July 27th 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Fixing Australia: Can we trust the Morrison Government?

ENERGY Yallourn early closure more than a mere challenge, Mr Premier

CANBERRA OBSERVED Can Labor learn a lesson or is it unredeemable?

NATIONAL AFFAIRS High power prices lead to more deaths of elderly

GENDER POLITICS Catholic Ed's document strong on doctrine, weak on protocols

ENERGY Renewables do push up power price: Chicago economists

OBITUARY The eminence of Dr Joe Santamaria

HISTORY OF SCIENCE Faith and reason and Father Stanley Jaki, Part 6: Medieval Christendom sparks a revolution

ENVIRONMENT As many Pacific islands are rising as are sinking

ASIAN AFFAIRS Uyghurs lose in ethnic power play

POETRY AND HISTORY The epic of the White Horse

HUMOUR On patrol with Father Bruce

MUSIC Joao Gilberto: Carrier of melodies

CINEMA Crawl: Toothful entertainment

BOOK REVIEW America's postwar boom and its end

BOOK REVIEW The story of the drafting of a great document

BOOK REVIEW The facts behind an undying distortion



FOREIGN AFFAIRS Boris Johnson and the EU: Crash through or just crash

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The eminence of Dr Joe Santamaria

by Anna Krohn

News Weekly, July 27, 2019

It is said that if you are not on social media or in Wikipedia you do not exist. The frightening cultural amnesia and egoism bequeathed by this nostrum was brought home at the recent funeral of distinguished Australian medical researcher, and ethical and social policy pioneer Dr Joseph Natalino Santamaria OAM, known for decades by everyone simply as “Dr Joe”.

R.I.P. Dr Joe Santamaria, 1923-2019

The Basilica of Our Lady of Victories in Camberwell was full of his beloved near and extended family and of his medical and other colleagues, many of whom were discovered, encouraged and mentored by the canny, wise, generous, culturally acute and funny man.

His death was not reported in the media and it is a challenge to assemble the full scope of this remarkable and energetic man’s life by relying on the internet. Dr Joe’s untiring intellectual interest and imagination is best captured in print, his voluminous correspondence and his outstanding organisational entrepreneurship. His last book, The Coming of Age of Dr Joe (Blue Koala, 2019), was distributed to all who attended his requiem and is a delightful assembly of stories, poems and reflections.

Dr Joe had panoramic vision but he so often led by promoting others. He had a gift for providing bridges for people to work together on important moral and social issues, well before they became mainstream. His questing social concern and a compassion born of a deep Catholic faith spearheaded his initiatives in the areas of road safety, alcohol and drug rehabilitation, health-care ethics, natural fertility research, the promotion of marriage and family, and the cultural and faith formation of young adults.

Dr Joe died in his 96th year on June 30 this year. He was born to immigrants from the Aeolian Islands (islands just north of Sicily) who came to the suburb of Brunswick in Melbourne in the 1890s. The Santamaria family of seven grew up in their parents’ fruit shop, adapting quickly and with flair to life in Australia.

The family name engraved itself into 20th-century Australian life and history thanks in part to the role of Dr Joe’s eldest brother, Bartolemeo Augustino (B.A. or “Bob”) Santamaria.

Like his brother Bob, Dr Joe was drawn with a deep sense of intellectual and cultural engagement with the Catholic Church’s social teaching into his own vocation.

During World War II, while studying medicine, Dr Joe worked on the vital production of penicillin at the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories. In 1948, he graduated in medicine and specialised in Internal Medicine and Haematology. He worked in hospitals and for a time worked in general practice.

In 1966, he and a team from St Vincent’s Hospital travelled to South Vietnam to train medical professionals. His social and ethical insights were also deepening throughout the 1960s as his work in Melbourne included research into the effects of alcohol dependency and abuse among many of the patients, some homeless, who frequented the streets around St Vincent’s Hospital, Fitzroy.

In 1970, through an initiative with the Sisters of Charity, he became the director of the Centre of Community Medicine, which provided both outreach and research into the social, psychological and medicine impact of drug and alcohol abuse.

During this time and after his retirement from practice, Dr Joe’s interest in the engagement of the insights of faith, culture and medical ethics drew him into collaboration with Doctors John and Evelyn Billings and their team, and he became head of the Natural Family Planning Clinic at St Vincent’s and president of the Natural Family Planning Clinic in Victoria.

It was clear over these years that Dr Joe’s talent for collaboration and friendship drew to his endeavours support from leading Catholic thinkers, including Professors Thomas Hilgers, Jerome Lejeune, William May and Elizabeth Anscombe, and Rev Ronald Lawler, John Finnis and Colin Clarke among many others.

Dr Joe and other senior Catholic doctors became deeply concerned about the demise of the Hippocratic tradition in medicine and the challenges to health care posed by technology and secular ideologies. An interdisciplinary medico- moral committee was established and Joe became its chairman. Through his organisational attention and vision, the late renowned Dr Nicholas Tonti-Filippini was enlisted as director of the St Vincent’s Bioethics’ Centre and as Australia’s first hospital ethicist.

Throughout the 1980s, the centre published papers, submissions and hosted conferences that engaged not only with Catholic but leading bioethicists who opposed Catholic ethical teaching.

At the same time, Dr Joe was also busy assisting his brother Bob in forming two Australia-wide organisations: the Australian Family Association, founded in 1980 as an ecumenical and cross-cultural body for the promotion of marriage and the family over a broad horizon of economic, social and cultural issues; and the Thomas More Centre, founded in 1989 to promote education in and discussion of the Catholic faith and reason particularly among young adults.

In these years Dr Joe contributed to the research of the Pontifical Academy for Life and collaborated personally with leading Italian theologians and bioethicists including Carlo Caffarra and Elio Sgreccia, both created cardinals. Dr Joe, anticipated and promoted the “culture of life” enunciated by Pope Saint John Paul II. During that Pope’s visit to Australia in October 1986, Dr Joe acted as his travelling personal physician.

At the recent funeral, Emeritus auxiliary Bishop Peter Elliott spoke of Dr Joe’s prescience. It was Dr Joe who insisted that Melbourne needed to establish a John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family; and it was Dr Joe’s driving enthusiasm that laid the groundwork for its establishment under Archbishop George Pell as president of the Melbourne Session in 2001.

Dr Joe mentored many of us (once young) eager researchers and activists. There are many enduring memories of this diminutive powerhouse.

One is of periodically losing sight of his diminutive figure on a busy Roman street after a high-powered bioethics conference at the Vatican, as he led us students, priests and doctors, humming bars from La Traviata, to his favourite gelato bar. Another is of his stocky figure bobbing up and down on a tractor as he and his dear Dorothy greeted guests to their mini apple and cherry farm, regaling them with laughter over the serious matters of his latest writing.

Vale, Dr Joe. We are in your debt. May you delight in the life and truth of God. Pray for us to keep your balance of faith, hospitality, wry humour and intelligence alive in the Church today!

Anna Krohn is an educator and educational writer who has worked for the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family and the Australian Catholic University in Melbourne.

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