Papal honour for Sydney’s oldest priest

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Bishop Terry Brady presents the Croce pro Ecclesia et Pontiface to Fr Frank Martin. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Bishop Terry Brady presents the Croce pro Ecclesia et Pontiface to Fr Frank Martin. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Fr Frank Martin and his extraordinary 75 years of service to the Church in Australia were recognised with a papal honour, the Croce pro Ecclesia et Pontiface, on 1 October.

Bishop Terry Brady, auxiliary bishop of Sydney, presented the Papal Cross of Honour for the Church and Pope to Fr Frank at Stella Maris Aged Care Home, Cronulla, where he now resides.

Family and friends joined Stella Maris staff to witness the presentation of the award, which included a citation from Pope Francis which acknowledged Fr Frank’s “outstanding and very long and lasting devotion to the priesthood and to the archdiocese of Sydney.”

At 98 Fr Frank is Sydney’s oldest priest.

His interest in the priesthood was inspired by his time as an altar server and at 15 he began his studies for the priesthood at St Columba’s College, Springwood and later, at St Patrick’s College Manly.

Ordained on 25 July, 1940, at St Mary’s Cathedral by Cardinal Norman Gilroy, Fr Frank’s first appointment was to a parish in Tasmania where he spent three years before returning to Sydney to serve as assistant priest at Daceyville, Camperdown, Penshurst, Enfield and Concord parishes.

Appointed administrator and then priest in charge at Lawson, he spent time in the Blue Mountains before returning to Sydney as parish priest at East Granville where he became a true builder of the Church. Organising volunteer work gangs, putting on fundraisers and concerts, a new church, presbytery and church hall were built.

Taking over as parish priest at Flemington he served there until his formal retirement in 1981, when like many priests he continued to help out at various parishes and was for a time administrator at Woollahra and later at Matraville.

Fr Frank was nominated for the papal award by the Archbishop of Sydney, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP.

Among those present at the presentation were Fr Frank’s brother, 97-year-old John Martin who was accompanied by his wife. Gymea parish priest Mons Brian Rayner, once an altar boy during Fr Frank’s days at East Granville, attended to honour his priestly role model and friend.

A memorable preacher throughout Mons Rayner’s youth, Fr Frank once again demonstrated his gift for inspiring a congregation when he spoke at an anniversary Mass for St Catherine Laboure several years ago.

“His sight was failing and he was using a huge magnifying glass with his face almost on the page when he read,” Mons Rayner recalled. “But then he started preaching and he was amazing. He has never lost his love of the priesthood or his power as a preacher.”

Family and friends gather to celebrate Fr Frank Martin. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Family and friends gather to celebrate Fr Frank Martin. Photo: Giovanni Portelli