With a million Masses between them, these priests celebrated milestone anniversaries
Parishes, hospitals, schools, the armed forces and the formation of future priests are just some of the ministries by jubilarian clergy celebrated at the annual Vianney Dinner last week.
Priests from the Sydney Archdiocese gathered at Lilyfield’s Montage marking 25, 40, 50 or 60 years since their ordinations – representing 730 years of priestly life and more than a million Masses.
“they are a unique group of men who have used their own particular gifts and loving service to inspire us” – Fr Michael McLean
The event, named in honour of the patron saint of clergy, is a rare chance for priests to share a meal and some memories while honouring their shared vocation. Parish Priest of St Mark’s at Drummoyne, Fr Michael McLean said the dinner was a time to celebrate a diversity of lives led in the service of God, the Church and the broader community.
“You have ministered to those at the beginning of religious life in the Sacrament of Baptism, brought peace to troubled souls in the Sacrament of Penance and prepared many for and celebrated the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Confirmation,” he said.
“You have helped prepare and celebrate with couples preparing for and living out the Sacrament of Matrimony and walked with those in troubled times in their relationships. You have comforted the dying and the sick in the Sacrament of Anointing and the Prayers for the dying while helping families to farewell their loved ones.
“I have had the privilege of serving with these priests over the last 39 years and they are a unique group of men who have used their own particular gifts and loving service to inspire us to the fortitude, endurance and deep faith and trust in God’s providence.”
Here are some of their stories:
Fr William (Bill) Challenor – 60 years
When he was ordained he figured he was in for an adventure, but couldn’t have guessed he’d be spending part of it living in Australia’s most notorious jail and another ministering on horseback to people in remote Papua New Guinea.
Ordained in 1961 in St Mary’s Cathedral, Fr Bill this year celebrates 60 years of priestly ministry.
On the recommendation of Cardinal Norman Gilroy, he left Australia in 1965 for PNG as its Catholic community was experiencing a shortage of priests. He served there for half a decade, learning the language, helping educate children, supporting nearby priests and assisting the diocese expand its ministry. Upon his return to Australia in 1977, in addition to demanding parish work, he was appointed Chaplain of the State Penitentiary of NSW.
In this challenging role, he lived onsite at Long Bay Correctional Centre, offering friendship, the sacraments, and spiritual guidance to inmates, while also supporting their rehabilitation.
During this time he became involved in Catholic social welfare, obtained a social work degree and served on the board of the Catholic Family Welfare Bureau (now CatholicCare) for 30 years.
Reflecting on his life, he said his cohort of priests saw “rapid changes in the world and the situation in which people find themselves”.
“We came out of the seminary in a 19th century church, we all have memories of before the Second World War,” he said. “Cardinal Gilroy said it was important for us new priests to reach out to the migrants coming into the country which was a really big change because we’d been very much an Irish church up until then.”
Reminiscing over six decades he had some simple words of advice for the Church today: “Our mission, like our Lord Jesus’ mission, is to show God’s love to people who are most in need.”
Fr Darryl Mackie – 25 years
Celebrating a quarter of a century of priestly ministry, Fr Darryl Mackie said he is excited by the next 25 years and where God calls him to serve.
The Chaplain at St Vincent’s Private Hospital said it had been one of the most difficult and rewarding vocations he has performed and that what sets the hospital apart is its care of not only a patient’s physical but also spiritual wellbeing.
“A person can be healed physically but it takes a lot more to make them mentally well,” he said. “We are located in a part of Sydney where we have the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor and both are treated equally and with respect.
“I have seen the importance of saying good-bye, making peace with a loved one and reconnecting with God.”
After completing his studies in the last class at St Patrick’s College, Manly, he returned to his home diocese of Maitland-Newcastle and was appointed to parishes in the Hunter and Manning Valley before spending seven years in the Diocesan Tribunal.
In 2012, he was appointed as Chaplain to St Vincent’s Darlinghurst Campus and later as the Mission Integration manager at St Vincent’s Private Hospital where he remains today.
He is also chaplain to the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry for the Archdiocese of Sydney, and said his connection to both the healthcare world and Aboriginal community is what drives his passion for improving Indigenous health.
“Last weekend we celebrated Pentecost, the beginnings of the Church and after 25 years it’s good to take stock and reflect upon where God is calling me these next 25 years,” he said. “I look forward to the return in the future to parish ministry after finishing my studies in Aboriginal spirituality and health.”
Fr Jerzy Chzczonowicz – 40 years
As Fr Jerzy Chrzczonowicz marks 40 years of priestly life across three continents, one precious Sydney memory stands out. A former Vincentian, the Polish-born priest arrived in Australia in 1989, following pastoral work as a missionary in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and a stint back in Europe.
On his second day in the country, feeling friendless and frustrated at his lack of English, he entered St Vincent’s in Ashfield for the first time.
“I remember it was a Sunday afternoon and I saw these golden letters in Latin on the top of the altar, ‘Ergo sum nolite timere’ (John 6:21), meaning ‘It is I, don’t be afraid’.
“I felt this was a call directly to me from the Lord.”
Fr Jerzy was ordained in 1981, in Krakow, Poland, where Karol Wojtyla (later to become St Pope John Paul II) was archbishop. He met the future saint when he was a cardinal and says that “even then I could see he was a man of great spirit, vision, holiness and prayer”.
The then Cardinal Wojtyla and the Primate of Poland at the time, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, who will be beatified in Warsaw this September “were like two columns on which the hope of the nation and the Church was resting”.
Most of Fr Jerzy’s priestly life has been spent ministering to the parish of St Michael’s in Daceyville and today at St Joseph’s, Como-Oyster Bay. He is deeply moved when he witnesses the peace he can bring to people as an alter Christus, another Christ.
“I don’t have to do much, in Africa, in the village where I did pastoral work, even when I was a stranger they saw me as bringing peace because I was a priest. Here in Australia, people like to have a priest in their parish who is always available in times of need.”
Fr Garry Reynolds SM – 60 years
Marist Fr Garry Reynolds has faithfully served Christ, His Church and the Marist Family for 60 years.
Based at St Patrick’s, Church Hill since 2017, in his early years Fr Garry was principal of the Marist schools of St John’s College, Woodlawn, Lismore, and later at Marist College, Burnie, Tasmania.
In 1985 he was elected by his fellow Marists as their Provincial Superior, serving his brothers for eight years. After completing his term, he turned to the humble service of assistant pastor in the Star of the Sea Parish, Burnie.
His compassion and management skills were then called upon when he was appointed the superior of the Marist’s retirement community at Hunters Hill, Sydney.
“There have been huge changes in my lifetime and in my years as a Marist priest,” he reflects. “I rode my horse to school for my primary education, at a country school in northern NSW between Casino and Kyogle.
“Now I live in The Rocks area of Sydney, in an era of instant communication, jet travel and a Church which is dealing with many weaknesses and scandals. Most of the senior members of the rural community I lived in were called ‘Uncle’ and ‘Aunt’ and now there are very few greetings as I walk down George Street.”
Fr Garry said his first Mass and learnt to administer the sacraments in Latin, “a foreign language I did not understand very well at all …. and then came the liberation of Vatican II”.
He is “most grateful” for the support of his fellow Marists in his life and ministry however ‘non-clerical’, ‘non-religious’ friendships have also been very important him. “I think these friendships have kept me more grounded and more aware of the challenges of family life and the real world in which we live,” he said.