'Molony, John Neylon (1927–2018)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/molony-john-neylon-28173/text35882, accessed 18 August 2019.

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