Austin Woodbury

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Austin M. Woodbury (1899 near Spencer, in the Hawkesbury Valley of New South Wales – 1979) was an Australian Catholic philosopher.


Woodbury joined the Marist Fathers and gained a doctorate in Rome, studying under the scholastic philosopher Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange. In 1945, he founded the Aquinas Academy in Sydney, a school of philosophy aimed mainly at lay people. He headed the Academy until 1975, teaching a strictly scholastic philosophy based on the teaching of Thomas Aquinas. A combative personality, he was often in conflict with the atheist Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sydney, John Anderson, whom Austin believed was corrupting Sydney's youth. Woodbury died in 1979.

The Aquinas Academy:

The Aquinas Academy was set up under the auspices of the Australian Province of the Marist Fathers by Fr Austin Woodbury SM in March 1945. The Academy began as a centre for the study of Philosophy and Theology in the Thomistic tradition. For some twenty-nine years it continued in this capacity under Fr Woodbury's guidance, in premises at the back of St Patrick's Church, Gloucester Street, in The Rocks (Sydney, NSW). For a short while the Academy offered a License in Philosophy under accreditation from the University of St Thomas in Rome. Since its inception, a number of qualified priests, religious and laity have been part of the lecturing staff. The Academy was one of the pioneers of Catholic adult education in Australia.

Since 1975, the Academy has increasingly focused on general adult education in the faith. Perhaps the most popular of the programs mounted was the Christian Growth Program, offering basic education in theology, morality, psychology and spirituality. During this time the Academy also developed a State-accredited program for religious education teachers, offering a Certificate in Religious Studies. In these years, also, a wide array of seminars, special lecture series, summer schools and workshops were offered – with presenters from Australia and overseas. All these programs were designed to contribute in some way to adult education in the faith. One of the features of the Academy during these latter years has been its mobility – programs have been offered at various centres in and around Sydney and along the eastern seaboard.

Former Principals, Fr Kevin Bates SM and Fr John Thornhill SM with one of the Students to graduate with a Licentiate from the University of St Thomas through the Aquinas Academy, Sr Celestine Pooley RSM Following the major renovations to the St Patrick’s Church and the surrounding buildings (1998-2001), the Aquinas Academy is now housed on the third and fourth floors – Levels 5 and 7 – of the building at 141 Harrington Street that for many years was St Patrick's Business College. The first and second floors of that same building are used for parish meeting rooms and offices.

Aquinas Academy continues a significant commitment to adult education in the faith, still under the auspices of the Australian Province of the Marist Fathers. Together with the Marists, a number of other priests, religious and laity continue to serve the community through the Academy. Aquinas Academy today continues its commitment to adult education within the Catholic tradition to assist people seeking to develop a mature faith. Situated in Sydney's central business district, the Academy aims most particularly to become a school of spirituality in the heart of the city.

Fr Michael Whelan SM is currently the Director of the Academy. Sr Marie Biddle RSJ is a Lecturer and Coordinator of the Spirituality Program. There are a number of other visiting and occasional Lecturers and Presenters of various programs, from Australia and overseas.


  • J. Franklin, (2003), Corrupting the Youth: A History of Philosophy in Australia, Macleay Press, ch. 4.
  • J. Thorpe, (2016), The Aquinas Academy 1945-2015: A Very Personal Story, ATF Press.

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