Melbourne News

Professor Tracey Rowland awarded The Officer's Cross of the order of Merit.

Friday 8 June 2012

By Fiona Power
Kairos Catholic Journal

IT WAS STANDING ROOM ONLY last night at the Thomas Carr Centre's Knox Room, as the Polish Ambassador to Australia, His Excellency Professor Andrzej Jaroszynski, presented Professor Tracey Rowland with The Officer's Cross of the order of Merit.

"I feel very privileged and very honoured to be here with you and to share my joy that Professor Tracey Rowland has been recognised with the highest distinction given to foreign nationals by the Polish Government," Ambassador Jaroszynski said. "It is not often that theologians are recognised by this distinction."

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The Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland (Order Zasługi Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej) is a Polish order awarded to those who have rendered great service to the Polish nation. It was created in 1974, and is granted to foreigners or Poles resident abroad.

In accepting the award, Professor Rowland, who is Dean of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, Melbourne Campus, thanked those present, who included Bishop Peter Elliott, Dr George Luk, Consul-General of Poland, Religious, members of the faculty, students and friends, and expressed her gratitude for the award.

Read Professor Tracey Rowland's response

"There is so much that could be said about Poland's defence and promotion of the high culture of the West," she said. ".... those of us who are associated with the legacy of Karol Wotya feel a great sense of indebtedness to the Polish people and a strong sense of solidarity with them. Anything that I have done to foster an awareness of Polish scholarship in Australia has been done because I think that Polish scholarship is of world class standard; that it stands with the best of what Western culture can offer. I am also especially proud to receive this particular medal, since it features the Polish eagle argent, with a crown above its head. GK Chesterton wrote a poem about the Polish eagle ... in the poem ... he compared the eagle to other heraldic birds and the Polish eagle argent comes out as braver than all the others and even whiter than the dove that is used to symbolise the Holy Spirit."

Professor Rowland said the faculty and students of the John Paul II Institute, Melbourne campus, are proud of their collaboration with scholars at Polish universities.
 
Speaking on behalf of the faculty, Professor Nicholas Tonti-Filipinni welcomed the opportunity to celebrate the Dean of the Institute, on the occasion of her receiving the highest honour Poland gives to a non-citizen.

Read Professor Nicholas Tonti-Filipinni's speech
 
“That the President of Poland would choose to give this award to Professor Tracey Rowland, an academic, says a great deal about the priority that Poland gives to intellectual life,” he said. “The award also says a great deal about Professor Tracey Anne Patrice Rowland and the regard with which she is held. On behalf of the Director and the faculty I want to say how proud we are of her and her contribution to scholarship.

 “… Professor Rowland is already reknowned for her place in the culture wars, for defining the place of a Christocentric Theology, not on the religious margins of our society but essential to the health of the development of our culture. She represents the sentiment expressed by the Second Vatican Council in Gaudium et Spes: 'When God is forgotten the creature itself grows unintelligible'," he said.

Professor Tonti-Filipinni said the award presentation also provided an opportunity to recognise and celebrate Professor Rowland’s appointment, last year, as a full professor of the Institute.



PROFESSOR ROWLAND’S RESPONSE
My Lord, Bishop Elliott, Your Excellency, Ambassador Jaroszynski, Dr George Luk, Consul-General of Poland and Mrs Denise Luk-Kozika, Reverend Fathers, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.

A few years ago Tony Macken, the President of the Order of Malta in Australia, asked me if I would give the after dinner speech at the Polish May 3rd Constitution Dinner at the Windsor Hotel.   After I said Yes, he then suggested that it might be a good idea if I delivered some of it in Polish.

My friend Dr Anna Golemo came to my rescue.  She translated the first section of my speech into educated Polish and then read it onto a tape.  After a couple of weeks of playing this tape over and over every evening both my husband and our cat had learned to say Panie Prezesie, Szanownie Państwo, and much that followed, but as the night approached I was still struggling.  As we drove into the Windsor Hotel Anna corrected my pronunciation of the word “język”.  She suggested that I try to meow like a cat but instead of saying meow, I should just say jow and add the zik.  I thus began the speech with a script which had words like “meow” scribbled in the margins.

The end result was that 150 people in the grand ballroom of the Windsor Hotel laughed and cheered as I heroically completed each sentence. Lillian Frank graciously told me that I had managed the vowel sounds very well.  

So when people ask what I have done to deserve this honour, I say that I had the courage to give an after dinner speech to a room full of Poles in their own language at a formal dinner at the Windsor Hotel.  

Tony Macken invited me to deliver the speech because he knew that I had once been a lecturer in Soviet and Central European Politics at Monash and that I had lived in Poland in 1989, the year that the Berlin Wall came down and Communist leaders were toppled.  

