‘Thief of hearts’ answered the call of Catholic laity

Reading Time: 5 minutes
Donald Khoury’s coffin is carried into a packed St Mary’s Cathedral on 27 October. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Son of Lebanese migrants and ‘quiet achiever’ aided schools, charities, businesses and the Church

Former accountant and entrepreneur Donald Khoury has been remembered as a “thief of hearts” who drew many people to good works and to practice their faith, following his death from cancer on 22 October aged 73.

Known as a quiet achiever, the parishioner at St Patrick’s Church in Mortlake used his unique combination of faith and financial acuity to help establish two independent schools and assist many thousands of migrants find their feet in Australia.

He was farewelled at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney with a requiem Mass celebrated by the Regional Vicar in Australia of Opus Dei, Rev Inigo Martinez-Echevarria, and concelebrated by Fr Tom Stevens and Father Anthony Khoudair.

Forming a guard of honour from the cathedral steps were students of Redfield College and Tangara School for Girls, schools of PARED (Parents for Education) which Don helped to establish in the early 1980s.

Don knew he didn’t have to be a monk. His conviction about Christianity fuelled him to do the work of life, just like every Christian who is a true Christian and just like the early Christians.” – Joseph Assaf, friend

A close friend and former fellow director with Don of PARED, Joe Arevalo, said that the father of eight and grandfather to 16 won many people over to his fundraising projects.
But none were closer to his own heart than the founding of schools which aimed at educators partnering with parents to inspire virtue as well as excellence in their students.

Welcoming Don’s family and friends to the Mass, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP praised the way he strove to live out his baptismal promises and for being the “finance and fundraising powerhouse” behind Redfield and Tangara.

Don Khoury. Photo courtesy of the Khoury family

“The two schools have been an extraordinary gift to greater Sydney and beyond,” the archbishop said. “I think of the wonderful young priests the Redfield families have given us and the excellent education and formation given to so many. I am especially grateful to the part Don has played in this.”

A passionate Catholic, Don was a lay member of Opus Dei with a commitment to daily Mass and personal prayer and frequent confession. Fr Inigo said that Don loved the Mass “very much”. “He tried to make it the heartbeat of each week, the heartbeat of each day, following St Josemaria’s advice,” he added.

 

In the homily, Fr Anthony said that in Don’s quiet achieving over many years, in so many areas of life, “he was especially imitating what is called ‘the hidden life of Jesus’, which is the essence of the vocation of a good many, if not most, Christians”.

Faith and family were central to the life-long Rabbitohs supporter, who once turned down an offer to play first-grade rugby league because it would interfere with his family life.

“Don was a thief of hearts with a very engaging personality and real emotional intelligence,” Mr Arevalo told The Catholic Weekly.

“He had a strong sense of justice and was very, very generous. A gifted fundraiser, he brought people along to be as enthusiastic about the project as he was. If people asked him how much they should give, he used to say, ‘Give until it hurts’.”

A younger Don Khoury who remained a life-long Rabbitohs supporter. Photo: Courtesy of the Khoury family

Mr Arevalo said Don’s gift of friendship led him to bring many people back to the practice of their faith, especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation after many years away.

Speaking at the Mass on 27 October, his eldest daughter Jacquie Khoury said that Don’s main focus in life was “getting to Heaven and bringing as many people as possible with him along the way”.

With his brothers, Don established Khoury Bros & Co in Dulwich Hill in 1969 and Mr Arevalo said he became not only a trusted accountant but a mentor to thousands of clients of every race and creed who were looking to start a new life in this country, just as Don’s own parents did when he was just two years old.

 

“He was just a great example of a totally normal guy who was also very committed to his faith. He would go to daily Mass and pray at his local parish St Patrick’s at Mortlake,” Joe Arevalo said. “He was very aware of being a loved son of God and that it meant he was called to make a difference in life.”

Another close friend, Joseph Assaf, who, like Don, was born in Hardine, a village in the mountains of northern Lebanon, said they became friends from the moment they met in Sydney as young adults.

“He was a man of God,” Mr Assaf said, adding that the two had worked together on many fundraising initiatives including for charities and faith-based projects as well as The Ethnic Business Awards, which Mr Assaf founded.

Don Khoury with his wife Ann. Photo courtesy of the Khoury family

“Don knew he didn’t have to be a monk. His conviction about Christianity fuelled him to do the work of life, just like every Christian who is a true Christian and just like the early Christians,” he said.

“I travelled with him many times overseas and wherever he was, he had to find a church to go to Mass. When you have that kind of belief, people can sense there is a trustworthiness about you. He helped a great many people, not only Christians but Muslims, Buddhists, everyone would go to him for help.”

Don is survived by his wife Ann and their children Jacquie, Donna, Mark, Martin, Jessica, Rachel, Nathan, Matthew and their spouses along with his 16 grandchildren.

Related: