Sydney’s oldest priest dies at 99

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Fr Frank Martin pictured in October 2015 with Bishop Terry Brady and Mons Brian Rayner. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Fr Frank Martin pictured in October 2015 with Bishop Terry Brady and Mons Brian Rayner. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Sydney’s oldest priest has died at the age of 99 after an extraordinary 75 years of priesthood.

Fr Frank Martin died on 7 March at Sutherland Hospital.

He was honoured last October with a papal honour, the Croce pro Ecclesia et Pontiface, for his “outstanding and very long and lasting devotion to the priesthood and to the archdiocese of Sydney”.

Bishop Terry Brady, auxiliary bishop of Sydney, presented the papal cross to the priest at Stella Maris Aged Care Home, Cronulla, his home of many years.

Gymea parish priest Mons Brian Rayner, once an altar boy during Fr Frank’s days at East Granville, saw Fr Frank as a 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 told The Catholic Weekly in an October 2015 interview. “But then he started preaching and he was amazing. He has never lost his love of the priesthood or his power as a preacher.”

Fr Frank had entered the seminary at St Columba’s College, Springwood, at 15.

After further studies at St Patrick’s College, Manly, he was ordained by Cardinal Norman Gilroy on 25 July, 1940.

He served three years in Tasmania, followed by appointments 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.

A Vigil Mass for Fr Frank Martin will be celebrated at Stella Maris Aged Care, Cronulla, at 7pm on 14 March. He will be farewelled the following day, 15 March, with a Funeral Mass at St Aloysius Church, Cronulla, from 11am before being laid to rest at Rookwood Cemetery.