There are many stories I could tell about my experiences in Communist Poland but my favourite memory is of seeing a farmer pull into the Dominican Priory in Ulica Stolarska with a cart filled with rotten cabbages.  As I was wondering what he was going to do with the useless cabbages a platoon of seminarians appeared. They quickly removed the cabbages which were camouflaging carcasses of fresh meat and carried the meat into the Priory.   This was my introduction to the underground economy.

Today it is always a pleasure to go back to Poland and see the progress that has been made.  I particularly love Kraków which is a European Oxford on the Wisła.  The town is well supplied with musicians and one can sit in the cafes around Rynek Głowny and consider which of a dozen concerts to attend on any evening of the week.     

Whereas Australia is famous for its beaches and life-savers [which are great!], Poland is famous for its poets and philosophers, its musicians and military heroes.  

In the 19th century the English writer Daniel Defoe remarked that it doesn’t matter if one can’t speak Polish since it’s possible to get around Poland quite easily with Latin.  The French have a whole quarter of Paris designated as the Latin quarter where the intellectuals live, but according to Defoe ‘anyone who knows Latin can easily travel across the whole of Poland from one side to the other’.
 
In this week when we celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, it is interesting to note that over the centuries at least 74 kings and queens have been canonized as saints (75 if we count King David of the United Monarchy of Ancient Israel who is certainly regarded by Christians as having made it to heaven).  However as far as I can tell only Poland has produced a saintly queen who gave away all her worldly wealth to establish a university.  St. Jadwiga Jagiello was the foundress of the prestigious Jagiellonian University.

Alumni of the Jagiellonian include Nicholas Copernicus, the astronomer who concluded that the earth revolved around the Sun, King Jan Sobieski III who saved Europe from a Turkish takeover in 1683 at the Battle of Vienna, and closer to our own time, Cardinal Prince Adam Stefan Sapieha, who was the cleric who head-hunted the young Karol Wojtyła for the priesthood.

As far as I can tell Poland is also the only country to have the phenomenon of ‘flying universities’.  I googled ‘flying university and Russia’, “flying university and Austria’ and ‘flying university and Bohemia’ but the only hits were to schools for learning to fly an aeroplane.   However if you google flying university and Poland you will get hundreds of hits. The flying universities in Poland were entire underground academies.  

The first flying university was started by women in Warsaw in 1882.  One of its graduates was Marie Skłodowska-Curie, who discovered the elements radium and polonium which had the effect of revolutionizing the treatment of cancer.  Marie Skłodowska-Curie became the first female professor of the University of Paris and the first person to receive two Noble Prizes: one in physics and one in chemistry.  

During WWII at a time when the Nazis went about murdering some 600 Polish professors and some 9,000 school teachers, among their other victims, the flying university again went into operation.  Around 100,000 Poles were educated during the Nazi occupation by lecturers attached to the flying universities.  Alumni of the WWII flying university generation included the poet Zbigniew Herbert and the poet, philosopher, priest and pope, Karol Wojtyła.  

After the Nazi’s left the Communists moved in, but by 1956 the flying university was up and running again and it was ultimately through the work of the flying university in this era, that groups like KOR, the Workers’ Defence Committee, acquired the intellectual capital to take on the Marxists.  The members of the Workers Defence Committee were the precursors to the Solidarity generation of Polish intellectuals of which Ambassador Jaroszynski is a representative.  

Throughout the 1980s Polish scholars published essays on the entire tradition of Western political philosophy in the journals Res Publica, Kontakt, Libertas, Arka, Wiez, Znak, Christianitas, Gazeta Wyborcza and the newspaper Tygodnik Powszechny.  Many of these essays sought to uncover the foundations of the totalitarian mind set in the fact-value dichotomy and they remain of continuing relevance today.

Ambassador Jaroszynski is a graduate of the Catholic University of Lublin, otherwise known as KUL, which is famous for the fact that it was the only Catholic institution of higher education to operate in the open in any country inside the Soviet bloc during the Communist era.  KUL was of course subject to repressive measures and its graduates were never likely to be given the plum jobs on the government’s gravy train.  I note, for example, that Ambassador Jaroszynski was only given a job in the diplomatic corps after the Communists lost power.  But it is nonetheless a matter of honour for the Poles that they alone managed to keep one Catholic university afloat against all forms of oppression when no other country caught on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain managed this.

There is so much that could be said about Poland’s defence and promotion of the high culture of the West.  Historians have often referred to Poland as a kind of social laboratory where all the worst ideological viruses are unleashed and their antibodies are then produced for the health of the rest of the world.

