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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

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Rosemary Goldie (1916–2010)

by Edmund Campion

Rosemary Goldie, who has died at the age of 94, was for a decade the most highly placed woman in the Vatican's administration. For half a century she was a familiar sight in the corridors of the Vatican, where she was consulted on the role of the laity in the church.

Her status could scarcely be predicted from her beginnings, for she was the daughter of Dulcie Deamer, ''the Queen of Bohemia'' in Sydney's inter-war years. Tiring of an alcoholic husband and family life, Deamer parked her six children with her mother and immersed herself in literary and artistic circles.

Grandmother Deamer sent Rosemary to Our Lady of Mercy College, Parramatta, from where she passed to the University of Sydney, graduating in 1936 with the University Medal and honours in French and English. A French government scholarship took her to the Sorbonne in Paris. Here she also encountered cutting-edge French Catholicism, recovering its cultural nerve after the depredations of state secularism.

She spent the war years back in Australia, then returned to France to pursue a doctorate at the Sorbonne. Before long, Goldie's involvement in Catholic movements had drawn her away from academic life.

She became an official of international lay bodies and this sent her to Rome. She was already known when the second Vatican Council convened, the event that illuminates all recent church experience.

Only bishops had voting rights although a gallery of observers was present at the sessions. When it was conceded that women might become auditors too, Goldie was in the first small group appointed.

Then Pope Paul VI established a laity department in Rome and made her its under-secretary. It was the highest office a woman had held in the Vatican's bureaucracy and journalists made much of this woman in the papal curia. Those who wrote her off as ''la bambina Vaticana'', however, were surprised by her personal tenacity and theological literacy.

Her style was to encourage variety in world Catholicism; she was a church leader who did not think that one size should fit all.

After 10 years, she was told her position was to be given to a priest and she would be parachuted into a theological professorship at the pontifical Lateran university. She went to her friend Pope Paul VI to complain that now there would be no woman in the curia at her level. The Pope tried to encourage her in her teaching post: ''You can do so much good.'' Clericalism is a resistant virus in Vatican culture.

Her stint at the university gave her time to collect her thoughts. An insider of some of the most creative decades of church history, she was her own archive. She had been at the conferences where the theology was developed, she knew all the actors and she had read, in part written, the documents. So when she decided to write a book about it, her research was done, the only challenge being to keep it short.

From a Roman Window is a necessary book for learning about the church. It tracks how seminal Vatican II thinking became realities. It isn't an autobiography, but it is a personal book - the narrator's voice is unmistakably Goldie's, an acute observer of clerical psychologies.

She was always aware of the part women could play in the story, so when blokey attitudes and neanderthal thinking blocked their contribution, her disappointment was manifest.

Her contacts with Australia remained close — it is clear she took local soundings on B.A. Santamaria's political movement and contributed to the Vatican's negative response to it.

Her mother came back into her life when Goldie wrote to her after her brother died. When she was in Sydney she would take Dulcie to tea at Kings Cross and was instrumental in getting her mother's autobiography published, 25 years after her death.

Dulcie died in 1972 at the Little Sisters of the Poor Home in Randwick. There, too, her daughter has died, fortified by the rites of the church. In 1990 she was awarded the AO for her commitment to ecumenical relations. She made a difference.

Original publication

Citation details

Edmund Campion, 'Goldie, Rosemary (1916–2010)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 17 June 2024.

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