Last train out of Sydney…how I found the Catholic faith

Reading Time: 4 minutes
James Orrock, pictured here with his eldest daughter, found the Catholic Church through God’s grace operating through many good people he encountered in his life. Photo: supplied

‘Turn on, tune-in and drop out’ they said in the 60s.
James Orrock tried that – but still found himself searching

A long, long time ago I was born in Sydney, Australia. My parents were Geordies from the north east of England who in 1950 paid 10 pounds sterling for an assisted passage to a new land at the bottom of the world hoping for a better future for themselves and their children.

I was raised in a nominal Anglican home. Like many Protestant kids in that era I went to Sunday School and learned about Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

I was baptised at the local Anglican Church in Maroubra when I was 11 years old as I had been accepted into a Catholic Christian Brothers high school in the eastern suburbs. My parents wanted the best education for me that they could afford.

I clearly remember the first class on that first day. The lesson commenced with the teacher and all my new classmates turning towards a female figure inside a glass case mounted on the wall near the door.

I had a powerful experience of God’s forgiveness of my sins and His total love for me.

They prayed a prayer I had never heard before. It was the Hail Mary, of course. I didn’t know much about this Lady but I did remember she was the mother of Jesus.

This was my introduction to Catholicism. It was a strange, new world.

Once a week our class would go to Mass along with the rest of our year cohort. The vivid colours of the priest’s vestments, the golden chalice, the bells and smells were quite intoxicating and a stark contrast to the somewhat mundane hues of a Sydney Anglican church service.

I think it was in Third Form (Year 9 in today’s terminology) that one of the old school buildings was being demolished to make way for a modern facility. I remember visiting my old classroom in the building before it was knocked down and retrieving a crucifix that had been left behind. I took it home and put it on the wall above my bed.

To cut a long story short, I completed my HSC year in 1972 and matriculated to university.

It was the seventies and I plunged headfirst into what was on offer – sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll and student activism. The Australian involvement in the Vietnam war had just ended and we were going to change the world, man!

Too much partying and not enough studying translated into repeated academic failures and my dropping out of university in 1976. I spent the next nine years drifting from one inner city share house to the next, on the dole and/or doing menial jobs. I also fathered a child out of wedlock and when the relationship with the child’s mother broke down I was on my knees.

For the first time in my life I had secured a full-time job as a youth worker as I needed to help support my son. While I was there a youth worker from a nearby Christian-run youth refuge visited the service I worked for as one of her residents had moved to our service.
She shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ with me. For the first time in a long time I was willing to listen.

Burnt out, I subsequently quit my youth refuge job after having a gun pulled on me by a former resident who had been evicted. I jumped on a train to Alice Springs to try to sort myself out.

Just after I landed in an Alice caravan park and put my tent up, I was approached by some campers who invited me to a church meeting. It turned out they were members of a small Pentecostal outfit that taught that people must speak in tongues to be saved and go to Heaven. I went to that meeting believing that I was a sinner who needed God’s help.

I answered an ‘altar call’ and ended up being re-baptised in a bath tub in the pastor’s house. God moves in mysterious ways.

I had a powerful experience of God’s forgiveness of my sins and His total love for me.

I returned to Sydney and immediately told the youth worker who had witnessed to me about the Lord Jesus that she was not a true Christian as she didn’t speak in tongues. What a cheek! But she was very gracious and I eventually became convinced through reading the Scriptures and much prayer that we are not saved by speaking in tongues (which is a gift of the Holy Spirit) but by God’s grace through faith in His Son’s redemptive death on the Cross which works out in our lives by love (Ephesians 2).

And yes, we are also saved through baptism in the name of the triune God (Mark 16, 1 Peter 3 and Titus 3).

The final instalment of my conversion story involves taxation. I worked for some years in the ATO. Over a series of lunches one of my colleagues, Andrew James (who now is an ordained Catholic priest) pointed me to John 6, 1 Corinthians 11 and to the Church Fathers, specifically St Augustine of Hippo and his writings on the true presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

This hit me like a bombshell. Like most Protestants I was ignorant of the Fathers and had always assumed that our Lord Jesus was speaking figuratively about His body and blood in the John 6 discourse.

This was the catalyst for my conversion to the Catholic faith. It also helped me solve the riddle of why Protestants hold such widely different and contradictory beliefs on doctrines like baptism and how we are justified before Almighty God.

I came to realise that only the Magisterium of the Catholic Church has the authority to rightly and infallibly teach the truth of God and His Kingdom as revealed in the Scriptures and Tradition (Matthew 16).

I was received into the Catholic Church on 30th August 2006 at Warrane College, UNSW after receiving instruction from Fr Anthony Khoudair. I was greatly blessed that Cardinal George Pell was the chief celebrant at my Confirmation.