Rosemary Goldie: first Australian woman to hold a leadership post at the Vatican

Rosemary Goldie AO was an Australian Catholic theologian and the first woman to hold a post in the Vatican Curia, or the Papal court.

Born at Manly in Sydney in 1916, Miss Goldie graduated from Sydney University with a Bachelor of Arts in 1936, and at the age of 20, she was the first Australian Catholic woman to win a French Government Scholarship enabling her to study at the Sorbonne in Paris for two years.

This coincided with the international rise of ‘Catholic Action’, and Goldie joined Catholic women's groups Veritas and The Grail, as well as Pax Romana.

In 1946, Pope Pius XII declared ‘the laity also are Church’ signalling the Catholic Church’s focus on lay people, a cause close to Goldie’s heart and one she passionately promoted. 

1950 saw the first post-war gathering of Catholics as the globalisation of the church gathered momentum. Responding to Pius XI’s call for Catholic Action, Goldie was deeply concerned about the role of the people within the Catholic Church, as well as the Church’s role in the world.

After being recruited to work for the Permanent Committee for International Congresses of the Lay Apostolate, she took up residence in Rome in October 1952.

She was appointed one of the first two women auditors at the Second Vatican Council and was an official observer at its last two sessions in 1964 and 1965. In 1967, she was appointed to the senior role of under-secretary of the Pontifical Council of the Laity.

She had also previously served as the executive secretary for the International Congresses of the Lay Apostolate and as a staff member of Pax Romana, one of the oldest international lay Catholic movements.

Miss Goldie went worked in the Vatican for more than half-a-century and called four Popes close friends.

Pope John XXIII, who convened the second Vatican Council in 1962, at which she was an auditor, described her as ‘la piccinina’ – the little bit of a thing.

Bishop Albino Luciani, who became Pope John Paul I for a mere 33 days, wrote of her ability in a letter to chaplains of women's associations.

Pope John Paul II visited her in her Vatican office and received a copy of her autobiography.

And in 2008, Pope Benedict XVI visited her at her nursing home in Randwick, in Sydney's east, two years before her death.

Upon returning the Sydney in 2002, Goldie took up residence with the Little Sisters of the Poor and continued to serve the Holy See for a distance as a consultant to the Council for the Laity.

Last month, the Australian embassy to the Holy See held a small commemoration ceremony for Goldie honouring her as the first Australian woman to hold a leadership post at the Vatican.

The Australian Defence Minister, Marise Payne – also the first woman to hold her post – ceremonially opened a new conference room at the embassy named ‘Goldie’.

Marise Payne called Goldie, “a heroic figure with a legacy on which others have built”.

Goldie was tenacious and had a wealth of theological understanding, which was recognised in 1990 when she was awarded the Order of Australia medal for her commitment to ecumenical relations. Goldie was also awarded an honorary doctorate by the Australian Catholic University.

During her time as a historian of the Vatican, she recorded her 50 years of observations in her  memoir, From a Roman Window: Five Decades: the World, the Church and the Catholic Laity, published in 1998.

Follow on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.