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Camille Agnes Paul (1932–2010)

by Elaine Lindsay

Camille Paul, n.d.

Camille Paul, n.d.

There's a story about two European Catholic priests who were visiting St Patrick's Seminary at Manly in the mid-1980s. They were found by one of the lecturers, transfixed in front of an open classroom door. The lecturer asked what was wrong and they gasped that there was a woman inside — teaching. When it was confirmed that not only was Camille Paul teaching, but that she was teaching fundamental moral theology, they bolted in horror.

That was Paul, feminist, moral theologian, wife and mother of six, music lover, shopper, social justice advocate and activist.

Camille Agnes Becker was born in Sydney on April 2, 1932, to Norman Becker, an engineer with the NSW Railways, and his wife, Elsie Childs, a dressmaker. Camille went to school at St Declan's in Penshurst then trained as a physical education instructor and later as a secretary.

Her early religious formation was traditional, as she recalled in Women-Church in 2007: ''As a schoolgirl and young woman I was a 'good girl' who did the nine First Fridays (so that the Virgin Mary would collect me from Purgatory the first Sunday after my death and take me to Heaven) and I was in the Children of Mary, went to Confession each month and would never have dared to miss Sunday Mass.''

In 1956 she married Ken Paul, an architect. They travelled, then worked in London. On returning to Australia they joined the Family Apostolate, and this is where their activism started, in their Como-Oyster Bay parish, gradually spreading outwards, with Ken becoming president of the Family Apostolate, a member of the first Pastoral Council for the Archdiocese of Sydney (1969) and later a board member of the Institute of Counselling. Camille was busy raising their five children, but then, as she described it: ''Life changed forever in 1972 with the drowning death of our 16-month old son Adrian and again in 1974 with the still birth of a daughter [Camilla]. These two events … left me with ongoing and unresolved searching.''

This searching led her to study at the Institute of Counselling (1975-77). Her years there secured her admission to St Patrick's Seminary, an event recorded in the Mosman Daily on August 5, 1980 under the headline ''Seminary pioneer''. She may have been a novelty — a full-time female student who was a wife and mother, not a religious — but Paul felt the male students and lecturers would ''welcome the women's point of view. Simply by just being part of the classes we are stopping the all-male ghetto''.

It was at St Patrick's that Paul became interested in feminism and religion. In her final year she was elected as student representative on the Board of Studies — a first for a female student. As one of her classmates confided, ''We voted for you because we didn't think any of the lecturers would argue with you''.

In 1982 she graduated with a baccalaureate in sacred theology, following closely behind Jackie Wall, the first laywoman admitted to St Patrick's.

Paul undertook a postgraduate course for religious education co-ordinators at St Scholastica's in Glebe before returning, in 1983, to St Patrick's. She was awarded a licentiate in sacred theology cum laude in 1986 for her work on the feminist theologian and wild woman Mary Daly.

In 1993 she completed a PhD at the University of Sydney, and her dissertation was published as Equal or Different? Women, the Papacy and Social Justice (1999). The book is testimony to Paul's belief in the full and equal personhood of men and women and their rights and dignity, a belief that fuelled her commitment to social justice.

Paul enjoyed study and accepted the responsibility of sharing knowledge, teaching fundamental moral theology at St Patrick's, first with Father Thomas Connolly in 1985, then taking responsibility for the course in 1986, along with a course on conscience, becoming the first woman to teach theology at St Patrick's. She also taught feminism and Christian ethics at the Catholic Institute of Sydney, bioethics to student nurses at North Sydney and feminist theology for the Marist Fathers at Hunters Hill.

While she had many close friends among religious men and women, Paul was impatient with clericalism and church hierarchies. Nevertheless, Monsignor Neil Brown conducted her funeral, with five concelebrating priests.

Her most enduring memorial may be Women and the Australian Church. It was she, Pauline Smith, RSM and Patricia Bartley, SJ, who dreamt up WATAC in 1983. It was at the first national WATAC conference, in 1987, that the journal Women-Church: An Australian Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion was launched, edited by Erin White and Hilary Carey. Paul succeeded Carey in 1989 and remained co-editor (with Elaine Lindsay from 1993) until the final issue, No. 40, in 2007. The internationally distributed journal encouraged the expression of Australian women's theologies.

Paul was a tireless conference organiser and committee member — a foundation member of the Australian Feminist Theological Foundation, a member of the WATAC Inc working group, a member of the Archdiocesan Commission for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, a member of the Catholic Moral Theology Association of Australia and New Zealand, and so on.

She was diagnosed with colon cancer five years ago, which she fought while maintaining a full and active life.

Camille Paul is survived by Ken, children Maryanne, Anthony, Gabrielle and Timothy and nine grandchildren.

Original publication

Citation details

Elaine Lindsay, 'Paul, Camille Agnes (1932–2010)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/paul-camille-agnes-13331/text23956, accessed 20 May 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Camille Paul, n.d.

Camille Paul, n.d.

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Becker, Camille Agnes
Birth

2 April, 1932
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Death

29 August, 2010 (aged 78)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Education
Occupation
Key Organisations
Workplaces