Eulogy for Fr Paul Stenhouse MSC

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Mourners load Fr Paul Stenhouse’s casket into the waiting hearse following the Requiem Mass celebrated for the repose of his soul at Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Kensington on Wednesday 27 November. A total of 30 clergy concelebrated the Mass, at which Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP was also present. Photo: G Portelli

The following eulogy for the late Fr Paul Stenhouse MSC was given by Fr Michael Fallon MSC at the Requiem Mass for the repose of Fr Stenhouse’s soul at Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Kensington on Wednesday 27 November.

‘Man goes forth to his work and to his labour until the evening’ (Psalm 104:23).

The early years

Father Paul Stenhouse MSC as many knew him in recent years.

Our very dear friend Paul Francis Lester Stenhouse was born on December 9, 1935. Paul’s father, Richard, was born in New Zealand and met and married Paul’s mother, May Kathleen Huntley Skinner in Camden, NSW. This was the time of the Depression. At the time of Paul’s birth, his father had found work in Casino. Unfortunately, his father died, and so Paul and Richard, his elder brother by 18 months, never had the chance to know him. Mrs Stenhouse brought the boys up in a house in Oxley Street Camden where her mother and two uncles lived. It was close to the home of her childhood, Matavai, in Cobbitty.

Paul’s primary schooling was partly home-schooling by his mother and partly with the Sisters of Saint Joseph at Saint Paul’s Convent. Paul’s mother was raised in the Anglican Church and she had and maintained many close acquaintances and friends in that community. However, in 1924 when she was in her 21st year, she read herself into the Catholic Church.

A mother’s profound influence

Her influence on Paul was immense. Among other things she gave Paul a love for books.  French fairy tales were on the menu from the start. Paul had an amazing aptitude for languages. He picked up from his mother a deep respect for people, whatever their religious upbringing, along with an unshakable conviction of the place of the Catholic Church in Christianity. The word ‘Catholic’ says it all. It means all-embracing. To quote something Paul wrote: ‘There is nothing limited about our Faith. We should be universal in our belief; in our acceptance of others, in our appreciation of the total picture. Partial reality, like partial truth, should be distasteful to us. We belong to the most culturally and linguistically diversified community in the world. We are heirs to traditions which, if properly understood, would enrich not just our own lives, but the lives of all our fellow-citizens.’

Training in journalism

The newly-ordained Fr Paul Stenhouse MSC in 1963.

Paul’s first job, aged 14, was with The Camden News. In 1953 this young 17 year-old would-be linotypist/compositor/reporter saw an advertisement in the Annals, a magazine published by the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, inviting boys interested in becoming priests to come to St Mary’s Towers Douglas Park, which in those days was a boarding school, and only 20 minutes from Camden. Paul applied and was accepted into the Intermediate class. His quick intelligence enabled him to catch up on the formal education he was not able to pursue as a boy.

His connection with the Annals was to prove providential. At the completion of his novitiate Paul took vows on February 26 1957. He then did his priestly studies in the monastery at Croydon Victoria and was ordained a priest in Sydney on July 20, 1963. The following year 1964 he was appointed Business Manager of Annals, and Editor two years later, thus beginning a career with the magazine that, apart from a four-year absence as personal secretary to the MSC General in Rome, he has faithfully carried out right up to his death. In its heyday, the Annals had a circulation greater than the Bulletin, the leading news magazine of the day, and in the publishing world, the Annals was considered an extraordinary phenomenon.

Semitic studies

In 1973 Paul received a B.A. (Hons.) from the University of Sydney majoring in Samaritan Studies and Arabic. He produced a critical edition and translation of the historical sections of the Samaritan Hebrew Hilukh, a purity code. In 1982 he received a Ph.D. from the University of Sydney for his Critical Edition of the Middle Arabic Text of the Samaritan Chronicle of Abu ’l-Fath. It is worth noting that before Paul could produce a commentary on the text, he had to translate it, and before he could translate he had to rediscover the dictionary and grammar for medieval Samaritan.  As a result Paul’s Ph.D. is three volumes, and took years to be examined, because he was the only person who knew this area in detail.

Paul was a foundation member of the Council of the Société d’Études Samaritaines within the Collège de France, Paris. He has delivered papers at Colloquia organised by the Société, held in Paris, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Oxford, Venice, Helsinki, Budapest, Zurich and Tartu, Estonia. Paul wrote the article on ‘Samaritans’ for the Encyclopaedia of the Qur’ān, June 2002.

Clergy who participated in the Mass for the repose of Fr Stenhouse on 27 November. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Paul was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Notre Dame, and also by the Catholic University. Paul has written and lectured extensively on Middle Eastern Politics and history. His special interest over the past 40 years has been Lebanon/Syria, and the Balkans.