In the history of the 20th century this was especially true and those of us who are associated with the legacy of Karol Wojtyła feel a great sense of indebtedness to the Polish people and a strong sense of solidarity with them.  Anything that I have done to foster an awareness of Polish scholarship in Australia has been done because I think that Polish scholarship is of world class standard - that it stands with the best of what Western culture can offer.

I am also especially proud to receive this particular medal since it features the Polish eagle argent with a crown above his head.  

G.K. Chesterton wrote a poem about the Polish eagle.  I won’t read it because it is one of those poems that is difficult to read without crying, but suffice to say that in the poem, which Chesterton simply called Poland, he compared the Polish eagle to other famous heraldic birds, and the Polish eagle argent comes out as braver than all the others and even whiter than the dove used to symbolize the Holy Spirit.

Your Excellency, the students and faculty of the John Paul II Institute in Melbourne are proud of our collaboration with scholars as the Polish Universities, especially the Catholic University of Lublin and the Pontifical University of John Paul II in Kraków.  Several members of our faculty are currently being published in Polish journals and have been invited to give papers in Poland and we look forward to building these relationships.

On a more personal note, my husband Stuart and I look forward to many more holidays in Poland.  Not only does Poland have great academic institutions but it also has some of the best trout streams in Europe.  If you hear reports of a Melbourne barrister being attacked by bears near the San River, it will either be Stuart or his friend Arthur Adams.  

To all of you here present, my students, my academic colleagues who are also my best friends, the Registrar of the Institute, Lieutenant-Colonel Toby Hunter of the Royal Marines and his wife Clare, my friends in the Polish community, our friends from the Melbourne Bar, Members of the Order of Malta and the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, my friends from Newman College and the University of Queensland’s Snark Club and its interstate affiliates, members of the Interfaith Committee of the Archdiocese of Melbourne, members of the Society of Jesus and the Order of Preachers, members of the Australian Confraternity of Catholic Clergy and of the Anglican Ordinariate,  our neighbours Helen and Jill, my friends from the Australian Catholic University, Melbourne, Monash and Deakin Universities, Dr Wanda Skowronska who has come down from Sydney, and Dr Roland von Marburg who has come down from Albury, my god-daughter Lydia Daniel, and Stuart’s god-son Sebastian Canale, and last but not least, Paul Elliott QC’s big brother, Bishop Peter Elliott, who is our Master of Ceremonies this evening -  thank you all for sharing this celebration with me.  

Diękuję bardzo!



 Professor Nicholas Tonti-Filipinni's speech

My Lord, Bishop Peter Elliott, Professor Tracey Rowland, Your Excellency, Ambassador (Onjay Yarro-Zhinski), Mr George Luk, Consul-General of Poland and Mrs Denise Luk-Kozika, Rabbi Shimon Cowan, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.
 
I asked for the opportunity to offer some remarks tonight on behalf of the Faculty of the Institute and in doing so I will propose a toast, so please be prepared.  
 
Tonight is a night to celebrate the Dean of the Institute on the occasion of her receiving the highest honour that Poland gives to a non-citizen.   That the President of Poland would choose to give this award to Professor Tracey  Rowland, an academic, says a great deal about the priority that Poland gives to intellectual life.
 
However, the award also says a great deal about Professor Tracey Anne Patrice Rowland and the regard with which she is held.   On behalf of the director and the faculty, I want to say how proud we are of her and her contribution to scholarship.   When I looked at her cv in the last few days, I realized that I have known Tracey a very long time, perhaps even longer than Stuart, as she was an undergraduate when she attended a party for my own engagement to Mary in 1984.  An eminent friend of mine once said that he sent an ignorant son to Oxford only to have him come back arrogant.  I am confident that, at least in this case, Cambridge proved to be a different breeding ground.
 
Last year the President of the mother session of the Institute in Rome, Mons Livio Melina, approved a recommendation from the President of the Institute in Melbourne, Archbishop Hart, that Prof Rowland be appointed a full professor of the Institute after an exhaustive review process was undertaken by a committee appointed by the Academic Board.    Tracey has an incredibly strong research and publication record and the result was never in doubt.  However we have not had the opportunity to celebrate that appointment, so tonight we can also recognize that event.
 
One day when I have long gone and Adam, Colin and Gerard find themselves in an aged care facility somewhere and reminiscing as elderly people are inclined to do, I can imagine them seeking to impress the young things caring for them by saying, “You know, I worked with Professor Tracey Rowland during the culture wars.” 
 
Contemporary Polish intellectual life is the pure metal developed in the crucible of tyranny and oppression under Nazism and Communism.  In recent times, I have wondered whether here in Australia, Christian intellectual life is not facing a similarly oppressive future.  I note that lately when I have taken part in public debate on TV or published an article in a major newspaper, the majority of the responses have not replied to what I have said, but have attacked me personally for being Catholic.  They have also criticized those responsible for publishing my views at all.  We seem to be moving into an extraordinary era of censorship of religious views and intolerance of religious contribution to society.
 
