Early Years - Victoria

The emergence of the Order of the Knights of the Southern Cross lay in the discrimination, prejudice and sectarianism confronting Catholics in Australia, in the early years of the 20th century. Religious bigotry was so strong that young Catholic men and women were finding it impossible to gain employment. Newspaper advertisements openly stated "No Catholic need apply". Application forms for many jobs contained the question, "Where were you educated?"

In Melbourne, Sir Michael Chamberlain wrote a letter which was published in The Advocate on 11 August 1917. It was titled, "How to Counteract the Influence of Freemasonry". The letter attracted the attention of Jack Waldron who sought out the author. A meeting with Father (later Monsignor) J. J. Lonergan was held at the home of Jack Waldron in Liscard Street, Elsternwick.

The association grew under the stimulating and purposeful leadership of Father Lonergan with the formation of the Order of the Knights of St Francis Xavier at Melbourne in December 1917.

In 1921, a delegation from New South Wales was sent to Melbourne to meet with representatives of the Knights of Francis Xavier. Discussions were held with a view to amalgamation with the newly formed Order of the Knights of the Southern Cross. After concessions on both sides, amalgamation was accomplished. The first meeting of the Order of the Knights of the Southern Cross in Victoria was held in March 1922. During the meeting, the first Grand Council was elected:

Grand Knight T. M. Burke

Senior Deputy Grand Knight J. J. Fennessy

Junior Deputy Grand Knight B. Nolan

Grand Secretary J. J. Waldron

Grand Treasurer J. H. Kennedy

Within 12 months of the Order's establishment in Victoria, four metropolitan and 16 country branches had formed. In the country, the first branches included: Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, and Colac.

Evidence of the Order's rapid growth, and of the interest of its members was the purchase in 1924 of the premises at 214 Queen Street for 23 750. The top floor was fitted and furnished for Order use and was opened officially before the Annual State Conference on 26 July 1925. The Cathedral Hall became the venue for social events. The building at 222 Queen Street was purchased in November 1964 and was used for club facilities.

A historical feature of the Order's activities in Victoria was its long association with significant liturgical functions. At the 29th International Eucharistic Congress in Sydney in 1928, approximately 150 Victorian members joined others from all over Australia and New Zealand to form a guard of honour at the Congress and to assist with transportation matters.

The outstanding feature of the Victorian Centenary Celebrations in 1934 was the National Eucharistic Congress, which employed the services of hundreds of Knights.

The Depression years revealed the wonderful esprit de corps which existed among members. While the problems at that period were no different from those which had long existed within the Catholic community, they were intensified by the economic collapse. The program of mutual aid was expanded, and a Vocational Guidance Auxiliary was formed. A rural training scheme, similar to that successfully launched by the Order in Queensland, was established to assist Catholic youth who sought careers on the land.

During World War II, some activities were curtailed while others expanded. After the war, came an increase in the membership numbers and a broadening of activity. Effective speaking classes were successfully introduced, not only in the metropolitan branches, and more than 2 000 members had graduated from these courses. Tutors were provided for the students at Corpus Christi Ecclesiastical College, for the Mercy Sisters at Rosanna and at The Grail Adult Education Centre.

Coaching classes for members children, Careers Information Days, and the endowment of scholarships and bursaries, formed part of a program that improved the welfare of members and promoted the Christian way of life.

Through its various service activities, the Order in Victoria contributed enormously to the wider community during the ensuing decades.

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