Two of Sydney’s priests say the loyalty and deep prayer life of the lay faithful has sustained them over a combined 120 years of service. That, and making time for golf.
Father Kevin O’Grady and Father Paul Foley marked their 60th anniversaries of ordination on 18 July with Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral. They were joined by former classmate Father Cletus Tuderti osb-sylv who travelled all the way from his Benedictine monastery in Bassano Romano, north of Rome, to celebrate the tremendous milestone.
Ill health unfortunately kept Father William Alliprandi of Broken Bay away, who was originally ordained for the Sydney archdiocese before the creation of the diocese to its north in 1986.
The four pre-Vatican Council priests, the last left of their class of 28, were taught to pray the liturgy in Latin, have served under eight popes and five archbishops, and dedicated a remarkable 240 years of service to the Church in Australia and overseas.
But despite busy lives dedicated to God and others, there has always been time for a few rounds at St Michael’s golf club at Little Bay.
Playing each week was a much-needed break from parish life and responsibilities, said Father Paul, who himself still plays three times a week. “We would have 50-odd priests playing golf at St Michael’s every Monday, now it’s down to five or six,” he said.
Father Kevin, who has a nephew studying for the priesthood, said his ordination day on 18 July 1959 was the “happiest day of my life”.
“I never had any big crises of indecision about what I should be doing or where I should be doing it, I left that to the superiors,” he said. The commitment of lay people has encouraged him most in his priesthood.
“Their prayer quality is something that never ceases to amaze me.”
“I now live on the central coast and there are 50 to 60 people at daily Mass.”
Father Paul Foley said that what he enjoyed most over the last six decades and serving in almost 20 parishes was “being involved with people, marrying them, baptising their children, and sharing with them in life’s joys and sorrows”. “People wish me congratulations and say ‘well done’ but I say thanks to God who has given me these 60 years,” he said.
Both priests said they would encourage young men to consider the priesthood and shared some honest advice. “Don’t touch the priesthood unless you think you are really called for it,” cautioned Father Kevin.
“And if you think you’re called, then put up with what you’ve got to go through.”
Father Paul said he understood the ‘fear of missing out’ as a barrier for exploring priestly life. “But what you miss out on in marriage you pick up on the roundabout in the priesthood,” he said.
Bravery required for priestly life today
“It’s a bit hard for them today with the circumstances in the Church, they have to be a pretty brave lot, but a lot of the saints didn’t have it very easy. My favourite is St Joan of Arc. She followed the voices that told her what to do and somehow or other that’s what we’ve got to do.
“God isn’t going to appear and say, ‘I want you to become a priest’ but it percolates through and becomes part of what you want to do”.
Fr Cletus joined the class at St Patrick’s seminary in Manly in 1957. After ordination he served at St Gertrude’s Parish in Smithfield for three years.
He returned to Italy in 1966 and has been prior for many years until recently at the Benedictine monastery of St Vincent’s in Bassano Romano. “Australia has a soft spot in my heart,” he said.
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