Minstrel priest won disciples with music

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Well-wishers abounded as a farewell picnic was held for Fr Kevin Bates SM at Hunters Hill last Sunday. PHOTO: ALPHONSUS FOK

Talented singer, hymn writer and musician, Fr Kevin Bates SM leaves a lasting legacy at Hunters Hill

Hundreds of parishioners and members of local Catholic school communities in northern Sydney have paid tribute to the remarkable Marist priest, Fr Kevin Bates who has retired as Parish Priest at Holy Name of Mary, Hunters Hill after 14 years in which he has helped shape the faith of generations of Catholics, particularly through his love of music.

The quiet, unassuming priest has published ten albums of liturgical music over the past 40 years and Mass-goers across Australia will be familiar with much loved hymns written by Fr Kevin including Our Supper Invitation and A Trusting Psalm.

Prior to taking up the position of Parish Priest in Hunters Hill, Fr Kevin spent over four decades leading retreats for schools and parishes across Australia and is a former Director of the Aquinas Academy.

Fr Kevin has told The Catholic Weekly that he has always tried to use music to bring the faithful closer to Christ.

“Music and song-writing have always been woven into my ministry, as a vehicle to pass on the faith rather than just being focused on the music alone”, he explained.

“music and song-writing have always been woven into my ministry, as a vehicle to pass on the faith”

“Music is our common language since it reaches beyond cultures and age groups and so it’s important that the music reflect a variety of styles, so it’s acceptable to a variety of people.”

A Music ministry leader in the parish, Ms Kia Liao-Mackun, said one of Fr Kevin’s greatest gifts is his ability to link key messages in his weekly homilies with hymns he has written in an engaging way which resonates across all age groups.

“What we love is his impromptu way of throwing music into whatever he is doing”, she explained.

“For example, after a homily, Fr Kevin will play a piece he has written to explain what he has been speaking about and he has a beautiful way of communicating that message to children in a way they can understand as well”.

As Principal of the local Villa Maria primary school, Mr Kevin Turner worked closely with Fr Kevin for over a decade on encouraging more families to engage with the parish.

Mr Turner said Fr Kevin drew upon his great passion for Catholic education and their joint efforts soon proved to be very fruitful.

 

“We have had seven parents from the school since join the parish council and a key part of that was Fr Kevin’s support for family Masses on the weekends and his great work in promoting music ministry in the parish, including childrens’ choirs and string quartets”, he added.

In a reflection of his contribution to the school, a Fr Kevin Bates Creative Arts Centre was named in the priest’s honour at Villa Maria Primary in 2017 and his musical talents were also recognised through an Order of Australia Medal in 2019. Fr Kevin has also regularly celebrated Mass for students and staff at Marist Sisters College Woolwich and Holy Cross College in Ryde.

The quiet, unassuming priest has published ten albums of liturgical music over the past 40 years and Mass-goers across Australia will be familiar with much loved hymns written by Fr Kevin including Our Supper Invitation and A Trusting Psalm. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2018

Hunters Hill parishioner Mr Richard Korkor has worked closely with Fr Kevin over recent years in coordinating sacramental programs for children, alongside Sacramental and Catechist Coordinator, Ms Rosalia Foley.

Mr Korkor has described Fr Kevin Bates as a “model priest” who combines strong leadership and organisational skills with an unfailing commitment to good pastoral care for his parishioners.

“he certainly never allows structures to quash pastoral care”

“Fr Kevin has the gift of being able to find a healthy balance as a priest between the Petrine or organisational and structural aspects of the ministry and the Marian aspects which are more focused on pastoral care for his flock”, he said.

“He certainly never allows structures to quash pastoral care”.

This is reflected in initiatives such as a grief support group to help parishioners through difficult periods in their lives whether due to the death of a loved one or other reasons as well.

Parishioners at Holy Name of Mary, Hunters Hill farewelling Fr Kevin Bates. PHOTO: ALPHONSUS FOK

The parish also introduced a buddy system during COVID-19 lockdowns in which students from Villa Maria Primary School contacted elderly parishioners by phone to provide them with companionship during a long period of isolation for them.

Fr Kevin said he is hoping to continue playing music at Masses in the parish as he embarks upon retirement and hands over the leadership of Holy Name of Mary to fellow Marist priest, Fr Brian Wilson.

“It was an extraordinary privilege for me to journey with the people. We were always on the mission of the Gospel together, breaking open the Good News together and that meant we had to make room for each others’ gifts and I gained much satisfaction from watching those gifts and talents unfold in the service of Christ”.

Related:

Tuning into faith and friendship
Mass setting is musician’s gift to Saint Joseph