Sydney Jesuit Father Paul Coleman was “a priest for the people” who poured out his life for others till the very end, according to a Josephite Sister who knew and worked with him for the better part of 40 years.
Sr Clare Koch RSJ, who attended Fr Paul’s funeral Mass earlier today, said the priest was a man of extraordinary pastoral heart and capability.
Fr Paul had a long and distinguished priestly life as a chaplain and refugee advocate, and a loyal son of the Jesuit order.
In 2015 he was awarded the Order of Australia for his service to the Church and refugees.
St Mary’s Church in North Sydney was full to overflowing today, as it was last night at a prayer vigil in his honour.
“Vincent Paul Coleman was a priest for the people, that’s what he was,” Sr Clare said.
“He worked to the very end. He was always with the people, always on the go. I said to him while he was dying that Jesus would have no problem recognising him as one of his disciples. He was an inspiration.”
A long-time visitor to Villawood Detention Centre, Fr Paul assisted in refugee resettlement in the 1970s and was responsible for opening a house in North Sydney for Vietnamese refugees.
In his long a varied career, he also served as a chaplain to Loreto College (1969-74); to Parklea, Parramatta, Norma Parker and Emu Plains prisons (1986-87); at Mater Hospital (1990-2017); at the Mary MacKillop Chapel and Centre, North Sydney (1998-2006); and as chaplain to the Sisters of Mercy in North Sydney (2013-2017).
Fr Paul was born Vincent Paul Coleman on February 4, 1927, in Melbourne, and was one of five children – four boys and a girl.
All four boys were educated by the Jesuits at Xavier College in Kew, Victoria, and all four joined the Society of Jesus after leaving school.
Numerous messages of affection have been posted on an online condolence page.
“My friend, Jan, not a Catholic had given birth to two babies who died just after birth,” one commenter writes.
“She was pregnant again and Fr Paul blessed her and her baby in the womb. That baby, Nathan turns 40 tomorrow, the day of Paul’s funeral. Thank you Paul.”
John Lenehan wrote that he had met the priest after attending his catechesis as a lapsed Catholic. Fr Paul would later celebrate John’s marriage to his wife, Sue:
“No problems Sue being Anglican and me Catholic and before we knew it, the knot was tied. He blessed our house with copious amounts of holy water and, when we went down to North Sydney every Easter to his Good Friday service, he would pick Sue out of the crowd.
“He made everyone feel important and loved. He would visit all at the Mater as every person under God is just as important. We will really miss this wonderful man.”