History is being re-written to demonise that contribution, and pre-eminence is given to scholars who define themselves by their unbelief and their hostility to faith.
 
Charles Taylor writes that a society may be secular in the sense of religion not being a part of public life, the so-called separation of Church and State.  It may be secular in the sense of declining religious belief and practice.  Finally, it may be secular in the sense of secularism emerging as an alternative belief form.
 
It seems to me that it is the latter that we are witnessing in Australia, and it appears as a very aggressive exclusionist form of secularism which views religious belief and practice with arrogant intolerance and dismissiveness.   This kind of secularist belief is characterised by attempts to exclude contributions to public discussion on the basis of a kind of bigotry that classifies the contributions of persons who are religious in a nominalist way.
 
In such a climate of intolerance, Professor Rowland is already reknowned for her place in the culture wars, for defining the place of a Christocentric Theology, not on the religious margins of our society but essential to the health of the development of our culture.   She represents the sentiment expressed by the Second Vatican Council in Gaudium et Spes:  “When God is forgotten the creature itself grows unintelligible.”
 
In relation to science, the Council recognized that whoever labors to penetrate the secrets of reality with a humble and steady mind, even though unaware of the fact, is nevertheless being led by the hand of God, who holds all things in existence, and gives them their identity.  St Paul referred to the law written by God on the hearts of pagans.   But that surely refers to the innocent.  What we are seeing is a culture that has known the truth and now wants to reject it. Today’s atheism is an apostasy and breeds not just a lack of faith, but a hatred for it.  Significantly Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkin devote an extraordinary amount of their time and energy to denouncing what they do not believe.
 
By contrast we want is a world in which people love one another, not in the contemporary meaning of love as either carnal desire or effete spirituality, but in the flesh and blood  reality of self sacrifice and striving for the development and flourishing of others - as the individual people they are, not some imposed ideal. It’s about being prepared to make oneself less important, so that who the other is, and what their life means, remain front and centre.   
 
The most important thing about human beings is our search for meaning.    We should have no time for the type of atheist who thinks that questions about meaning are pointless.  Meaning is everything, because love explains why we do things where science cannot, and love is both mystery and deliberate choice.   
 
In this secular society of ours, Tracey is a beacon of light in a culture starved for love, a culture that wants to believe in the transcendentals of truth, goodness and beauty, but is frightened to challenge the prevailing individualist post-modern orthodoxy.  That orthodoxy rejects the transcendentals as nothing more than individual taste, but like every other culture before this, desperately hopes for something larger and more meaningful than ourselves.   Religious belief is founded upon our smallness and the greatness of the Creator and all creation.  To receive the gift of faith, we must first be genuinely humble, acknowledging our weaknesses and accepting the greatness beyond ourselves. 
 
In rejecting God, I suspect that our culture is rejecting a God in whom authentic Christians have never believed: the old man in the sky with a book of record waiting in judgment upon our miseries. 
 
The God in whom we believe is a great lover who wants to be loved, and asks of us only that we share in that love, love of all Creation.  God’s love is both agape, giving oneself in love without seeking reward, and eros, the desire to be received lovingly by another.  Love is a tough, demanding master.  We have so much to do about poverty and violence, and about restoring harmony to our relationship with the earth and the universe. We cannot be complacent, but we can be at peace with using our talents for those purposes. 
 
Tracey is located within our local Church and knows well her faults and eccentricities, especially the pop music liturgies, and the tendency to accept the desacralisation of everything, not only in liturgy, but also marriage and family. Despite what Tracey refers to as “Billabong Theology”, we love the Church. We love her scholarship and, where they can be found, her beautiful pageantry, music, literature and art. 
 
The Church is Christ’s faithful, amongst whom there are great sinners, but also many special people who, in all their individual oddity, pride, stupidity and arrogance, somewhere in their adult life have stepped into a moment when they realised that Christ is love.  What principally inspires Christianity is the goodness of Jesus’s love and the mystery of redemption in which He makes us always lovable, always forgivable, and that means so much more than all the clever philosophical proofs for and against the existence of God. 
 
Reason makes faith an option, but it takes love and goodness to win hearts by providing meaning, and beauty to attract the intellect, especially the beauty and order of all creation.  As a theologian, Tracey is a witness to the essential place of Christ’s love in our community.  
 
As the faculty of the Institute we are very fond of her and the leadership that she brings, of her true partnership with Stuart, and the presence that he is within the Institute as her editor in chief and champion.   I would like you to charge your glasses and drink a toast to Professor Tracey Roland.

Photos by John Casamento/Kairos Catholic Journal. Copyright 2012

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