Yesterday was the 67th anniversary of Dear Old Dad’s ordination to the priesthood. That is 67 years (plus his years of training), so let’s just round that up to 70 years, of living his values and vocation. A vocation is defined as a ‘calling’ and an occupation regarded as worthy and requiring dedication. And this has certainly been a vocation for Dad. At the age of 96, he still attends mass weekly and is often asked to preach the sermon on special occasions. Dad’s father, my grandfather, came from Hastings in Sussex, and was himself ordained in Durham Cathedral and came to Australia as a missionary. He was to serve as a priest for more than 60 years in the diocese of Rockhampton so in a way history repeats itself.
After leaving boarding school at All Souls, Charters Towers, Dad began working with the Commonwealth Bank prior to the commencement of World War II. He was called up to serve in the Australian Army but was to be discharged at the request of the Commonwealth Bank, much to the disgust of his Sergeant, as the bank was having difficulty maintaining service with a shortage of staff. Dad had, and still has, a good head for figures.
After the war, he was ‘called’ to the priesthood. Dad recalls telling his parents and the emotion they felt, as they told him then, that they had dedicated him, their first-born son, to the priesthood at his baptism. Just yesterday he told me that at the age of 27, when he entered St Francis College Brisbane, they must have been giving up hope. He graduated with honours in 1950. He was ordained a Deacon in the Diocese of Rockhampton in December 1950 and ordained Priest there in 1951. He met Mum there. Mum recounted playing the organ in church and their eyes meeting during church one day, and the rest is history. Theirs was a true partnership as well as marriage with Mum serving many unofficial roles as support to Dad wherever he went – she was a Sunday school teacher and church organist; a member of the Mothers Union for more than 50 years; a member of the Australian Board of Missions auxiliary; and for a time the formidable secretary of the Clergy Wives Association. She was forever making cups of tea for visitors, parishioners, and those in need who knocked on our door.
Dad served God and the people of many different parishes. The first parish Mum and Dad could call their own was the Parish of Springsure , then Callide Valley, centred upon Biloela, then Oakey (where I was born) and Roma, during which time he was appointed Rural Dean for the West.
I remember much about Roma, and often it was being in trouble. I recall being referred to as ‘our youngest and naughtiest’ but it was always with a loving smile. There was no worse punishment than being called into Dad’s study to me told he was disappointed. Dad describes Roma as their happiest parish – they made good and life long friends there, and were very sad to leave at about the time our secondary schooling was about to start.
Mum and Dad moved to a Brisbane parish and there endeth the somewhat carefree days of living in a country town for us. After another period as a parish priest he was appointed as the Queensland Organising Secretary of the Australian Board of Missions, Queensland, which he loved, getting to see and minster to many parts of Queensland, PNG, and the Pacific Islands. It is a standing family joke and a firmly held legend, that one advantage of the ABM work was that he only had to have three sermons since he was in a different church or place each Sunday! He then had one last stint as a parish priest in Brisbane before officially ‘retiring’.
His official retirement in 1990 did not lessen his life of service by much. He continued and to this day continues to preach, officiate (not so much now), and assist and over many years and to this day he continues to collect and organise stamps to raise money for ABM.
He was appointed Canon Emeritus 2008.
I have been privileged to see the public and personal merge during his active ministry and in his retirement.
Dad has married each of his children and baptised each of his nine grandchildren. Two of those grandchildren have been married and Dad has officiated at their weddings. Both of his great-grandchildren have now been baptised by him, and at each occasion he has worn his father’s hand embroidered stole, embroidered in the UK before he left for Australia. It has been a very special moment, allowing his father in some way to be involved.
I have also been privileged to take Dad and watch as he has given the last rites to people close to him – including two of his and mum’s best friends, my Godmother, and one of his own brothers. Even for those without faith, you could not helped but be moved seeing this ceremony performed. In each case the person, while unconscious, gave some indication that they knew he was there and what was happening. And in each case, Dad performed this beautiful rite professionally, allowing the tears to come only when his task as priest ended, and he could once again become friend and brother.
No day of Dad’s has commenced or ended without prayer. He prays for us all and remembers those whose anniversaries fall each day.