Papal honours a family affair

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Pirola family
Three generations of the Pirola family were represented at the Papal honours ceremony at St Mary’s Cathedral chapter hall on 26 April 2019. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

It was a right family affair when two Sydney couples from one family received honours from Pope Francis in Sydney on 26 April.

Dr Ron and Mavis Pirola, their son Dr Byron and his wife Francine were all invested into the Order of St Gregory the Great in Sydney in a ceremony at St Mary’s Cathedral chapter hall.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP said the occasion “must be unique”, as to have two married couples from the same diocese on the same day receive papal honours is rare enough—much less two couples from the same family.

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“All four here have been dear friends and supporters to me and my predecessors,” he said. “They have contributed in multiple ways to the Church and the nation and have done so to a degree above and beyond the call of duty. They are an inspiration to us all.”

Also to receive a papal honour was Margaret Frater, who was awarded an upgrade to Commander from her 1999 honour of Dame of the Order of St Gregory the Great in recognition of her outstanding service to the Catholic Church in Sydney and surrounding dioceses.

By happy coincidence, Mrs Frater was also Byron and Francine’s natural family planning instructor when they were an engaged couple preparing for marriage. Mrs Frater said she was “touched, honoured and overwhelmed” to receive her honour and that it was nice to be recognised for a variety of work throughout the archdiocese, and in recent years, at the Broken Bay parish of Lindfield-Killara as a leader on the pastoral council among other roles.

Margaret Frater
Margaret Frater was made a Dame Commander of the Order of St Gregory for continued generous service to the Church in Sydney. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

“I accept this award on behalf of my parents and everyone who I’ve been associated with over many years,” she said. From a young life, she and her siblings were encouraged to be involved in parish life and ministry, she added.

“My father’s favourite Bible quote was, ‘Without good works, faith is dead’,” she said.

Mrs Frater thanked her husband Bob and paid tribute to Cardinal Clancy and Bishop Cremin “for the faith they placed in me and the opportunities they offered” when she was director of the Sydney archdiocese’s natural family planning agency from 1983-2000 along with “all those who contributed to the work of the natural family planning syllabus and the clients who placed so much confidence in our service”.

Dr Ron and Mrs Mavis Pirola accepted their awards as “a great honour on behalf of all the people we have worked with over the years”.

They both also received upgraded papal honours in recognition of their generous contribution to the Church including 27 years of service to the Pontifical Council for the Family and for establishing the Parish and Marriage Resource Centre and the Family Working Group—which was precursor to the Australian Catholic Marriage and Family Council.

Papal medal
The eight-pointed Maltese cross for the Order of St Gregory the Great. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

The couple have been married for 60 years and have been blessed to witness the Holy Spirit’s constant renewal of the Church over that time, said Dr Pirola. “There are so many things going on in different part of the Church all the time,” he said.

Mavis Pirola acknowledged “the many priests and bishops who have worked alongside us and inspired us, and the many lay people that we have worked with”. “This [award] makes us really aware of the many people who are much more deserving of honours,” she said.

“We especially would like to thank our family, our children and grandchildren. We’re constantly learning from them and we’re very grateful and blessed to have had so many years together.”

Bryon and Francine, co-producers of the SmartLoving suite of resources for engaged and married couples and conveners of the upcoming national Renaissance of Marriage conference, said they were “very humbled and grateful” to be able to call themselves a knight and dame of the Order of St Gregory.

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“The work of promoting and supporting marriage and family life, which has been our life’s work remains very important to us, so we hope to have many more productive years to live up to the expectations that come with this honour,” said Bryon.

Ron and Mavis Pirola
Ron and Mavis Pirola accepting their honours from Pope Francis for their service to the Church, especially in promoting the co-responsibility of the laity in the mission and life of the Church. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

Francine acknowledged the many contributors to the couple’s faith journey over the years, in particular Margaret Frater who was their NFP instructor when they were an engaged couple preparing for marriage, past and current parish priests and SmartLoving chaplain Father Vince Casey.

The late Father Charles Gallagher was another “very significant” source of wisdom in our lives, she said.

“We also particularly want to thank our children,” said Francine. “As we’d all be aware, when we undertake to do serious heavy lifting in the work of the Church it comes at a cost, and indeed the cost is borne by those who are closest to us.”

Archbishop Fisher said that the recipients successfully navigated the tensions between contemplation and action, theory and practice.

“Today we praise those who have contributed much to our Church in Sydney, in Australia and in our world over the years, allowing the Martha and the Mary in each of them to have full sway,” he said. “With their inspiring example we hope each of us to do better. You are all examples of a truly good life.”