In 1988 he received an M.A. (Hons.) from the University of New England for a Literary Biography of John Farrell, Paul’s great-grandfather, a 19th Century Australian journalist and reformer. Scholarly Press Melbourne published Paul’s book on John Farrell last year, and his book on Islam, context and complexity this year. Paul worked generously and untiringly right to the end.

“His intellect was amazing”

We thank God for the gift we have shared in knowing Paul. His intellect was amazing. His commitment to pursue truth, and to share what he discovered so honestly and thoroughly over the past 56 years since his ordination have been awe-inspiring. His respect for those who formed judgments that differed from his was admirable, but I don’t think it is too strong to say that he hated the all-pervasive laziness that claims that there is no such thing as truth, and that one opinion is as good as another. We may not agree with everything Paul said or wrote, but we have to admire his research displayed in the thoroughness in which he footnoted every statement.

Father Michael Fallon MSC delivers the eulogy for his confrere at Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Kensington on 27 November. Photo: G Portelli

I could go on forever speaking of his amazing mind. But he did have an even greater gift: his heart. I don’t know a hundredth of it, and I am sure everyone here this morning would have many stories to tell. I don’t know of anyone who experienced need and turned to Paul who did not experience his loving, practical and committed care. One example, which perhaps some of you had first hand experience of, was his care for international students, and migrants more generally. Paul would meet people at the airport, deliver them to appointments, find them accommodation, accompany them to immigration tribunals, badger university administrations – and any academic who he thought could help – on their behalf.  He also took on the role of reassuring anxious parents, worried about their children overseas. And finally of course he could marry them and baptise their children. Paul was, indeed, a Missionary of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP prays over the coffin of Fr Stenhouse at Our Lady of the Rosary Church on 27 November. Photo: G Portelli

It was from his faith in God as revealed in the heart of Jesus that Paul got his inspiration. I can hear Paul in something John Henry Newman, recently canonised wrote: ‘I do not care to overcome people’s reason without touching their hearts’ (A Grammar of Assent). Paul’s heart was as big as the world. In 1997 he was appointed Chairman of the Australian Office of the world-wide organization Aid to the Church in Need. We can appreciate Paul’s mind. It may not have been as apparent that his mind was guided, in ways that Paul himself may not have realised, by his sensitive heart. He agonised even to think that he might hurt someone or let someone down.

In regard to the deep friendships Paul made I would like to quote from Winston Churchill’s eulogy (November 12, 1940) to Neville Chamberlain: ‘History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and to kindle with pale gleams the passions of former days’. Having known and been close to Paul since we first met at Saint Mary’s Towers in 1953, I have some idea of what Churchill meant.

Clergy concvelebrate Mass for the repose of Fr Stenhouse’s sould on 27 November. Photo: G. Portelli

I would like now to quote from Pope Francis’s reflection at the close of the Year of Mercy: ‘Our life with its joys and sorrows is something unique and unrepeatable, that takes place under the merciful gaze of God. This demands, especially of priests, a careful, far-sighted spiritual discernment, so that everyone, none excluded, can feel accepted by God, participate actively in the community and be part of the People of God which journeys tirelessly towards the fullness of God’s kingdom of justice, love, forgiveness and mercy.’ Thank you, Paul, for showing this to us.

I conclude by returning to the Annals and giving the final word to dear Paul who writes in the final edition of the Annals, completed only a few days ago. I quote: ‘In a poem of Dame Mary Gilmore’s ‘By the Roadside’, printed for the first time in Annals (December, 1926) we can find a crystallising of the aims of this most Australian of Catholic Magazines. Paul then quotes from the poem: ‘Wonder is dead, you say! /Wonder can never die/ Not while within a shining pool / A man can see the sky.’ Paul goes on: ‘It is as a shining pool reflecting the wonders of God and God’s creation that Annals should be remembered. Age could do little to mar the image that it reflects.’  It is somehow fitting that after almost 50 years as editor of Annals Paul managed to contribute to and edit the final edition of the magazine as he was dying.

“It is somehow fitting that after almost 50 years as editor of Annals Paul managed to contribute to and edit the final edition of the magazine as he was dying.”

At the Last Supper Jesus prayed: ‘Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am … May the love with which you loved me be with them, so that I too may be with them.’ Paul, you have known this love, and you have revealed it to us. Till we meet again dear friend in the mystery of God’s love, we bid you farewell and thank you for the gift and inspiration you have been to us all. Thank you for your love.

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Hundreds farewell Fr Paul Stenhouse