Monica Doumit: A tribute to Fr Ray Farrell

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Fr Ray Farrell speaks at the centenary of St John of God parish, Auburn, in 2015. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

A true parish priest, Fr Ray will be sadly missed

On Friday, 27 March my parish priest of 17 years entered Eternal Life.

Father Ray Farrell, parish priest of St John of God, Auburn, was a good man and gentle and kind pastor.

He never took a holiday, nor did he really take a day off. He celebrated Mass in the parish every day, even on Mondays, and I don’t remember him ever taking annual leave.  Even when he went on clergy retreats and conferences, he would return each day to stay in the parish presbytery, celebrate the morning Mass and then head off to the conference.

The furthest he went and the longest he stayed away from the parish was to spend one night in a hotel near Manly beach each year, an annual gift to him from the Catholic Women’s League, for which he was chaplain.  But that’s it.  The parish was his life.

This was especially evident in the last weeks of his life.  On the table beside his hospital bed was the roster of priests who were coming to celebrate Masses in the parish, giving him comfort that the flock was being tended (and also the reassurance that he had not been replaced!)

I recall visiting him on the first Sunday of Lent.  He was on the phone, chasing down the Project Compassion boxes that had not yet arrived. His arms were so weak from the cancer that had riddled his body, he had to rest his elbow on the safety arm of the hospital bed to hold the phone to his ear.  I relayed this story to another parishioner, who said that they had similarly caught him on the phone making calls about a leak in the parish roof.

Even on his death bed, he was running the parish.

Thankfully, his mind and his wit were with him until the very end.  When he was first admitted into hospital back in January, he asked me to make sure I brought him a copy of the Catholic Weekly each week so that he could keep up to date with what was going on.  “I must be sick if I’m asking for the Catholic Weekly,” he joked.  I visited him just a few hours before he died, and the final print edition of the paper was beside his bed.

Anyone who was a parishioner of Auburn also knew that Father Ray had his quirks.

I will remember with fondness the ghastly As One Voice CDs played way too loud because his hearing was going, and his persistent battle with the remote control to get the right hymn playing at the right time.  Some weekends, the fight with the remote control would go for so long that Holy Communion would be almost fully distributed by other ministers before he got the thing working!

I will remember the mandatory use of hand sanitiser long before it was cool (and mandatory).

I will also remember how Mass consistently started at least 10 minutes late, something which frustrated many people, but which was a mercy for someone like me who is always running behind!

I will remember how he used to ask me after every Mass about what gossip I had from the Archdiocesan offices, and his frequent phone calls to ask for news about how Cardinal Pell was doing and his case progressing.

I will remember the fatherly pride with which he would claim me as one of his parishioners, introducing me to people as “Monica Doumit, she’s famous.”

And in particular, I will remember his vocation story.

Faithful to the call

Father Ray entered the seminary at age 21 but left soon after in order to care for his ailing parents and his older sister, Nancye.  But the call to the priesthood never left him, and 24 years later, after his parents passed away and he ensured Nancye was taken care of, he re-entered the seminary and was finally ordained a priest just before he turned 50 years of age.  It was a true calling, and one he waited two-thirds of his life to fulfil. His fidelity to the call, even throughout those years of waiting patiently to be able to respond to it, will always be an inspiration to me.

I am saddened that, given the restrictions currently in place, those who loved him and owe him a debt of gratitude will not be able to attend his funeral, but I am grateful that he is now at peace, and I know he is praying for us.

He will be greatly missed.  Rest in Peace, Father Ray.

“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’” (Mt 25:21).

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